Green Plan Banner
 

Our Farm Environmental Agenda

TABLE OF CONTENTS


The Beginning of a Process

SUMMARY

THE PROCESS FOR CHANGE

CHAPTER 1 - Farming and the Environment

CHAPTER 2 - An Historical Overview

Earlier Times
Our Changing Farming Practices
CHAPTER 3 - Environmental Concerns in Modern Agriculture
CONCERNS RELATING TO SOIL
Soil Erosion
Soil Structure
Organic Matter
CONCERNS RELATING TO WATER QUALITY AND SUPPLY
Nitrates
Phosphates
Biological By-Products and Wastes
Water Management
AIR QUALITY CONCERNS
Noise
Dust and Odour
Atmospheric Greenhouse Gas Exchange
CONCERNS RELATING TO AGRICULTURAL INPUTS
Pesticides and Fertilizers
Energy
NATURAL RESOURCES
Wildlife
Wetlands
Woodlands
CHAPTER 4 - Addressing the Concerns: Our Commitment
Environmental Farm Plans
Education and Advisory Support
Research and Development
Financial Assistance
Regulation
Sponsoring Organizations

The Beginning of a Process

The following document represents the result of an intensive analysis, by major Ontario farm organizations, of factors that farmers consider to be comprising the critical environmental concerns in Ontario agriculture, and how these problems can best be solved. It is intended that this document represent the beginning of a process which will include consultation and cooperation with other interested parties. The strategy for improvement, outlined in Chapter 4 of this document will be developed further in the months ahead.

 

SUMMARY

Environmental quality is important to farming. Because our livelihood depends so directly on the natural environment, respect for the environment has always been essential for "good farming."

Environmental goals must co-exist with other needs. Examples include the need to produce high quality food at a reasonable price for an increasing global human population, and the need for us, along with our families, to realize a standard of living equivalent to that of other citizens.

It is critical that any environmental strategy recognize that specific needs vary markedly from farm to farm. The responses must often be "tailor-made."

The key environmental issues are several:

Erosion of top soil means a loss of soil nutrients and soil organic matter. Efforts to restrict erosion through conservation tillage and other soil-protecting cropping practices must continue.

Certain cropping practices have changed the structure of some farm soils, making them more difficult to manage and less productive.

Some farming methods have tended to reduce soil organic matter percentages over the years. Our goal is to encourage practices which will reverse this process.

The management of soil nitrates to ensure adequate crop productivity, while minimizing the potential for surface and groundwater contamination, may represent agriculture's biggest environmental challenge.

Phosphates have been identified as a major pollutant in streams and rivers. Although modern farming techniques have reduced the problem substantially, agriculture remains one of the principal sources.

Livestock manure is an important contributor to the organic matter content and fertility of farm soils. But manure can also be a significant source of contamination of surface waters, if we are not careful to prevent it from being washed into streams, rivers, and drainage ditches.

Proper sanitation is necessary for the production of high quality milk on dairy farms. However, milkhouse wash water can be a source of water pollution if allowed to flow directly into tile drainage lines or surface waterways.

Tile drainage and irrigation are essential for successful crop production on many soils in Ontario. However, both practices alter the normal seasonal pattern of water flow in streams and rivers. In some cases, this conflicts with other societal demands for these available water supplies.

"We are committed to a process which will encourage every farmer to conduct farming activities in a manner which respects the environment"

Noise is a normal part of farming. In extreme cases, it can represent a notable irritant.

Dust annoyances may occur from wind erosion or from intensive tillage and/or harvest operations during dry conditions.

Agriculture is a source of various atmospheric greenhouse gases which have the potential to cause global warming. However, our crops and soils act as large carbon dioxide "sinks".

Agricultural pesticides are used to control crop and livestock pests. If not used properly, they can represent a threat to human health and the environment.

The use and, more critically, misuse of commercial fertilizers can cause detrimental effects on water quality.

Fossil fuels are limited in supply and contribute to air pollution when burned. Electricity is becoming increasingly costly and new power developments may have undesirable environmental effects. Agricultural field operations, the manufacture of inputs, crop drying, storage, and transportation are all major consumers of energy. Important gains have been made in improving the efficiency of energy use in agriculture, over the past decade, and this trend must continue.

Wildlife can help in the control of pests and provide a source of joy to us and our neighbours. However, wildlife can also be carriers of diseases. And, if too numerous, the damage they cause to crops and farm animals can be greater than we can afford, financially.

Expansion of agriculture onto soils which are presently wetlands (marshes and swamps) should be carefully controlled; in the present economic environment, this type of expansion occurs rarely. In some places, agricultural land is being converted back into wetland.

Agriculture could not exist in Ontario if the province was entirely wooded, but existing woodlots must be retained in areas of the province which are not extensively wooded at present.

 

THE PROCESS FOR CHANGE

We are committed to a process which will encourage every farmer to conduct farming activities in a manner which respects the environment.

This process must involve a combination of individual commitment and initiative, and public policies and programs which will help producers recognize and respond to specific environmental concerns on their individual farms. The process must be farm-specific in nature, but it must also address concerns which are industry-wide or watershed-based in nature or those which require the development or adaptation of new technology.

Central to this commitment is the creation of environmental farm plans. Our goal is to have each farmer develop an environmental farm plan in which key opportunities for environmental enhancement are identified, and an implementation strategy defined.

In order for this to work, we will also need an educational and advisory process to help farmers analyze their individual farm operations from an environmental perspective, and devise realistic plans for overcoming the problems which exist.

In addition, many farm environmental concerns cannot be overcome by individual farm initiative alone. Some require research and new technology. Some require government regulation and coordination. Some require cooperation at the community level. And some will require financial assistance to overcome substantial economic hurdles.

We have outlined in the following pages the components important to these various endeavours. We intend that this document be followed by a more detailed plan (or plans) of action.

"Our Farm Environmental Agenda", January, 1992
OFA       (Ontario Federation of Agriculture)
CFFO     (Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario)
AGCare  (Agricultural Groups Concerned About Resources and the Environment)
OFAC      (Ontario Farm Animal Council)

 

Table of Contents

CHAPTER 1

Farming and the Environment

Environmental quality is important to farming. Our livelihood depends directly on the natural environment, in a manner unknown to most others in modern society.

Because of this relationship, respect for the environment has always been essential for good farming. If our soil is not treated as a fundamental, fragile resource, then it will no longer support productive, viable farming. If rural water is contaminated, the effects are felt, most directly, by us, our families, and our farm animals. Polluted air means unhealthy crops and animals.

A healthy environment is basic to sustainable agriculture.

But in understanding the terms "healthy" and "sustainable", with regard to farming and the environment, two concepts are basic:

First, a healthy or good agricultural environment does not mean a truly natural environment. Farming, of necessity, means major changes in environment relative to what would otherwise prevail in the wild. The dominant plant and animal species are different.

Farm soils, even when managed in the best manner, cannot be identical to native forest or grassland soils. Our use of farm inputs, whether natural or manufactured, means environmental modification, regardless of how careful our management may be. The formation, transport, use and/or disposal of farm products and by-products, all have environmental effects.

We, as farmers are the stewards of 14 million acres of farm land in Ontario, and of the domestic and wild animals which live thereon. Our goal is to maintain the air, water, and soil in the most favourable condition possible.

Second, environmental goals must co-exist - sometimes in harmony, sometimes in conflict - with other needs. Examples include the need to produce high quality food at a reasonable price for an increasing global human population, along with the need for us, and our families, to realize a standard of living generally equivalent to that of other citizens.

The priorities which society has placed on agriculture have changed over the years, and farmers have responded. In the 1970s, the request was for more production and lower food prices. Today, farmers are asked to be rural land managers responsible for the well-being of the rural environment, and at the same time, efficient producers of food in an internationally competitive market place.

Agricultural environmental issues have attracted much wide attention in recent years, with the result sometimes being conflicting advice as to "what farmers must do to clean up the environment."

Much of the advice is valid, often reflecting a continuation of practices and trends which are generally recognized as being beneficial within the farming community.

However, some of the recommendations involve approaches which could significantly reduce food-production capabilities or the economic viability of Canadian agriculture. And some involve "solutions" which are more likely to be environmentally damaging than the practices which they propose to replace.

It is critical that any environmental strategy recognize that specific needs vary markedly from farm to farm. The responses must often be "tailor-made."

Some of the responses will represent economic benefit to the individual farm operation. However, other improvements will entail a net financial cost.

Which do Ontario farmers believe to be the most important environmental concerns with respect to agriculture in the province?

Which concerns are being addressed at the present time? Which issues require a greater commitment on the part of Ontario producers? Which problems need new solutions and new technology before they can be addressed in a satisfactory way?

Finally, which are the best strategies for us to adopt to meet these needs?

In the following pages, we, the farmers of Ontario, through our respective organizations, have outlined our environmental agenda. We intend that this agenda be followed by a more detailed action plan.


 
Table of Contents

CHAPTER 2

An Historical Overview
Earlier Times

A common misconception is that early agriculture functioned in harmony with nature, and that environmental degradation is a phenomenon associated only with agriculture of recent decades.

Historical records reveal a different story.

For example, the farming system adopted by the majority of Ontario settlers prior to 1850 was wheat monoculture coupled with a biennial summer fallow (i.e. the production of one crop every second year, with the soil being intensively cultivated, but not cropped, during alternate years). This system was strongly criticized in the contemporary agricultural literature as being wasteful of land, exhausting of soil, and excessively dependent upon a single market. However, the system was well adapted to prevailing economic and environmental conditions. Wheat was the only crop for which there was a cash market in Ontario prior to1850. Summer fallowing was necessary to prevent the encroachment of new clearings with sumac, choke cherry, aspen poplar, and perennial weeds which competed with cultivated crops for both sunlight and soil nutrients.

Summer fallowing continued to be perceived as an integral part of good cropping practice until after World War II (1945). Even though now recognized as being highly detrimental to the maintenance of soil organic matter levels, the practice was necessary to prevent weed species from becoming too abundant in farm fields a common one being quack grass, also an immigrant from Europe!

A major change in farming practice came with the advent of chemical pesticides. The first of these involved more intensive usage of traditional inorganic chemicals such as sulphur, the Bordeaux mixture (copper sulphate and lime), and mercury and arsenic compounds for disease and insect control. Some of these compounds are no longer used because of their toxicity, persistence and/or limited effectiveness. But following the Second World War, more complex organic compounds became widely used for pest control. Commercial fertilizers also came into widespread usage at that time.

The resulting change in farming practices was particularly dramatic in the case of weed control technology. No longer were cropping practices dominated by weed-control considerations. This, and a short supply of Ontario-grown grains to feed an expanding livestock and human population, led to a major expansion in the acreage seeded to corn in southern Ontario.

For many farms, the transition was complete; many farms grew continuous (sometimes called monoculture) corn for a period of 10 to 15 years, between the mid 1960s and 1980. This period was also a time of increasing numbers of livestock on Ontario farms, with corn replacing the traditional, but lower yielding "small-grains" and perennial forages as the dominant source of feed on many farms.

This was not true for all farms, however; many farms, particularly those devoted to the production of beef cattle and milk, continued to use rotations involving a number of grain and forage crop species.

Our Changing Farming Practices

By the late 1970s or early 1980s, we realized that the continuous production of corn, particularly when coupled with intensive tillage, meant a progressive increase in crop and environmental problems. These included greater soil erosion and a deterioration in soil structure, new weed problems (new weed species and the development of herbicide resistance in the traditional ones), and declining crop yields.

As a result, during the past 10 years we have shifted from monoculture corn to crop rotations on virtually all Ontario farms. Newer technology and newer crop varieties have helped this transition. These rotations commonly include soybeans (a legume oil seed crop), winter wheat (of value as a soil-building and soil-protecting crop), and red clover or alfalfa (perennial legumes). A close integration of livestock and cropping practices has been central to rotational practices on many of our farms.

A second, dominant trend of the past decade has been a major reduction in the amount of soil tillage in Ontario agriculture. On most farms, the number of tillage "trips" has been reduced to a maximum of one or two operations, from the traditional three to five. On many farms, particularly those with easier-to-manage soils, tillage operations have been eliminated completely. This is a far cry from the intensity of tillage which characterized Ontario agriculture in the early years following settlement!
Our goal has been to minimize the use of fossil fuels, maximize the retention of soil organic matter (increased tillage means faster "oxidation" of soil organic matter), and retain a large amount of organic material on the soil surface to limit erosion caused by the action of rainfall or wind. 
".... during the past 10 years we have shifted from monoculture corn to crop rotations on virtually all Ontario farms"
The combination of decreased tillage and increased organic matter production, though done for reasons relating more to agricultural sustainability, have contributed to efforts to stabilize atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, believed to be the most important atmospheric gas associated with global warming.

Our efforts to reduce energy usage are evident elsewhere. Energy efficiency has increased by 40% in Ontario greenhouses over the past decade; co-generation of electricity and heat from natural gas is part of present-day greenhouse technology. The energy-efficiency associated with heating and ventilation of livestock barns has increased significantly.

A third trend has involved the increasing adoption of IPM (Integrated Pest Management) techniques. With IPM, the use of pesticides is decreased by a combination of careful pest monitoring and the use of non-chemical pest control measures, where these are feasible and cost-effective. IPM technology is one reason why the use of pesticides in Ontario agriculture has decreased steadily in recent years.

We have also changed our livestock farming practices over the past decade with much greater care being taken to treat farmyard manure as a valuable soil additive, while reducing its potential for polluting water.

Food processing by-products are being used for cattle feeding. Other urban waste products are being used as soil enhancers. Both practices serve to reduce the volume of material which would otherwise go to landfill sites.

We have become much more proactive on environmental issues. Coalitions of farm organizations have been formed to address environmental and stewardship issues. As an example, certification of users of farm pesticides recently became mandatory in Ontario, in response to a request from Ontario farm organizations.

But environmental problems remain. Some of these are associated with newer technology designed to increase productivity and reduce the real cost of food to consumers. However, many of these problems have been a part of agriculture since its beginnings.

Our environmental concerns are considered, in more detail, in the next chapter.


Table of Contents

CHAPTER 3

Environmental Concerns in Modern Agriculture

In the following sections we have listed and described what we, as farmers, consider to be the most significant environmental concerns associated with modern farming.

CONCERNS RELATING TO SOIL

Soil Erosion

Erosion of top soil means a decline in crop productivity caused by the loss of soil nutrients and soil organic matter.

Soil lost by water erosion can cause unwanted sediment to accumulate in streams and drainage ditches. Nutrients and other compounds attached to eroded soil can cause drinking water contamination and excessive plant growth in water courses.

Soil lost by wind can impair air quality.

In recent years, Ontario farmers have made major progress in reducing soil erosion through practices such as conservation tillage. With conservation tillage, residues of previous crops are retained on the surface after the soil has been worked. These residues protect the soil surface from the action of rainfall and wind.

Greater use of crop rotations and cover crops have also reduced soil erosion. Cover crops are plants grown to protect the soil surface during times of the year when the land is not used directly for growing a revenue-producing crop.

Trees have been planted to reduce the wind velocity over wind-erosion-susceptible land. Trees and perennial grass species are being used to establish erosion-limiting buffer strips next to water courses. Fragile lands are being converted into permanent pasture, or are being replanted with trees.

The removal of highly erodible soils from annual-crop agricultural production has meant increased dependence on more productive soils for this type of food production. However,with good management, these more-productive soils can be farmed intensively with minimal adverse effects on sustainability or the environment.

These efforts have been encouraged by initiatives such as the Land Stewardship program, funded by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and the National Soil Conservation program, funded by Agriculture Canada. Both of these are being administered, in Ontario, by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association an organization of farmers.

Grazing animals contribute to soil conservation by making productive use of land which is unsuitable for growing arable crops. Land kept in pasture is protected from erosion and nutrient depletion. However, much more remains to be done.

On some soils, such as those with high clay contents, the technology for protecting soil from erosion, while still ensuring adequate crop yields and farm income, is seriously inadequate.

Soil Structure
Some cropping practices have changed the structure of many farm soils, making them more difficult to manage and less productive. Symptoms of poor structure include slow internal drainage (the water lays on the surface too long after heavy rainfall), poor crop growth, and low yields.

The causes of poor soil structure include compaction by farm equipment, especially when the soil is wet, excessive amounts of soil tillage, and not enough growth of "soil-building" crops such as cereals and forages which produce many fine roots in the surface soil.

Changes in farming practices over the past decade, including the wide-spread usage of conservation tillage and crop rotations, have been very beneficial. Tile drainage, which speeds the removal of excess surface water, and care in minimizing field travel when the soil is too wet, are also important in reducing compaction.

However, we must still place a priority on efforts to continue to improve the quality of the soil structure on Ontario farms.

 

Organic Matter
Some farming methods have tended to reduce soil organic matter percentages over the years. Our goal continues to be the emphasis of practices which reverse this process.

Organic matter is critical to the water-, air- and fertility-holding capabilities of agricultural soils. Organic matter, both living and decaying plants and soil animals, is what makes top soil "top soil".

The organic matter content of soil can be enhanced by the growth of higher yielding crops and crop varieties, and by ensuring that soil is used to produce crops or cover crops for the full growing season. The use of cropping practices which retain a high amount of organic matter in or on the surface soil after harvest is just as critical.

Soil tillage, which accelerates the rate of breakdown of organic matter, and soil erosion, which washes or blows top soil off the field, decrease soil organic matter percentages. The combination of good cropping practices and decreased tillage can mean increases in soil organic matter levels.

Livestock manure is beneficial in maintaining soil organic matter percentages. This benefit is maximized if manure is incorporated into the soil quickly, before it has lost much of its organic matter and nutritive value. 
"The combination of good cropping practices and decreased tillage can mean increases in soil organic matter levels."
Finally, soil organic matter is a major reservoir for atmospheric carbon dioxide. Farming practices which increase soil organic matter levels will be essential to efforts by society to reduce atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.  

CONCERNS RELATING TO WATER QUALITY AND SUPPLY

Nitrates
The management of soil nitrates to ensure adequate crop productivity, while minimizing the potential for surface and ground water contamination, may represent agriculture's biggest environmental challenge.

High nitrate levels in drinking water can mean potential health problems, especially for very young children.

At the same time, soil nitrate is critical for plant growth. And nitrates are a by-product of various agricultural activities.

Commercial nitrogen fertilizers are a source of nitrate contamination, especially if they are applied at times of the year, or at rates of application, different from those needed for good crop growth. Methods must be improved for tailoring applications to crop needs.

Livestock manure can also be a major source of nitrate pollution, particularly when applied at the wrong times of the year relative to crop needs, and/or when the potential for water contamination is high. Unfortunately, the technology for preventing this abuse, in a manner which is economically affordable and which does not introduce other undesirable environmental effects, is not always adequate.

Even legume crops, which "fix" their own nitrogen fertilizer, and which do not require commercial nitrogen fertilizer, can be a significant source of water contamination by nitrates when the legume plants die and their organic constituents are released into the soil.

Phosphates
Phosphates have been identified as a major pollutant in streams and rivers. Agriculture is one of the principal sources.

Unlike nitrate, phosphates are held tightly to soil particles. Phosphate fertilizers are unlikely to enter rivers and streams unless the soil particles move as well. By minimizing soil erosion, we also minimize the potential for phosphate pollution. Soil testing is essential to prevent over-fertilization of farm soils with phosphate fertilizers.

Manure, dairy milkhouse waste, and septic systems are also potential sources of phosphate contamination. We intend to continue present efforts to ensure that the likelihood of these pollutants entering streams and rivers is reduced to the minimum possible.

Biological By-Products and Wastes
Livestock manure can be a major source of bacterial contamination of surface waters, if we are not careful to prevent it from being washed into streams, rivers, and drainage ditches. The application of manure should occur only at times when the risk of runoff is minimal.

Milkhouse wash water, if permitted to enter underground drainage systems or flow directly above ground into water courses, con be a serious source of water pollution. 

"Manure and milkhouse wash water improve soil fertility and organic matter levels when used properly."
Milkhouse wash water, if permitted to enter underground drainage systems or flow directly above ground into water courses, con be a serious source of water pollution.

Manure and milkhouse wash water improve soil fertility and organic matter levels when used properly. We must continue to seek means of improving the available technology for application.

Faulty wells and rural septic systems, both farm and non-farm, can also mean drinking water contamination.

The improper handling and disposal of dead livestock also cause biological contamination.

 

Water Management
Underground tile drainage and irrigation both alter the normal seasonal pattern of water flow in streams and rivers. Groundwater is a common source of irrigation water. In some cases, this conflicts with other societal demands for these available water supplies.

However, drainage and irrigation are both essential for successful crop production on many soils in Ontario. This is because of our climate which can supply excesses of precipitation runoff at some times during the year and drought stress at other times. Many Ontario farm soils would be flooded, for at least port of the growing season, without artificial drainage.

Drainage is critical in order to permit planting and other field operations to be completed at proper times during the growth season.

Municipal drainage ditches are commonly required to provide an outlet for drainage water, and these should be constructed and maintained, to the extent practically possible, in a manner which causes minimal disruption to wetlands. More consideration must be given, in drainage design, to the effects on down-stream water flow.

Irrigation is crucial on sandier soils and for higher value (e.g. horticultural) crops.

Drainage and irrigation are both examples of the types of environmental modification which are essential if we are to maintain a viable agriculture in Ontario.

 

AIR QUALITY CONCERNS

Noise
Noise is a normal part of farming. Under certain conditions, it can represent a notable annoyance.

Noise from field operations usually occurs for only a few hours per year for any particular field location.

Noise from such non-mobile sources as irrigation pumps, grain dryers and ventilation fans represents a larger irritant, as operation is generally for extended time periods.

Bird bangers, which are often essential to protect crops at critical times of the season, can be a major irritant to nearby residents, especially when used, as they often must be, in evening or early morning hours.

Dust and Odour
Dust annoyances may occur from wind erosion - a consequence of poor protection of soil by wind breaks, cover crops or crop residues or from intensive tillage and/or harvest operations during dry conditions. The scheduling of field operations to avoid the latter is quite difficult due to the many factors affecting their timeliness.

However, our commitment to the increased use of cover crops and crop residues to protect soil surface, plus conservation tillage, should reduce the number of dust complaints associated with wind erosion in coming years.

Odour problems commonly arise from the application of manure. The duration and severity of odour problems can be minimized by ensuring that storage structures are maintained and operated properly, that field applications are scheduled, where practical, for times when nearby residents are least likely to be disturbed, and that, once applied, manure is incorporated into the soil promptly.

Atmospheric Greenhouse Gas Exchange
Agriculture is a source of various atmospheric greenhouse gases which have the potential to cause global warming. Agricultural crops are major users of atmospheric carbon dioxide through the process of photosynthesis. Higher crop yields result in greater rates of carbon dioxide absorption.
The amount of soil organic matter, a vast carbon reservoir, can be enhanced by increasing the annual addition of organic matter to the soil and by decreasing the amount of soil tillage. Less tillage also means less combustion of fossil fuels. A 1% increase in soil organic matter equates to over 40 tonnes of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere per hectare of farm land.
"Farm animals, especially ruminant animals, are a high-profile but relatively minor source of atmospheric methane."
The combustion of hydrocarbon fuels is a major source of atmospheric greenhouse gases, and we must continue our efforts to reduce their usage in food production. The breakdown of soil organic matter leads to the release of carbon dioxide a natural process which is accelerated by the action of tillage.

Farm animals, especially ruminant animals, are a high-profile but relatively minor source of atmospheric methane. Because ruminant animals digest forage plants, more forage crops can be grown in rotations on Ontario farm fields.

Nitrogen oxide gases originating from the oxidation of nitrogen fertilizers and manure are other sources of atmospheric greenhouse gases. Increased efficiencies in the use of fertilizer nitrogen and manure reduce the potential for these materials to contribute to atmospheric greenhouse gas levels.

CONCERNS RELATING TO AGRICULTURAL INPUTS

Pesticides and Fertilizers
Agricultural pesticides are used to control crop and livestock pests. If not used properly, these products can represent a threat to human health and the environment. Although the greatest risk is to the health of ourselves and our families and to the quality of our immediate environment, some minor risk exists for non-form citizens, through contamination of food and water, and to the off-farm environment, through water and air pollution.

By for the greatest port of this risk is associated with misuse, usually the result of inadequate training and knowledge. For this reason, Ontario farm organizations petitioned the Government of Ontario to implement mandatory training and certification for users of farm pesticides in the province.

Ontario form organizations also took the lead, recently, in asking the Canadian and Ontario Governments to limit the use of atrazine, a herbicide responsible for most of the pesticide residues identified in surface waters in Ontario, to times of the year and rates of application which will reduce the incidence of these residues to very low levels.

Farm pesticide usage has decreased significantly in Ontario over the past decade, a trend which will continue with the aid of the Food Systems 2002 program of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. This program, designed to reduce agricultural pesticide usage in the province by 50%, is being supplemented with funds contributed by Ontario farm organizations. Greater use of Integrated Pest Management techniques is fundamental to meeting this objective.

Ontario farmers have welcomed the use of newer pesticide products which are safer and more effective, and which decompose quickly once exposed to soil, light or plants.

ln some situations, it is proving possible to produce certain crops with no pesticide at all. However, care must be token to ensure that alternative pest control techniques used do not represent a greater threat to environment or health than the technology which they replace. Nor con the need to produce an adequate supply of pest-free food, at reasonable cost to consumers and reasonable financial return to producers, be ignored.

The use and, more critically, misuse of fertilizers can cause detrimental effects on water quality. Denitrification of nitrogen fertilizer, and, indeed, of all soil nitrogen sources, can lead to the release of nitrogen oxides which are atmospheric greenhouse gases. And the manufacture and transportation of fertilizer materials, especially for nitrogen- and phosphate-containing compounds, involves a considerable expenditure of energy.

Efforts must be continued and intensified to tailor both the rate and timing of fertilizer applications to match the needs for crop growth, and to use livestock manure, rotations and cover crops, to the extent possible, in meeting crop fertility needs.

Plant breeding, and the associated ability to incorporate genetic resistance for controlling pests, represents a preferred alternative to pesticides. Similar potential may exist for reducing the need for manufactured fertilizers, while maintaining crop yields. The preservation of genetic diversity is important relative to these goals.

A related environmental concern involves the need for increased opportunity to reduce, reuse, or recycle containers used for packaging materials such as seed and farm chemicals.

Energy
Fossil fuels are limited in supply and contribute to air pollution when burned. Electricity is becoming increasingly costly and new power developments may have adverse environmental effects. Agricultural field operations, manufacture of inputs, crop drying, and transportation are all major consumers of energy.
The usage of fossil fuels can be reduced by minimizing field operations and by the use of energy-efficient technology for such operations as crop drying. Major strides have been made in this direction, over the past ten years, and this trend must continue. 
"Energy efficiency has increased by 40% in Ontario greenhouses over the past decade....."
Measures to increase the efficiency of fertilizer use, especially nitrogen, will reduce use of fossil-fuel energy in food production.

Continued development of more productive and better adapted crop varieties (e.g. earlier maturity, disease and insect resistant) will further improve efficiency per unit of input usage.

The main use of electricity is in space heating, ventilation and refrigeration. Increased efficiency in building ventilation and insulation will help to reduce the energy required for heating.

Energy efficiency has increased by 40% in Ontario greenhouses over the past decade; co-generation of electricity and heat from natural gas is part of present-day greenhouse technology.

In addition, it must be noted that agriculture and agro-forestry can supply significant quantities of renewable biomass to be used directly, or indirectly after processing, as solid and liquid fuels.

NATURAL RESOURCES

Wildlife
Wildlife can help in the control of pests, such as rodents, and provide a source of joy to us and our neighbours. However, wildlife can also be carriers of diseases to domestic animals and poultry. And, if too numerous, the damage they cause to crops and livestock can be greater than we can afford, financially.

Wildlife have always been an integral part of the rural environment. Ontario farms provide a diversity of wildlife habitats. Our impression is that the numbers and diversity of wildlife on Ontario farms have increased in recent years.

Reasonable opportunity must be provided for the control of wild animals and birds when their numbers become excessive. Alternatively, society must play a greater role in sharing the financial burden caused by injury to crops and farm livestock.

It is our responsibility, as farmers, to do our best to ensure that the water leaving our farms is as contaminant-free as technology and economics will permit. Clean streams and rivers mean a healthy habitat for fish.

However, farming practices, and in particular the need for tile drainage outlets, mean that water courses flowing through agriculturally significant areas of the province cannot be identical in habitat to those that exist in non-farmed areas.

Wetlands
Expansion of agriculture onto soils which are now marshes or swamps should be carefully controlled; indeed, in the present economic environment, this type of expansion occurs rarely. And in some places, agricultural land is being converted back into wetland.

Existing wetlands near farmland can be damaged by runoff from farm fields, if laden with soil sediments, crop chemicals, and manure. Opportunities for preventing these types of problems are identified in earlier sections of this chapter.

Relationships between wetlands and land drainage are discussed in the earlier section, entitled "Water Management."

Woodlands
Agriculture could not exist in Ontario if the province was entirely wooded, but existing woodlots must be retained.
When agricultural soils of Ontario were originally "cleared," a section of woodlot was left on most farms, and a large percentage of these woodlots still remain. 
"Under the National Soil Conservation program, the reforestation of highly erodible soils is being actively promoted."
On some farms, these woodlots represent a significant source of farm income through the sale of maple syrup and timber. Woodlots also represent a wildlife habitat, and to some extent, wind-break shelter. They also add to the quality of rural life.

Under the National Soil Conservation program, the reforestation of highly erodible soils is being actively promoted.

Some rural municipalities have bylaws prohibiting the further clearing of viable woodlots, and these bylaws must be extended and enforced. Livestock grazing should be carefully controlled in these designated woodlot areas.


Table of Contents

CHAPTER 4

Addressing the Concerns: Our Commitment

We are committed to a process which will encourage every farmer to conduct farming activities in a manner which respects the environment.

The process must involve a combination of individual commitment and initiative, and public policies and programs which will help us recognize and respond to specific environmental concerns on our individual farms. The process must be farm-specific in nature, but it also must address problems which are industry-wide or watershed-based in nature or those which require the development or adaptation of new technology.

Central to this commitment is the creation of environmental farm plans. Our goal is to have each farmer develop an environmental farm plan in which key opportunities for environmental enhancement are identified, and an implementation strategy defined. In doing so, we will build on the experience gained in developing conservation farm plans under the Ontario Land Stewardship program.

In order for this to work, we will also need an educational and advisory process to help farmers analyze their individual farm operations from an environmental perspective, and devise realistic plans for overcoming the problems which exist. The advisory network should involve other farmers, as well as trained professionals, and must be designed to function over an extended time period.

The advisory network could be based, in part, on existing organizations such as the county land stewardship committees of the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, the Plant and Animal Industry Branches of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and the various watershed conservation authorities. But it will also require new resources, new personnel, and new skills.

In addition, many of the farm environmental concerns which we have described in Chapter 3 cannot be overcome by individual farm initiative alone. Some require research and new technology. Some require government regulation and coordination. Some require cooperation at the community level. And some will require financial assistance to overcome substantial economic hurdles.

We have outlined below the components important to these various endeavours. Precise details are beyond the scope of this agenda statement.

Environmental Farm Plans
Beginning in 1992, we will ask every farmer to develop and maintain an environmental farm plan for his or her enterprise. We expect that this will result in the creation of over 40,000 individual farm plans during this decade, or one for every farm business in the province.

Individual environmental farm plans will include the following:

  • A commitment to document the quality of the farmland and the environment on the farm, recognizing the positive role played by good crop and animal husbandry, and interactions between the two.

  • A commitment to modify practices and to make other changes so that, over the length of the environmental farm plan, there is a reasonable expectation that these changes will result in an improved environment. On some farms, it may not be possible to modify all of the farm practices which are detrimental to environmental quality. On others, there may be no undesirable environmental effects, but opportunities may exist for environmental enhancement or protection. Each plan will include site specific commitments to improve the land and environment.

  • A commitment to document actual farm practices employed with respect to the environmental farm plan. This documentation, and the underlying plan will be peer-reviewed, periodically, and adjustments made as necessary. Environmental farm plans must be sufficiently flexible to respond to variations in weather and market conditions.

  • A commitment to ensure that anonymous information from these farm plans will be available for use as a principal basis for assessing the need for, and format and cost of, potential new farm environmental initiatives.

  • A commitment to include the existence of individual environmental farm plans as an eligibility requirement for new farm environmental programs. This does not mean cross-compliance with existing farm income support and tax rebate programs.
Our commitment, as farm organizations, is to develop the infra-structure, so that the process of developing and implementing environmental farm plans can begin as quickly as possible.

Individual farm initiative, by itself, while fundamental to our strategy for addressing farm environmental problems, is insufficient to correct all of the various concerns which we have identified earlier. The process of environmental farm plan development must be accompanied by a series of public initiatives. Some of these are listed below:

Education and Advisory Support
Education will be central to the environmental farm plan process.

In large part, this process can build on the array of educational programs which already exist in rural Ontario for example, education and extension programs of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, the Land Stewardship and National Soil Conservation programs (funded by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and Agriculture Canada, respectively, and administered by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association), the Ontario Pesticide Education Program (operated jointly by the Ontario Ministries of Agriculture and Food and Environment, and AGCare), and other related programs.

However, some restructuring of existing programs will be required, along with improved coordination, so that these programs focus on the environmental farm plan initiative. Other educational initiatives will probably be required. We as farmers intend to play a central role in this process.

Individualized advisory support will also be essential to the process. Many farmers will require assistance in analyzing their farm operation from an environmental perspective, in improving their environmental management skills, and in developing a meaningful, workable, plan for improvement.

Individualized support should be provided, to the extent possible, by other farmers familiar with soil and other resource and environmental limitations at the local level. County land stewardship committees, used by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association in implementing the Ontario Land Stewardship program, could serve as a model. However, professional input will also be essential to the process.

Research and Development
Inadequate technology exists to address some of the farm environmental concerns identified in Chapter 3. As a result, research and development must be a key part of our environmental strategy.

Research and developmental efforts must cover the range from basic investigation, through to on-farm evaluations and demonstrations.

We need fundamental work in a number of areas; for example, how to decrease the amount of tillage on heavy clay soils while still maintaining yields and farm income, how to tailor nitrogen fertilizer applications so that they more closely match crop needs, how to implement Integrated Pest Management techniques for more crops and more pests, how to reduce nitrogen losses and odour problems associated with manure utilization, and more.

But research results must also be tested in a variety of farming situations, before they can be adequately assessed. The research and development process must also include on-farm demonstrations so that farmers can examine, and assess directly, the results of these endeavours.

Finally, improved farmer-to-researcher communication is needed so that new problems and solutions identified as farmers develop their individual farm plans, lead quickly to the initiation of appropriate research investigations.

Financial Assistance
Certain environmental problems are beyond the scope of the ability of individual farmers to correct, given the often precarious state of the Ontario farm economy, without additional financial resources.

Alternatively, the "solutions" may involve continuing economic cost to the farmer, with the benefit being shared by many others. An example involves the proliferation of wildlife, particularly for those species which can cause predatory injury or death to farm animals and damage to crops.

In both cases, financial assistance from public sources is essential.

In reality, this involves the continuation and extension of a number of present policies; for example, full compensation for predatory injury to farm animals and for damage to crops by wildlife, capital grants and interest rate assistance for the installation of water-management systems, adequate grants for the construction of manure and pesticide storage facilities, and financial assistance for the rental or purchase of soil conservation equipment.

Existing programs of governments and non-governmental organizations must be categorized and evaluated to ensure that they are coordinated, sufficient in scope, and properly designed and targeted to complement the environmental farm plan process.

In addition, existing farm programs should be examined to make certain that they are not in conflict with efforts to improve the quality of the soil and environment on Ontario farms.

Regulation
A number of provincial and federal statutes exist which have a direct bearing on farm environmental practices. These acts and related regulations must be examined to ensure that they are consistent with the process outlined above.
In principle, we believe that the more successful approach to encouraging land and environmental stewardship will involve education, individual initiative, and encouragement of the environmental ethic. However, there are situations where regulation may be desirable. 
"Regulation is no substitute for the farmer-helping-farmer approach to environmental responsibility..... "
We intend to play a major role in the development of appropriate legislation and regulations.

The development of the Grower Pesticide Safety Course is an example. Farm groups initially requested training programs and certification for farmers using agricultural pesticides to ensure the judicious and safe use of these products. Farm organizations then, subsequently, asked that certification become mandatory, as the only viable means of ensuring that all Ontario farmers using pesticides were receiving the appropriate instruction.

This approach will be useful only in situations where conditions are consistent across the province, and where regulatory action is widely supported within the farm community.

Regulation is no substitute for the farmer-helping-farmer approach to environmental responsibility which we've outlined above.

Environmental farm plans, coupled with the support of educational and advisory programs, research and development, and financial support programs are the foundation of Our Farm Environmental Agenda.

 


 

Table of Contents | EFP Home | Green Plan Home

 

Last Updated: Tuesday, May 17, 2011 04:43:40 PM