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for the
Green Plan Research Program

Dr. Bruce MacDonald
Land Resource Div.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Guelph, ONT.

"excerpted from the
1995 GP Research Workshop Proceedings"

The quality of water in the Great Lakes System has been a longstanding concern of both the government of Canada and the government of the United States of America. The rights and obligations of both countries were officially outlined in the spirit of friendship and cooperation in the Boundary Waters Treaty signed on January 11, 1909. In more recent times the obligation not to pollute boundary waters while recognizing the rights of each country in the use of its Great Lakes waters has been reaffirmed in a series of Great Lakes Water Quality Agreements.

The state of the Great Lakes is monitored and reported regularly by the International Joint Commission.

In the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) of 1972, emphasis was placed on nutrients from point sources (municipal sewage treatment facilities) as a major concern to water quality in the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem. In addition, the PLUARG (Pollution from Land Use Activities Research Group) studied rural pollution and confirmed agriculture as a non-point source of pollution.

The GLWQA was reviewed and updated in 1978. In this agreement, target levels were established for phosphorus loadings to the Great Lakes. A phosphorus management plan was developed for the lakes which included pollution from rural non-point sources. SWEEP (the Soil and Water Environmental Enhancement Program) was established to carry out research and transfer of technology related to agriculture. At the time of this agreement a Canada-Ontario Agreement (COA) was signed respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem. The purpose of the COA was to coordinate the activities of federal departments and provincial ministries in support of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

The 1987 protocol (an updated version of the GLWQA) emphasis was placed on limiting the release and impact of toxic chemicals in the Great Lakes Basin ecosystem. A non-point source pollution annex was added to the agreement providing detailed targets for various pollutants. The focus of activities was broadened to include an ecosystem approach.

The result of the 1987 protocol was several Great Lakes Action plan (GLAP) initiatives; specifically, the GLAP research program was a five year $ 5 million multi-disciplinary research project carried out from 1989 to 1994. It dealt with agricultural non-point sources of pollution related to pesticides, manure and nitrogen. In addition, there were federal and provincial programs designed to promote permanent cover or maintain high residue ground cover as ways to minimize erosion by water.

The Green Plan agreement was developed as an equally-shared Canada-Ontario program to encourage and assist farmers with the implementation of appropriate farm management practices within the framework of environmentally sustainable agriculture. Approximately 30% of the federal component of this program has been directed towards research (to be reported on at this workshop) to address objectives which were identified at a Stakeholder conference (Kempenfelt Centre, Barrie, October 1991) and subsequently refined by research project committees.

Other Green Plan initiatives deal with technology transfer and demonstration of good innovative practices. These include the Rural Conservation Club Program which is coordinated by the Marketing and Industry Services Branch and has supported more than forty projects developed and carried out by groups of farmers. The woodlands, wildlife and wetlands program has a series of projects designed to promote healthy ecosystems with a mix of agriculture, forest areas and wetlands. The joint federal-provincial program to develop booklets which describe Best Management Practices provide a standard reference for farmers and the general public about the position and interactions of agriculture in the rural ecosystem. The farmer led Environmental Farm Plans are providing several thousand Ontario farmers with an assessment of their individual farming operations.

The most recent Canada-Ontario Agreement (COA) was signed in July 1994. It provides details of cooperative activities to restore, protect and conserve the Great Lakes basin ecosystem. This agreement and other Canadian and international initiatives (listed later) provide an indication of how agricultural and environmental concerns are continuing to evolve. It is these programs as well as others yet to come which will shape our thinking and, in reality, they will provide the context within which the results of our current Green Plan Research projects will be assessed and interpreted. It is important for all of us to take note of these developments and consider not only how well our research projects meet their original objectives but also how they will contribute to new and developing interests and concerns. The following few paragraphs provide a brief outline of recent program and policy developments.

The 1994 COA continues and expands the emphasis on ecosystems which was clearly enunciated in the 1987 Protocol. Four areas of focus (streams) are identified; namely,

  • restore degraded ecosystems (RAPs - Remedial Action Plan)

  • prevent and control pollutant impacts

  • conserve human/ecosystem health

  • integrated ecosystem management.

These trends represent a more comprehensive and holistic view of agriculture in the environment as it interacts with other ecosystem components (aquatic, wetland, and forest) and the overall societal requirements for quality of life.

Several associated government programs deserve mention because they will provide part of the framework for interpreting Green Plan Research. These include National Environment Strategy for Agriculture and Agri-Food, State of Environment Reporting and Indicators. The activities related to indicators encompass the Environmental Indicator Bulletin Series produced by Environment Canada, the Agri-Environmental Indicators being developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the OECD (Organization for Environmental Cooperation and Development) indicators which are currently under development.

The first draft of the National Environment Strategy for Agriculture and Agri-Food was circulated in 1990 as the report on Environmental Sustainability. In 1995 this report is being revised. Four main issue areas are identified;

  • resource-based issues

  • regulatory issues

  • trade issues

  • awareness and education issues.

The results of Green Plan research projects will contribute most directly to the section dealing with resource-based issues.

Environment Canada produced the first State of Environment (SOE) Report in 1986 to correspond with the census. The third SOE report is scheduled for release after the 1996 census. It will provide a general assessment of sustainable development within an ecosystem framework. In simple terms this third SOE report will attempt to answer four key questions related to agriculture and sustainable development;

  • what is happening? (Conditions and trends)

  • why is it happening (links between human activities and ecological changes such as environment-economy interactions)

  • why is it important (what are the implications for ecosystems, human health, economic and social well-being i.e. are the trends sustainable?)

  • what are we doing about it? (Responses at all levels of society).

Clearly, most Green Plan research projects deal very directly with one or other of these questions.

Indicators are developed to provide information which is clear and easily understood on the current trends and state of the natural environment in agriculture, to assist policy makers in the analysis of the environmental impacts of policy decisions and market processes, and to monitor the effectiveness of policies promoting sustainable agriculture. In general, we must first carry out sound scientific study and documentation of a situation and then provide a more simplified view for broader distribution. In Canada there are three specific indicator activities underway. The Environment Canada Indicator Bulletin Series is designed to monitor and report trends for the public at large. The Agri-Environmental Indicators under development by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada will monitor trends and provide a tool to evaluate the effects of policies. The OECD Agri-Environmental indicators will be used to facilitate inter-national agri-environmental comparisons for purposes of trade. A cooperative project is underway with INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique), France to model the movement of potential contaminants in small watersheds. The resulting workshops and parallel studies will contribute to the indicator of risk of water contamination.

The Green Plan Research Projects were developed through a consultative process to address the needs of the agricultural community in addition over and above the ongoing A-base research activities. The objectives identified at the outset remain of primary importance as the research is carried out. However, we as coordinators of the research would be remiss if we did not pay close attention to developing programs, concerns and interest and all of us as an agricultural research community need to continue to reevaluate how our research activities can be integrated with other research initiatives to contribute to societies needs. We will continue to share our understanding of trends with you and count on your input and discussion assist all of us in achieving the most useful interpretations and applications of our efforts.



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Created: Wednesday, October 09, 1996 11:20:49
Last Updated: Wednesday, May 11, 2011 08:26:17 PM