Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Province shirking its role on healthy soils

The Ontario government appears to be shirking its role in helping farmers develop healthier soils better able to withstand the pressures arising from climate change.

Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner, Dianne Saxe, is calling for the government to step up to the plate and lists these issues:

- the lack of easy, inexpensive and reliable methods for measuring soil health;
- the need for improved education on soil health for both farmers and consumers; and
 - the understandable hesitancy of many farmers to adopt new practices without transition support.

She says the government should:

- measure or estimate soil carbon levels across the province every three years, and make the results public;
- link the cost of crop insurance to soil carbon levels, recognizing that high carbon soils reduce risks to crops and have many public benefits; and,
 - provide financial support for up to 10 years for farmers who transition to soil health best management practices.

Saxe has issued a technical report, Putting Soil Health First: A Climate-Smart Idea for Ontario, that shows how healthy soils can both mitigate, and adapt to, climate change, while also increasing yields, protecting the environment, and increasing farm profits.

It echoes the observation crop specialist Peter Johnson who said there was a “huge difference, far more than normal” in higher yields from fields with good soil health this year.

Corn on good land yielded 230 bushels an acre; on poor soils 145.

Saxe says that on average, Ontario agricultural soils have suffered serious losses of organic matter over the last 30 years.

Without enough organic matter, soils dry out faster and can’t hold water, and need more nutrients and pesticides, “which are costly and can adversely affect water quality and wildlife.”

Saxe says “an increasing number of Ontario farmers are successfully taking up the challenge.” For example, one Ontario farm has put about 13,000 tonnes of carbon back into its soil over the past 25 years, simply by farming with methods that promote healthy soils. The result? Crops that flourish in all kinds of weather, much lower input costs, and better yields with less work. Plus more biodiversity and less soil erosion.

“If one family farm can do so much, just think what Ontario farmers could accomplish! It’s really quite amazing, and inspiring,” Saxe says.