CFFO: Soil In The Spotlight

Pushing right to the end of the year, December 31 saw the close of the consultation window on “New Horizons: Ontario’s Draft Agricultural Soil Health and Conservation Strategy.”

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The Soil Health Strategy puts the spotlight on something which does not have the charm or public appeal of cute baby animals or sprawling green vistas. It is soil health, however, that fundamentally underlies the vibrant green landscape and the health of our farm animals. Soil health is also a foundation to human health and well being in so many ways. Soil however, shy of the spotlight, is happiest when left unseen.

In fact, keeping more soil covered through more of the year is behind actions in the Strategy encouraging wider adoption of cover crops and conservation tillage methods like no-till and strip till. The Strategy also promotes diverse crop rotations, application of organic soil amendments, and prevention or mitigation of erosion and compaction problems. The CFFO has been actively engaged in the Agricultural Soil Health and Conservation Working Group, which was key to developing the Draft Strategy. We also participated in consultations with government throughout the process.

The Strategy proposes 74 actions. The CFFO wants to see government prioritize some for early action. These include having government complete soil mapping in all agricultural areas across the province and to make this data available electronically. The CFFO also wants to see funding for soil health checkup programs across the province, support for on-farm trials and innovation grants and support for extension to farmers to aid in BMP adoption suited to each unique farm landscape and farm business.

Beyond the actions proposed in the Strategy, the CFFO also wants to see stronger emphasis on getting feedback from farmers to researchers, to make a complete communication loop, not a one-
way street. This will help ensure that research and farm innovation are working in mutually beneficial ways. This strategy draws attention to the good work farmers are doing and also gives government acknowledgement of the amazing potential our Ontario farmland soils have for creating economic, social and environmental benefits.

Strong government, research and extension support is important, but in the end, it will primarily be farmers on the front lines of soil health improvements across the province. Through farmers’ good stewardship, all of society benefits. It is, therefore, vitally important that society, through and beyond government, support the stewardship work of farmers as much as possible. Hopefully for the public at large, putting this spotlight on soil health will help them better appreciate the good that farmers do through their soil stewardship every day.

Suzanne Armstrong is Director of Research and Policy for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKXFM Chatham, CKNX Wingham, and UCB Canada radio stations in Chatham, Belleville, Bancroft, Brockville and Kingston. It is also archived on the CFFO website, CFFO is supported by 4,000 family farmers across Ontario.