Upper levels of government collaborate with farmers to improve lake water quality

The waters of Lake Erie are seen along the beach in Erieau on August 24, 2014. (Photo by Ricardo Veneza)

Senior levels of government are continuing their commitment to working with Ontario farmers to help improve water quality and soil health in local watersheds.

The governments of Canada and Ontario, through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, are investing more than $2.5 million into the Lake Erie Agriculture Demonstrating Sustainability (LEADS) initiative.

The money will support  220 farmer-led, regionally targeted cost-share projects to help farmers improve soil health and reduce the risk of nutrient losses on their farms located in the Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair watersheds as well as improve water quality in the region.

Kent Federation of Agriculture President Jay Cunningham said with farmers being the largest landowners in the province, the initiative is a vital collaboration between upper levels of government and the agriculture industry.

“A lot of the water comes through land bases and through different sources into the waterways. So how we approach these things and how we manage these things is important,” he said. “Farmers are excellent stewards of the land and the water but we can always do better and always learn more.”

For this year’s LEADS funding, Chatham-Kent – Leamington will receive $143,952 for 19 projects, Elgin – Middlesex – London will receive $461,892 towards 36 projects, Essex will receive $196,774 for 16 projects and Windsor – Tecumseh will receive $8,665 for one project.

Projects include adding organic amendments to soil, putting in erosion control structures, planting windbreaks, planting cover crops, making equipment modifications to improve manure applications and to reduce soil compaction as well as making tillage and nutrient application equipment modifications.

Cunningham said he can’t share the specifics about projects because each one is confidential to the individual farmer that applied through the program.

“If they can now get some additional financial support to either get a project started or take it further, I think that’s a fantastic thing,” he said.

In addition to the LEADS projects helping with environmental aspects, many of the projects will also help farmers improve productivity through implementing better on-farm management practices

LEADS is a five-year, $15.6 million commitment by the federal and provincial governments. During the first three years of the initiative, over 700 on-farm projects were completed in the watersheds as a result of the funding.

Cunningham said both the Kent and Ontario Federation of Agriculture have a long history of being closely involved with local watersheds through various projects. However, he said it’s welcome news to see senior levels of government recognize the importance of environmental sustainability in agriculture and believes they’ll be even more of a focus on it in the coming years.

“Farmers have always been doing a lot of these things, now it’s just more formalized, now there’s some available funding for it,” he said. “That’s only going to help grow and help perpetuate this process.”