Farming and the Ecosystem

May 31, 2019 | Paul Bootsma

Farming and the Ecosystem

An Ecosystem is defined as “a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment.” Often, agriculture is seen as disruptive to the sensitive balance of a given ecosystem. However, more and more, farmers are seeing the benefits that farming can bring to some areas, where close attention is given to maintaining a healthy balance.

Our role as humans is to protect and maintain the earth’s diverse ecosystems as part of God’s creation. We could consider each farm in Ontario as an ecosystem, where all the moving parts are needed to maintain a balance, allowing efficient production of foods. Within such an ecosystem is the relationship of livestock farming and crop farming. The core to this is the soil and the need to keep it in a healthy state.

As we all know from Newton’s third law, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Throw a ball up and it will come down. Throw a stone into a body of water and there will be ripples. Their size and number are determined by the size of the stone. This principle also affects environmental efforts. There are secondary reactions to what we do with our soils.

Farmers report that having cattle on pasture helps the grass stay thick and healthy. Take the cattle off and the pasture ends up with unwanted weeds. We know that pastures have the ability to sequester carbon, which reduces carbon in the atmosphere. Adding compost from cattle manure increases the organic matter of soil, improving the make up of the soil and increasing its capability to store carbon. This is a good example of how livestock farming benefits the environment.

For years the CFFO has argued that livestock farming is best for Ontario soils because of the natural flow of energy, from plants to animals and back to the soil for plants to regrow. Worldwide, there is more and more research to support such regenerative agricultural practices.

Today the global community continues to work on decreasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Our federal government is doing this by charging a tax on carbon emissions to discourage burning fossil fuels. However, there could be options for reducing carbon in the atmosphere in natural ways. Keeping our pastures and forests in good health will increase the sequestering of carbon and storing it in our soils where it is needed.

Farmers today understand the importance of ecosystems on our farms. They should be rewarded for their efforts in providing ecological services. Instead, farmers bear too much of the carbon tax. The bottom line is that taxing fuel use may not be the best way to reduce the net amount of carbon emissions from farms, as long as we practice the sort of “systems thinking” supported by regenerative agriculture. And after all, working with ecosystems is a normal part of a farmer’s business.

Paul Bootsma is Member Relations Manager 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, CKXS Chatham, and CKNX Wingham. It is also archived on the CFFO website, CFFO is supported by 4,000 family farmers across Ontario.