Helping our Neighbours Next Door and Downstream: The Timing Matters Initiative

November 29, 2019 | Suzanne Armstrong

Helping our Neighbours Next Door and Downstream: The Timing Matters Initiative

Snow came early for many in Ontario this month. These early winter conditions mean applying manure at the right time may be more difficult.

The benefits of using manure on fields are well known. Organic inputs provide valuable nutrients, reducing the need for costly fertilizer. Manure also builds soil organic matter, an important contributor to overall soil health. However, field applying manure under the wrong conditions means these valuable benefits are all or partially lost.

The Timing Matters campaign has been promoting the importance of applying nutrients at the right time, as also promoted by 4R Nutrient Stewardship. Both OMAFRA and Farm and Food Care Ontario have information online about the Timing Matters initiative.

Manure and other nutrients should not be applied onto frozen, saturated, or snow-covered ground, nor during winter months. Winter spreading of manure can cause runoff into surrounding waterways. This is because the nutrients cannot be absorbed into frozen ground, or will move when snow melts or during heavy rain storms during a thaw or in early spring. This is a loss to the farmer and a problem for those downstream.

This is the third winter that OMAFRA and partner farm organizations, including CFFO, are working together on an initiative called the Peer to Peer Response Team as part of the larger Timing Matters initiative.

The team is composed of members from general farm and commodity organizations working together to help address the problem of winter spreading. When a complaint is brought forward, a farmer representative from the same commodity contacts the operator in question for a neighbour-to-neighbour conversation. They will discuss why the farmer felt there was a need for winter spreading and what alternatives are possible to prevent incidents in the future. Farm organizations are hopeful this peer-to-peer approach will be effective, avoiding calls for more punitive action.

The pilot project has focused on the Lake Erie watershed, where phosphorus loss from many sources, urban and rural, have resulted in toxic algal blooms in the lake. Farmers in Canada and the US are stepping up to find ways to improve methods that reduce the risk of nutrient loss from things like manure, fertilizer and soil erosion into waterways and, ultimately, the Great Lakes.

Doing the right thing is good for farmers, good for neighbours, and good for public perception of agriculture as a whole.

Suzanne Armstrong is Director of Policy & Research 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.