Treasure Beneath Our Feet: Implementing Ontario’s Soil Strategy

February 28, 2020 | Suzanne Armstrong

Treasure Beneath Our Feet: Implementing Ontario’s Soil Strategy

Therese Festin and Jake Munroe from OMAFRA presented on New Horizons: Ontario’s Agricultural Soil Health and Conservation Strategy at CFFO’s February Provincial Council Meeting. The CFFO was involved in the Soil Strategy Working Group and continues to be involved now in the implementation phase.

Healthy soils are the foundation of a successful agricultural sector over the long-term. At the same time many factors, from economic to environmental to social, impact how farmers are able to care for their soils. Our current data indicates that around 80% of the farm soils in Ontario have decreasing soil organic matter (SOM) levels.

Our speakers pointed out changing patterns in Ontario agriculture that are having an impact on our soils and soil stewardship practices. These include increase in soybean acres, decrease in pasture acres, increase in rented vs. owned farmland, and changing livestock density in some areas. While winter wheat acres remain at a good level, one of the actions of the strategy is to help support greater crop diversity and rotation through better economic value and markets for alternative crops.

Beyond soils’ importance for the agri-food sector, the strategy is part of government efforts to address issues such as water quality. Soil health is a focus area for Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) funding, especially in the Lake Erie watershed with the Lake Erie Agriculture Demonstrating Sustainability (LEADS) program which includes up to 55% cost-share funding for qualifying projects.

The Soil Health and Conservation Strategy has four main areas of focus: Soil Management, Soil Data and Mapping, Soil Evaluation and Monitoring, and Soil Knowledge and Innovation. The strategy was created through broad consultation with the agriculture sector from the first discussion paper released in 2016 through to the final version released in 2018. OMAFRA is now working with stakeholders, including the CFFO, to implement its key actions.

In particular, the CFFO continues to push for updated soil mapping across the agricultural areas of the province. So far, map updates have been underway in the Peterborough and Ottawa areas. Higher resolution maps are being created using both modeling and targeted ground-proofing. OMAFRA is interested to know what information will be useful to farmers from updated soil maps, especially for precision ag applications.

CFFO is pleased to see that the government recognizes the value of healthy farm soils and will support farmers’ stewardship efforts through actions outlined in the strategy.

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.