Farmers in position to be ‘stewards of the land’

By Carl Clutchey
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Chronicle-Journal

Farmers can possess a green thumb and help keep the planet green by tweaking their operations with an eye to protecting the environment, says a Thunder Bay-area grower.

“There are things we can do to become better stewards of the land and burn less fossil fuels,” Jason Reid said Friday from his beef farm on the city’s outskirts.

Reid, who is the area rep for the Thunder Bay Soil & Crop Improvement Association, said it was good to see this week the federal and provincial governments re-offer grants aimed at underwriting various agricultural upgrades.

More than $68 million over five years was jointly announced for three programs that Ontario farmers can tap into to curb their environmental footprint; efforts include reducing how much land is tilled, retaining water ponds and cutting down on greenhouse gases.

At the same, the province is encouraging farms to become more efficient to increase the amount of locally-grown food being consumed by Ontarians by 30 per cent over the next 10-year period.

In practice, farmers can add equipment like air exchangers to improve air quality and retain heat in barns, and plant crops like clover in fields that would have otherwise been left fallow to trap in carbon and improve overall soil diversity, Reid said.

Some Thunder Bay farms are soon to be test-driving a battery-powered tractor to see how it can handle Northwestern Ontario’s cold climate. Many tractors still run on diesel, one of the worst air pollutants.

Other efficiencies, Reid said, include increased co-operation between cash-croppers and livestock operations so that fields can be simultaneously grazed and fertilized with manure.

Though Reid admitted the grants that facilitate some of the operational changes can amount “to a lot of paperwork,” he said it’s worth the bother.

“These are really good programs,” he said.

Meanwhile, in the same news release, the province noted funding is available to combat excess phosphorus run-off from agricultural operations that threaten the health of waterways, particularly in some parts of southern Ontario.

“Enhanced, targeted, cost-share funding supports accelerating regional efforts to reduce phosphorus from farming entering Lake Erie,” the news release said.