OFA Viewpoint: Rewarding farmers ecological stewardship

ONTARIO – The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) acknowledges the important role that Ontario farmers serve in protecting and enhancing the natural environment and our most vital resources.

Beyond the land that is used to grow crops or pasture animals, preserving forests, wetlands and water ways on the farm property is in the hands of farmers.

Best management practices can achieve greater biodiversity, enhancing the entire rural landscape including woodlots, wetlands, riparian zones and more.

We tend to think of biodiversity in the general context of landscape although it is much more than that.

Most land in southwestern Ontario is used to produce food and fibre which is dependent on ecological goods like healthy soil and clean water.

Farmers also have an opportunity to manage ecological services including water cycling (purification, retention, flood mitigation), air quality (oxygen production, carbon sequestration, climate regulation), nutrient cycling, pollination services, including habitat for endangered/threatened species, protection of wildlife and habitat and biodiversity, soil erosion control, and aesthetic and recreational spaces and scenic views.

Using nutrients, water, space, and energy more efficiently, using more effective measures for soil and water conservation, and using biological resources better to raise and maintain yields of crops and livestock are all good investments to preserving diversity within our agricultural ecosystem.

Practices such as crop rotation, buffer strips, manure management and integrated pest management can all contribute to a healthier ecosystem on and off the farm.

Animals and plants work in a virtuous cycle that benefits from biodiversity. Protecting endangered and threatened species is a part of the role farmers play in serving the environment.

These services to enhance ecosystems do not command an explicit price for maintenance and delivery.

Ecological goods are commonly thought of as providing private benefit through market returns, while services are provided for the benefit of society.

While producers make the effort to implement beneficial management practices, it is typically not encouraged through incentives.

In a way, incentives can be an investment in the environment made by society.

Managing agricultural systems and associated landscapes in a sustainable manner preserving and promoting biodiversity will produce lasting economic and social benefits for future generations.

OFA believes farmers should be recognized and valued for their efforts to manage, maintain and enhance the many elements of our environment and continues advocating for implementation of a fair system of incentive-based policy and programming acknowledging significant environmental contributions from adopting positive management practises.

Mark Reusser