Saskatchewan Ranchers Recognized for Their Conservation Commitment

Miles Anderson installing fencing

Miles Anderson installing fencing

Media can sometimes paint a concerning picture of the relationship between agriculture and the environment. Stories of soil erosion, water contamination, and the eradication of native species at the hands of agriculture are all over the Internet, whether fact or fiction.

The stories that are less often told, however, are of the tireless efforts by many in the agricultural community to preserve the land on which they live and work. The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA)’s Environmental Stewardship Award (TESA) has recognized ranchers who go above and beyond to enhance and protect Canada’s natural landscapes since 1996. This year’s recipients, Miles and Sheri Anderson of Fir Mountain, Saskatchewan, are the perfect examples.

The Anderson ranch is set amongst the naturally rich diversity of badlands, rolling grasslands, rich riparian areas, and sprawling sagebrush in the heart of the Great Plains. The area is home to numerous native species, including several Species at Risk (SARs). Miles Anderson has fostered a variety of relationships with researchers, conservation groups, and other ranchers for many years in his quest to learn about the ecosystem in which he lives and to bridge the gap between the scientific, conservation and agricultural communities. He was instrumental in building the Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan (SKCAP) committee in the 1990s, which continues to be the official forum in Saskatchewan to discuss prairie conservation issues and policies.

L to R: Bruce Tait, Senior Vice President, Agriculture and Resource Industries, Sheri Anderson, Miles Anderson, and Bob Lowe, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association Environment Committee Chair

L to R: Bruce Tait, Senior Vice President, Agriculture and Resource Industries, Sheri Anderson, Miles Anderson, and Bob Lowe, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association Environment Committee Chair

One of the most prominent endangered species that makes its home on the Anderson’s land is the sage grouse. These native Prairie birds have been in danger of extinction, with the Canadian population declining by 98 per cent since 1998.

In an effort to be part of the conservation plan to save them, Anderson has studied sage grouse nesting habits and adapted his grazing rotation to ensure vegetation necessary for nesting is kept intact. He has also installed an innovate style of fencing to prevent endangered sage grouse from becoming injured in collisions. This innovation also holds benefit for antelope and other species and has captured the attention of other sustainable ranchers and conservationists around the world.

The Andersons have built environmental sustainability into their business and operational plans. Truly stewards of the land, these ranchers are a great reminder of the shared importance of preserving Canadian grasslands for generations to come.

This blog post was submitted by the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association

Engineering Help for the Great Lakes

By Howard Tong

Howard TongMy name is Howard Tong, and I’m using my degree in environmental engineering to help solve algae issues in the Great Lakes.

I have always been interested in the natural environment. As a kid, I was amazed at everything from Canada’s majestic arctic landscape to the calming, light rain showers I experienced while growing up in the city. Over time, however, I learned about many environmental issues that threaten our natural world, and those issues made me very concerned – my vivid imagination of what could happen only made things worse.

After a lot of doom and gloom, though, I decided I could make a difference by building a career focused on finding solutions. Now, with a degree in environmental engineering from the University of Waterloo, I am working on algae issues in the Great Lakes from both a drinking water and agricultural perspective.

As my undergrad came to a close, our class had the opportunity to help a drinking water treatment plant in Elgin County prepare for a potential harmful algal bloom in Lake Erie. Algae blooms in the summer months have already been a major problem for some municipalities surrounding Lake Erie, and after site visits and much lab work, we proposed a few solutions that could be used to retrofit the plant if the need arises.

Fast forward to my job at Farm and Food Care Ontario, where I’m working now as an environmental research assistant, and I am once again investigating algal blooms. This time, however, it is from an agricultural perspective.

When I was looking at the problem from the drinking water perspective, I looked for treatment solutions to eliminate toxins and bacteria. From an agricultural perspective, I am now looking at ways to prevent the problem by reducing nutrient runoff from farms — just one several causes of algae problems.

Read More: Farm Initiatives to Protect the Great Lakes

While the environmental world is vast, it is great to see a connection between municipalities and the agriculture industry in handling this shared problem. In the end, both types of solution are valuable to minimize the risk of harmful algal blooms.

Solving the algae problem in Lake Erie and other waterways is a huge challenge, but that’s why I decided to become an environmental engineer in the first place. The natural environment is truly a complex system, and every day I seem to have more questions. Thankfully, though, I have also learned many answers.

Four Ways Farmers Promote Pollinator Health

By Mel Luymes, environmental coordinator, Farm & Food Care Ontario

This week is pollinator week, and all across Ontario insects are briskly buzzing about their business. Pollinators play an important role in agriculture and, in turn, Ontario farmers play an important role in protecting and feeding them.

Sam McLean farms in Peterborough County, and grows 175 acres of strawberries, raspberries, pumpkins, and other crops that rely on pollination. McLean is careful in his application rates and timing of pesticides, and understands that farming is all about creating balance. “We have a lot of hedgerows here, a lot of natural habitat for bees and other pollinators, so we don’t even need to bring in honeybees to pollinate our crops,” he says. 

Video Resource: Fruit farms and pollinators work together  

Sue Chan is a pollination biologist with Farms at Work and she has been working with McLean for years. “What I’m seeing is many, many species of native pollinators here, so he is obviously doing something right,” says Chan. She points to the plants in the hedgerows: basswood, sumac, elderberry, wild raspberry, even burdock and dandelions are great food and habitat for native pollinators, she says.

On the other end of the province is Mary Ellen King, a fourth-generation farmer in Lambton County who operates several hundred acres of wheat, corn and beans. “Ten to fifteen years ago we started to enhance our farms with trees, hedgerows, wetlands and native tallgrass prairie,” she says. “We need the birds and the bugs and the bees, it all works together to make a healthy farm. I like to walk around the farm in the evenings, it just sings!”

Video resource: Farmers plant cover crops for pollinators 

Kathleen Law is a master’s student at the University of Guelph and studied the ways farmers can and do promote pollinator habitat on their properties.  Farms have historically been great habitat for bees, she says. “As farming has changed and field sizes have gotten bigger, it means that farmers need to be intentional about enhancing pollinator habitat. Instead of having fencerows play that role, they can create habitat around buildings, ditches or woodlots,” she says.

“As an environmental researcher, it was really heartening to see how much cash croppers care about pollinators,” continues Law.  “Often the missing link was having the necessary information and support to go ahead with pollinator projects on farmland.”

Video resource: Riparian areas & Hedgerow Management for Pollinator Promotion

In Ontario, there are many resources for farmers interested in enhancing pollinator habitat. The Environmental Farm Plan addresses pollinators and the Ontario Soil & Crop Improvement Association supports projects through cost-share programs like the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program (SARFIP) and the Great Lakes Agricultural Stewardship Initiative (GLASI). In certain areas, farmers may have access to the Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) program or Farms at Work.  Local Conservation Authorities can also be a great resource as well.

Law recommends that when farmers plant pollinator habitat, they should be more proactive in letting people know. “Put up a sign up that says who you are, what you’re doing and why,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity to demonstrate Ontario farm stewardship to your community and to society.”

Earth Day is Every Day on Canadian Farms

Since 1970, we’ve been celebrating Earth Day (the largest environmental event in the world) annually on April 22. But on Canadian farms, farmers celebrate Earth Day each and every day.

Farmers understand the importance of healthy soil, water and air. They live on farms with their families and they depend on the environment to create a healthy place to live, as well as the right conditions to grow crops and raise livestock. Farmers want to leave their farms in better shape for their kids than when they started farming.

Urban growth also continues at a staggering pace – with housing developments being constructed on once productive farm land near urban centres – which is another reason that farmers must protect, preserve and nurture their valuable farmland.

Here’s some of the ways that farmers strive towards protecting their farmland and creating a cleaner environment for generations to come.  

ED - Soil HealthSoil health – sustainability

  • Our very existence on this planet is dependent on a few inches of topsoil. Over two thirds of farmers use conservation tilling practices to help preserve that precious resource.
  • When people talk about ‘bringing soils to life,’ they literally mean increasing the amount of living creatures in the soil. You can measure this by counting earthworm holes in a square foot. Another way is to bury a piece of 100% cotton in the top layer of the soil to measure levels of decomposition after a few weeks or months. You can actually see how the microbiological activity turns last year’s plant stalks into smaller organic partials that build soil and bind carbon, reducing the impacts of climate change.
  • Greenhouse gases are a concern to agriculture as they are to society as a whole but farmers can actually sequester carbon in the soil as they build organic matter through good soil management. This is good for the soil and good for the planet because it reduces atmospheric CO2.  Farmers can help reduce emissions and transform atmospheric carbon dioxide into soil organic matter – and ensuring a sustainable food supply despite a changing climate. The carbon sequestered (saved in the soil) due to conservation tillage in Ontario alone equals 600 kilotons/year. That’s equivalent to taking 125,000 cars off the road each year.

Environmental training for farmers

  • In all provinces across Canada, an educational initiative called the Environmental Farm Plan is helping farmers assess their farms for environmental concerns and set goals and timetables for improvements. In Prince Edward Island, for example, 90 percent of farmers have completed an Environmental Farm Plan and in Ontario, about 70 percent of farmers have participated and invested over $600 million into on-farm environmental improvements over the last 20 years.

Did you know Conservation TillageTillage

  • Tillage is an age-old practice and refers to plowing or working up the soil, something that’s done mostly to control weeds. Many farmers in Canada have adopted “conservation or minimal tillage” or “no-till” practices. This means that crops are grown with minimal or no cultivation of the soil. Any plant materials remaining from the previous year’s crop, like corn stubble, is left on the soil building up its organic matter.  Minimal or no-till practices also help maintain populations of beneficial insects and soil and nutrients are less likely to be lost from the field.
  • Farmers also strive to prevent soil erosion caused by wind or water. One of the ways they do this is by planting cover crops to prevent soil erosion. Cover crops can do exactly what their name implies; cover the soil during the rest of the season before or after the main crop has been grown. Cover crops may be planted over a whole field for erosion protection, or they may be selectively planted in the most erosion prone areas. Cover crops are not harvested and cost money to plant, but their benefit comes from improving the soil quality and preventing erosion.

 

Water

  • Farmers rely on water for their crops and livestock to flourish. Most, 91.5 per cent to be exact – rely solely on precipitation for watering crops. Irrigation is used on higher quality crops like berries, fruits and vegetables that are for direct human consumption.
  • In Canada, only 8.5 per cent of farms use any form of irrigation. The remaining 91.5 per cent of farms rely solely on precipitation for crop watering. Irrigation is used on higher quality crops like berries, apples, tender fruits and vegetables that are for direct human consumption.

 

Natural environment

  • Work is ongoing across Canada preserving hundreds of thousands of acres of land that are inhabited by wildlife – whether that be forests, swamps and other natural spaces that are also part of a farmer’s property. Many farmers have also created, improved or expanded farm forests, ponds and river edges.

 

These are just a few of the environmental initiatives taking place on farms across this country. Today, farmers across Canada are pleased to join with their fellow Canadians to celebrate this special day.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

 

Water, water everywhere…or not

The United Nations has declared today – March 22, 2016 – as World Water Day.

Did you know Canada has approximately 20 per cent of the world’s total fresh water supply? But, less than half of our supply is considered “renewable” — that is, it’s readily available and of a certain quality. That means, based on water cycling and recycling times, that Canada has only 7 per cent of the global “renewable” supply of water. Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Did you know 061 (Canada)What about farmers and water?

Farmers are the original environmentalists and understand the importance of healthy soil, water and air. Farmers live on their farms with their families and depend on the environment to create a healthy place to live, as well as the right conditions to grow crops and raise livestock.

Farmers work hard to grow food sustainably, ensuring the land is of good quality for future generations and is left in better shape than how it was when they started farming it. Canadian farmers are always proactively working to protect the environment and growing more food with fewer inputs such as water.

Continue reading

Fact or Fiction: You can save 1,300 gallons of water by skipping your lunch burger

FactFictonThere’s an infographic floating around on social media. Perhaps you’ve seen it.

It claims you can save 1,300 gallons of water if you:
– don’t flush your toilet for six months, OR
– don’t take a shower for three months, OR
– for lunch today, don’t eat one burger.

Turns out, this is FICTION.

Let’s look at how the cow (behind that burger) really measures up.

Continue reading

Farmers: the original environmentalists

Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day Love Copy

Taking initiative to protect the environment and build the soil

By Treena Hein

John and Grace Kinghorn are shown with two of their environmental initiatives – a double walled fuel tank and some of the trees they’ve planted on their farm.

John and Grace Kinghorn are shown with two of their environmental initiatives – a double walled fuel tank and some of the trees they’ve planted on their farm.

(Woodville) – John Kinghorn grew up with a strong love of the land, and it was that love which called him back to make concrete improvements to his farm and the surrounding area after a very successful career off-farm.

Kinghorn’s ancestral beef and crop operation is located near Woodville, Ontario. He farms about 250 acres with his wife Grace of 52 years. John’s great-grandfather settled the land, and his father continued the tradition. When John was ready to enter the workforce however, he was attracted to an education/work program at General Motors in Oshawa. “Over the years, I was able to be involved in many innovative new ideas and had the opportunity to travel extensively in North America and Europe to explore these ideas and be involved in implementation of some of them,” he recalls. “It was 35 years of a fairy-tale ride in the industrial world for a farm boy.” Kinghorn retired early at the executive level, as Operations Manager of the Oshawa Truck Plant. Continue reading

New irrigation system protects local watershed, reduces water and fertilizer use

By: Lilian Schaer for the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association

A new automated irrigation system is yielding some big savings for an Elgin County nursery – and paying off with environmental benefits too.

Since the system became fully functional this spring, Canadale Nurseries’ water consumption has dropped by 40 per cent, their fertilizer use is down 25 per cent, and they’re using less electricity because their water pumps don’t have to run as many hours each day.

“We are surrounded by residential areas and we wanted to minimize our environmental footprint and maximize irrigation efficiency,” explains nursery manager Robb Parmeter. “We want the water that crosses our property to be the same quality or better when it leaves our property.”

Canadale Nurseries Ltd. is a family-owned business on 110 acres in St. Thomas. They grow and supply a wide variety of plants including ornamental trees, flowering shrubs, evergreens, and perennials to retail customers, independent retail garden centers, and wholesale nurseries across southwestern Ontario.

To improve watering efficiency, they needed to increase their system’s capacity and capability. At the same time, says Robb, they also wanted to reduce production costs, improve the health of their irrigation pond, and better manage their nutrients so they could contribute to the protection of the local Kettle Creek watershed and the surrounding environment.

The solution was the installation of a new automated pumping system that can be controlled electronically – and even remotely via smartphone. That means if it rains during non-work hours, for example, the irrigation system can be turned off without staff having to go to the nursery.

Canadale now has the ability to direct its irrigation to a single zone or multiple zones in the nursery depending on the requirements of each crop. This flexibility in watering, something that wasn’t possible with the previous system, has greatly increased water conservation and efficient water use.

The system can track the amount of rain, sunshine, and outside temperature and adjust irrigation levels accordingly. It is now also possible to water using a method called pulse or cyclical irrigation.

“We have more capacity now so we’re watering faster. The leaf wetness period is shorter, so there is less risk for fungal disease, which equates to a reduction in fungicide use” explains Robb. “And because we now have the ability to pulse water, the growing media absorbs and holds more moisture. This reduces the amount of water running out of the pot, so we have little to no fertilizer leachate, which is another environmental benefit.”

They have also seen improvements in their irrigation pond and their plants are healthier, showing better rooting and better growth than before.

To help make the project a reality, Canadale turned to the Implementation funding assistance program under Growing Forward 2 (GF2), which Robb says was a tremendous help to the nursery.

To prepare for the application process, senior Canadale staff attended numerous seminars on environmental stewardship for nurseries and Great Lakes water quality, completed an Environmental Farm Plan and attended a workshop where they learned about GF2 funding assistance.

“We have wanted to do this for a long time and we’ve been going to seminars about water for four to five years,” explains Robb. “It’s a huge expense from a business standpoint, so we wanted to make sure it was well-researched.”

Doing the necessary research and planning homework is Robb’s key tip for other farm businesses thinking about applying for GF2 cost-share funding through the Implementation program.

Knowing what you’re eligible to apply for will help ensure you can take full advantage of available opportunities and creating a plan with detailed timelines will help make sure a project stays on track, he adds.

“It takes a bit of time to learn the process, but it is definitely worth it,” he says. “This is a great program, so we’ll be applying for other projects as they come up.”

Growing Forward 2 cost-share of up to 35 per cent is available for farm businesses under the Implementation program in six key areas: Environment and Climate Change, Assurance Systems, Market Development, Animal and Plant Health, Labour Productivity Enhancement, and Business and Leadership Development. Implementation uses a merit-based competitive application process.

Cost-share opportunities are also available under the Capacity Building program of GF2 to help off-set expenses related to audits, plans, work shop participation, training costs or consulting work.

Much of the research and preparatory work needed for successful Implementation applications can come out of this step. Capacity Building cost-share is available at 50 per cent and is determined based on set eligibility criteria; there is no merit component to this level of funding.

GF2 is a federal-provincial-territorial initiative aimed at encouraging innovation, competitiveness, market development, adaptability and industry capacity in Canada’s agri-food and agri-products sector. The Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association delivers educational workshops and funding assistance supported by GF2 to producers.

More information about GF2 funding opportunities for farmers is available at http://www.ontariosoilcrop.org/en/programs/growing_forward_2.htm or by contacting the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association’s regional program leads at http://www.ontariosoilcrop.org/en/programs/workshop_leaders.htm.

Tips for cost-share funding success:

  • Read the program guide carefully. The Focus Area Project Information Form must also be completed and submitted with the application for Implementation funding assistance. It provides an understanding of risks with the farm operation and the proposed project and supports the evaluation of merit for each project based on set criteria for each BMP.
  • Take time to complete your application; projects are not evaluated on a first come, first serve basis. It can be helpful to fill out an application first in writing before submitting it online.
  • Do the capacity building work to have plans and assessments in place and make sure you submit the relevant documentation with your project application as required.
  • Get the quotes you need or collect invoices – you can still apply for funding for a project that has already been completed as long as the work has been done in the current program year. Each program year ends on March 31.
  • Summarize expected expenses and milestones for the project and provide a concise, clearly written project description that outlines what you’d like to do and how the project will benefit your operation and address identified risk areas.

Riparian Project Funded by SARFIP aims to help erosion control and clean water

By Lilian Schaer for the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association

Susan Chan and Bob Irvine at the pond.

A partnership with a local stewardship organization helped Bob and Gail Irvine leverage habitat development funding from the SARFIP program into a significant wetland development and habitat creation project on their Peterborough-area farm last year.

The story has its beginnings in a project the year before when Irvine, who raises purebred Dorset sheep breeding stock on his 90-acre farm together with his wife Gail, needed a solution for a field that had been wet for many years. With the help of some grant programs, he was able to excavate a pond that improved his field by draining much of the water out of it.

“The eyesore after all these projects in 2012 was the berm around the pond. It was being under-utilized and that’s when we decided we would undertake a pollinator project with plants, shrubs and trees, which develops habitats through creation of a riparian buffer strip,” he explains.

He turned to Sue Chan with Farms at Work, a not for profit project that promotes healthy and active farmland in east central Ontario. She played a key role in bringing the Irvine project to fruition, helping him access additional funds and resources through the members of the Kawartha Farm Stewardship Collaborative, a group of organizations working together to help farmers access technical assistance and stewardship funding.

She also helped secure private donors for some of the plant materials used in the project, as well as growing some herself, and it was Chan who designed the layout for the riparian area around the pond with all the pollinator plants. The total site is approximately three acres in size, which includes the pond in the middle and the buffer strips around it; all the plantings both in and around the pond were chosen for their benefit to pollinators, fish, birds and insects. Blueberries, for example, are great sources of pollen and nectar for bumble bees in early spring, and the fruit can be harvested later in the season.

“We always try to work with models for others to follow so the idea is that this project will become a prototype for other projects in the area in the future,” says Chan, a firm believer in the power of collaboratives to help advance stewardship initiatives.

Irvine is hopeful about the positive impact the project will have, including erosion control and cleaner water as a result of the creation of new habitats in and around the pond, and Chan says the riparian area will definitely benefit the local pollinator population.

“Most of Bob’s property is in pasture and we’ve put in a lot of flowering plants that aren’t typically found in pasture. We’re hoping that we are creating a reservoir of pollinators that can expand their range,” she explains. “Some plants in there, for example, are specialist plants for the specialist pollinators, like Pickerel Weed and a bee that only survives on Pickerel Weed. Others are generalists for all kinds of pollinators.”

“It has become a happy place for our family and grandkids. It has given new life to a marginal area that was just being ignored previously and it has certainly improved the appearance of the berms around the pond. There’s no direct dollar value return to the farmer for doing this but there are other things than dollar signs at the end of the day, like community, health and happiness. Those are all part of being able to sustain a profitable enterprise,” he adds.

SARFIP is a cost-share program delivered by OSCIA and funded by Environment Canada and the Ministry of Natural Resources. The program aims to help farmers adopt Best Management Practices (BMPs) to enhance the farm operation, while supporting local species at risk, improving forests, grasslands, wetlands and wildlife.

SARFIP has been renewed for the 2014-2015 cropping season. To be eligible to participate in SARFIP, Ontario farm businesses must have a completed Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) and an FBRN or equivalent (see program guide). Candidates can then select eligible BMP categories from the SARFIP list that relate to an action identified in their farm’s EFP Action Plan, including improved stream crossings, erosion control work,
and fencing livestock from sensitive areas.

More information about Farms at Work and the Kawartha Farm Stewardship Collective is available here.