More support needed for soil health actions by farmers

Greenbelt area promoting soil health system.Ottawa-The federal government needs to boost support for farmer investments in soil health enhancement measures, says Paul Smith, Consultant with the Greenbelt Foundation.As Canadian support for such programs is low compared to competing jurisdictions, one step that could be taken is financial incentives to encourage change and reduce risk, he told the Senate agriculture committee soil health study.“Improved knowledge sharing systems are crucial to support farmers action as decades of cutbacks have taken a toll,” he said. A recent Royal Bank of Canada report supports that idea, which was proposed in the Guelph Statement following the 2022 annual meeting of federal and provincial agriculture ministers.It called for enhanced extension activities and knowledge exchange and transfer as Quebec and the U.S. are doing now. “Farming is a business, and we need to document the business case and return on investment for soil health practices. Soil health can be good for profits, productivity and environment, but the devil is in the details.”The Greenbelt Foundation has released a report entitled Towards a Business Case for Soil Health that summarizes what is known about southern Ontario land, he said. “But we need that analysis for different regions and commodities.”Many of the report's ideas would fit nicely into a national soil health strategy for Canada, as is being pursued by Soil Conservation Council of Canada, with support from Greenbelt Foundation, Smith said.The report emphasizes voluntary stewardship by farmers motivated by knowledge access, removal of barriers and creative financial incentives.Megan Sipos, Managers of Research and Policy with the Greenbelt Foundation, founded in 2005 as a charitable organization, said it works to protect the area's interconnected natural , agricultural and economic systems. “Our work in agriculture is done in collaboration with farm organizations to ensure the work is relevant and practical.”In 2020, the Greenbelt's agrifood sector generated $4.1 billion in GDP and supported nearly 59,000 jobs. Its farms, while covering just 7 per cent of the province's farmland, comprise 42 per cent of its fruit and 7 per cent of its vegetable acres earning 47 per cent more per acre than the rest of Ontario, she said.“Soil health is critical to maintaining the long- term sustainability and productivity of our agricultural land and is a strategic priority for the Greenbelt Foundation. Our work has looked at soil health from different perspectives including scientific, economic, and evaluation of policy and program design.“To better understand the status of soil health across Canada, farmers need standardized approaches to evaluating and monitoring soil health that are also scalable, cost- effective and reflect changes in management.”The Foundation is working with the Soil Health Institute to pilot piloting an approach across the Greenbelt to benchmark soil health using indicators recommended by the Institute and the Ontario Agriculture Ministry.

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