Ontario farmers see $2.5M for hundreds of environmental projects

The federal and Ontario governments are investing $2.5 million to help farmers become more environmentally sustainable and improve water quality in Southwestern Ontario.

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The federal and Ontario governments are investing $2.5 million to help farmers become more environmentally sustainable and improve water quality in Southwestern Ontario.

Through a program called Lake Erie Agriculture Demonstrating Sustainability (LEADS), 235 farmer-led projects will receive funding to launch programs to improve soil health and reduce phosphorous runoff into the Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair drainage areas.

Phosphorous, found in animal waste and fertilizer, can be damaging to watersheds and is a major cause of excessive algal blooms, which have plagued Lake Erie for years.

“It’s all about protecting the Great Lakes basin from phosphorous getting in,” said Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs. “We all as a society want to make sure we clean up the water.”

LEADS is a five-year cost-sharing program that helps develop best on-farm management practices, its target to reduce phosphorous runoff into Erie and its drainage area by 40 per cent.

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More than 500 LEADS projects have already been completed over the past two years.

Types of projects include improving drainage ditches on farms, the growth of cover crops to reduce soil erosion, modifying equipment to minimize soil tillage and the planting of vegetation to serve as windbreaks.

Hardeman said those projects are also beneficial for the farmers, as cover crops can improve their soil quality, making for better yields in the harvest season.

Through the Canadian Agriculture Partnership, a five-year, $3-billion deal between the federal, provincial and territorial governments to support the agri-food sector, Hardeman said they’re also working the fertilizer industry to improve nutrient stewardship and optimize fertilizer use on farms.

Southwestern Ontario’s rich farm belt and proximity to the Great Lakes is both a blessing and a curse. The high-quality soil and land leads to optimal production but also brings a greater risk for contaminant runoff.

“That’s why this is an area where a program like LEADS is so important,” Hardeman said.

With the government funding, Hardeman said, farmers can afford to invest in practices that support both their agricultural business and environmental sustainability.

“Farmers are the greatest stewards of our land and our environment,” he said.

St. Thomas Times-Journal is part of the Local Journalism Initiative and reporters are funded by the Governmennt of Canada to produce civic journalism for underserved communities. Learn more about the initiative