Better farming practices better for Lake Erie

By MPP Toby Barrett  

We in this part of the world love our Great Lakes. 

Many of us enjoy spending a day on the water. However, over the years we have seen the impact municipal sewage and the use of nutrients in agriculture can have on algae growth in the lakes, including Lake Erie.  Have you noticed green rocks on shorelines or brown water running in streams? 

Strides have been made in the battle through the activity of great programs, ranging from Ducks Unlimited to ALUS, to government programs like LEADS (Lake Erie Agriculture Demonstrating Sustainability). I have been involved in ALUS since its inception in Norfolk County, seeing the value for clean air, water and improving wildlife habitat.

Ontario is looking forward to finalizing the Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health as we mark the 50th anniversary of the first Canada-Ontario agreement on the Great Lakes. 

In June 2015, a Collaborative Agreement between the Premier of Ontario and Governors of Michigan and Ohio put a commitment and timeline on a bi-national-proposed phosphorus target specifying 40 per cent reduction by 2025.  

Ontario continues to implement the Canada-Ontario Lake Erie Action Plan to address harmful algal blooms caused by excess phosphorous, and the province is working to increase transparency through real-time monitoring of sewage overflows from municipal wastewater systems into Ontario’s lakes and rivers. 

Efforts of Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture focus on promoting the adoption of best management practices to support the sustainability of our natural assets. This includes practices that support on-farm nutrient management and help to reduce phosphorous loss from farms.  

An example is the LEADS program – a five-year, $15.6 million commitment building on the work and leadership of Ontario farmers in the Lake Erie.  The program essentially supports the implementation of best management practices on farms within the Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair watersheds.   

It offers two components for eligible farmers: First, the Farmland Health Check-Up – a field-specific risk assessment, completed by a farmer and technical specialist. Second, the LEADS cost-share program – this is funding for ten categories of best management practices, with up to $20,000 per application. Completion of an Environmental Farm Plan and a Farmland Health Check-Up are required to receive LEADS cost-share funding. 

Farmers cover anywhere from 30 to 90 per cent of the project cost depending on the risks determined through the Farmland Health Checkup. 

Many will recognize these familiar time-tested projects and best management practices: 

  • Grass waterways, sediment basins, erosion control structures; 
  • Cover crops over winter; 
  • Windbreaks/wind strips; 
  • Land set aside along streams and rivers; 
  • Environmentally-fragile land set aside – for example, steep slopes and wetlands; 
  • Planting of trees, tall prairie grass and other vegetation; 
  • Money for modifying farm equipment to decrease soil compaction and for no–till or manure application. 

Since 2018, the LEADS program has invested $10 million into more than 710 projects with 220 of them approved this year. 

Like many challenges in our province, we have made strides but there is always more to do. To ensure our Great Lakes remain the foundation for Ontario’s strength and success, we must protect and promote them, and when in jeopardy, restore them to good health.   

Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk