LETTER FROM ONTARIO
If I could make just one change in this program...
I would send neither the 300-page regulation/protocol document nor the fact sheets, rather, I would send a well-trained advisor with a simple mandate: help farmers write their own nutrient management plans.

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

This column was adapted from one of Elbert van Donkersgoed's weekly radio chats, called Corner Post, which are aired weekly on CFCO Radio in Chatham and CKNX Radio in Wingham, Ontario. Elbert is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, which is working hard to create a more satisfying and sustainable model for farming in the province. If you'd like to receive a transcript of Elbert's Corner Post address each week, send an email to evd@christianfarmers.org with SUBSCRIBE as the message.

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August 12, 2003: Slowly, the road to better stewardship on Ontario farms is shifting to regulations.

Last week, at an information session for farm leaders involved in the Ontario Farm Environmental Coalition, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food introduced many of the steps it is taking to implement the Nutrient Management Act. Staff is in place for education and training, for advising farmers, for certifying applicators, for approving nutrient management plans and for enforcement. OMAF staff demonstrated an upgraded version of the nutrient management computer program. The transition from municipal rules to provincial standards officially starts on September 30.

It has been a long road to provincial regulations. It is also just a small first step. It will net a small number of farmers: the larger livestock farms with more than 300 nutrient units and those that are starting new livestock sites.

This new approach to stewardship - stewardship by provincial regulation - faces some major challenges.

First, Ontario agriculture is so diverse that every rule must be both detailed and flexible, to accommodate the many ways in which we do the business of farming. There are at least one hundred different kinds of livestock or livestock groupings, each needing some specific attention in the rules. The inevitable result? 300 pages of regulations and protocols. OMAF has promised 120 to 150 accessory fact sheets.

Second, this is not the first or the only layer of the regulated approach to stewardship. Minimum distance separations already exist. Source water protection is under discussion. Soon agriculture's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions will need a management approach. Each layer adds complexity to farm management.

Third, this issue remains: how to bring the thousands of small and moderate size farms under the act. The biggest change on many of these farms will be the paper trail needed to demonstrate compliance with the act. Compliance with regulations, by its very nature, takes time and money, even if there is no significant gain in environmental stewardship.

Fourth, if farmers take only a due diligence approach, hire professionals to craft nutrient management plans, and delegate monitoring to certified applicators, what will we gain? Environmental stewardship is most meaningful when it is both a commitment and an integral part of day-to-day farm management. Commitment and regulations are often poles apart.

If I could make just one change in this program... I would send neither the 300-page regulation/protocol document nor the fact sheets to any farmer. Rather, to every farmer brought under the provincial rules I would send a well-trained advisor with a simple mandate: help farmers write their own nutrient management plans. In the process train them to think stewardship and challenge them to environmental
commitment.

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Corner Post can be heard weekly on CFCO Radio, Chatham and CKNX Radio, Wingham, Ontario. Corner Post is archived on the website of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario: www.christianfarmers.org. To be added to the electronic distribution list of Corner Post, send email to evd@christianfarmers.org with SUBSCRIBE as the message. To remove your name, send email with UNSUBSCRIBE as the message.