One million football fields for pollinators

Ontario’s grain farmers recently announced that they want to see one million acres of self-sustaining pollinator habitat identified and preserved by 2018. The million-acre proclamation is contained in the Ontario Pollinator Health Blueprint, drawn up by an eight-member task force of grain farmers, seed dealers and beekeepers, with input from more than 900 farmers.

They say a million acres of repurposed farmland, as well as private land and public land for pollinator-friendly habitat, would mean continuous blooms throughout the growing season could be available to bees and other pollinators. Mark Brock, Chair of Grain Farmers of Ontario, foresees a registry being created in which acreage and habitat could be recorded and monitored track new habitat and programs. But habitat is just one pillar of the plan. Other pillars in the plan include pesticide exposure; disease and parasites; communications between beekeepers and farmers; and verification, measurement and collection standards for insects. A final pillar will help determine farm pest thresholds and provide a benchmark for determining the health and disease status of Ontario pollinators.

This million-acre exercise isn’t totally falling on the shoulders of farmers, and shouldn’t. Farmers are leading it, but all parties must co-operate and be committed to meet and maintain the one-million-acre target. Monitoring, research, benchmarks, registries — they’re all part of what’s needed to help sort out fact from fiction, and reduce the hyperbole over pollinators. It’s a complicated huge issue, and farmers are facing it head on.

Farmers call for the equivalent of a million football fields, like the new Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, for pollinator health. Photo credit www.torontosun.com

Farmers call for the equivalent of a million football fields, like the new Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, for pollinator health. Photo credit www.torontosun.com

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Specially trained foreign workers preparing to leave Canada

Canada is starving for farm labour. It’s simply unavailable, so many farmers, processors and others have turned to foreign workers, who have entered the country legally through federally and provincially sponsored worker programs.

But a new federally mandated rule could see hundreds of foreign workers vacating their positions and leaving the country by April 1, if they’ve been here four years. The mushroom sector will one of the most impacted. It’s hired and trained hundreds of foreign workers to become skilled labourers, and they’re now an important part of the business. Mushroom harvesting must be done manually, methodically, and year-round. Companies emphasize in-class and hands-on training. Foreign labour is critical for the operation of a successful mushroom business, and opportunities to grow both the home and export markets are being limited by the current restrictive practices.

Everyone’s known about the April 1 deadline for months. Mushroom industry representatives have travelled repeatedly to Ottawa for months , trying in vain to get the right people to listen and take action on their plea to suspend the deadline and let them stay permanently. No one can see an upside to sending these workers back — at least, no one who has piped up publicly. Workers don’t want to go. They like what they are doing. They’re needed, and and they should be allowed to stay.

Mushroom harvesting is a year-round, methodical, labour intensive job. Photo credit www.monaghan-mushrooms.com

Mushroom harvesting is a year-round, methodical, labour intensive job. Photo credit www.monaghan-mushrooms.com

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Province wants environmental accountability from farmers

Ontario farmers know the province is serious about their role in environmental accountability, with the recent release of Ontario’s Climate Change Discussion Paper 2015 and legislation to protect the Great Lakes. Both pay significant attention to agriculture, ranging from acknowledging rural communities’ vulnerability to climate impacts, to improving efficiencies in agriculture, to reducing harmful algae blooms, often blamed on agricultural run-off.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the province’s largest general farm organization, gets it. The federation was quick to respond after the climate change discussion paper was released, reminding the world that farmers count on the environment as much as anyone, maybe even more. Some 25 years ago, they teamed up with University of Guelph researcher Gord Surgeoner and broke ground for the rest of Canada with industry-driven, peer-reviewed environmental farm plans designed to implement more sustainable practices on their own farms.

Farmers, as stewards of the land, are the original environmentalists. Photo credit www.amaranth-eastgary.com

Farmers, as stewards of the land, are the original environmentalists. Photo credit www.amaranth-eastgary.com

Since then, they haven’t stood still, and research, innovation and technology have helped Ontario agriculture reduce greenhouse gas emissions through new farming practices and through the development of bioproducts, biomaterials and renewable energy. They’ll need to keep reminding the province of these contributions as the environmental discussion proceeds.

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