Soil is vital to agricultural success

Soybeans will make up a large percentage of this year's crops. Photo credit: John Deere.

Soybeans will make up a large percentage of this year’s crops. Photo credit: John Deere.

With planting season in sight, Ontario farmers are turning their attention the weather and their soil. Though they can’t do much about the weather, soil’s fate is in the farmer’s hands as they plant record numbers of soybeans in land that has been taken care of to ensure it can repeatedly produce a crop. Farmers use a number of practices to sustain the soil’s ability to produce crops. If they’re going to work it hard, year after year, they have to look after it.

José Graziano da Silva,  director-general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization addresses a crowd. Photo credit: idealmt.com.br

José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization addresses a crowd. Photo credit: idealmt.com.br

Soil’s importance was underlined when the United Nations has declared 2015 the International Year of the Soil. Why’s that? “The multiple roles of soils often go unnoticed,” says José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. “Soils don’t have a voice, and few people speak out for them. They are our silent ally in food production.” Well, maybe more people will start speaking out for them shortly, or at least trying to tell the world more about them. The food and agriculture organization and the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists, which includes members from Canada, have just teamed up to create a new award that recognizes excellence in global food security reporting.

Canadian farmers appreciate the vital role of soil on their farm. Across the country, the third week in April, when planting is in sight, is deemed National Soil Conservation Week in Canada. Ontario soil conservation pioneer Don Lobb says many of the great civilizations and powerful nations declined in part because their capacity to grow food declined. People moved on to new frontiers and fresh soil. Now, he says, there are no new frontiers. Conserve that soil. We cannot afford to repeat past mistakes

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Deepening the rural-urban divide

Though ineffective in the past, the honest and endearing image that Joe Clark embodies so well is now being welcomed — most recently, by more than 700 participants at the Grain Farmers of Ontario March Classic. There, the former prime minister noted that despite Canadians’ interest in “local,” they don’t understand the rural parts of our country, including agriculture, from which local emantes. People claim to have an interest in down-home values, but rural Canada is an unknown entity to most of the country.

Joe Clark addresses a full house at the March Classic. Photo credit: Grain Farmers of Ontario

Joe Clark addresses a full house at the March Classic. Photo credit: Grain Farmers of Ontario

And no wonder. Urban Canada keeps gaining more people, none of which are rural Canada’s advocates or critics. An entry on Statistics Canada’s website called “Canada Goes Urban” bears witness to the population situation. While the number of Canadians living in rural areas has been relatively stable, those living in population centres has been rising steadily. This means the proportion of Canadians who live in rural areas has fallen, and is now the third lowest among G8 countries. But unique to rural Canada is the small proportion of young adults aged 15 to 29 who live there. In 2011, 17 per cent of people living in rural areas were aged 15 to 29; the national average is 20 per cent. At the March Classic, Clark said rural Canada has to make its value known “quite starkly” to urbanites who care more about playing golf there than supporting agriculture. That’s important to the planet’s fifth-largest exporter of agriculture and agri-food products with export growth. Rural Canada has a long road ahead to not only tell its story to other Canadians, but to make them believe it, too. It can’t wait for someone else to do that job.

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Farmland values have a wide impact on agriculture and food

 

Increasing land value can affect farmers' bottom lines.

Increasing land value can affect farmers’ bottom lines.

When is a 14 per cent jump in average farmland values in this province actually a relief? When it’s compared to the 23 per cent jump that took place from 2012 to 2013, that’s when. The 14 per cent figure, last year’s jump, may signal a downward trend has started. That’s good for food prices, because ultimately, increases in land prices will be passed on. J.P. Gervais, Farm Credit Canada chief economist, says the market could be even quieter than the average increase suggests, considering the data used was collected roughly 16 months ago.

And here’s why farmland values matter to a nation. Recently, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada released its annual state-of-the-union report on Canadian agriculture. It showed how significant agriculture is to the nation, and to the world, in fact — we are the world’s fifth-largest exporter of agriculture and agri-food products. But although Canadian export sales grew by 5.5 per cent in 2013 to $46 billion, our competitors’ sales grew too, and we were only able to maintain our 3.5 per cent share of the total value of world agriculture and agri-food exports. So how do we stay competitive and help farmers keep prices down while making a decent living?

The answer is research. The report says government spending on research and development in the agriculture and agri-food sector “represents a critical source of innovation and productivity growth,” and estimated a rise in investment of more than five per cent last year. However, Canada’s public research and development spending has decreased over the past five years. Funding should be based on what our farmers need to stay ahead, and on what our nation needs to be move forward. That’s how we’ll feed our country, and help feed the world.

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