The Greenbelt Foundation is working with farming communities to promote soil health through practical solutions that yield economic, environmental, and public health benefits.
The Greenbelt Foundation stewards over two million acres of protected natural and agricultural land known as Ontario’s Greenbelt. Extending from the eastern end of the Oak Ridges Moraine to the southern tip of Niagara and Bruce Peninsula in the north, the Greenbelt is vital to providing clean air, fresh water, climate resilience, and a reliable local food source to Ontarians.
About 40 per cent of the Greenbelt is made up of farmland, including two specialty crop areas — the Holland Marsh and the Niagara Tender Fruit and Grape Area. “Agriculture and a robust food system are critical for Ontario and southern Ontario. The Greenbelt serves to protect these important farmlands in urban areas from the pressures of unchecked urban development,” says Edward McDonnell, CEO of the Greenbelt Foundation. Supporting farmers who grow crops on this rich and fertile land is one of the Greenbelt Foundation’s key priorities, and the Foundation works toward achieving this goal through farmer-based research, education, and knowledge sharing.
Economic benefits of soil health practices
Partnering with key Ontario stakeholders and knowledge leaders, including the University of Guelph, the Foundation recently produced the Business Case for Soil Health report. It synthesizes current knowledge to build an operational and environmental case for healthy soils that can produce bigger and better crop yields and also benefit the farmers’ profitability.
The report looks at a range of net returns from six different soil health practices: tillage intensity, cover crops, diverse crop rotations, nutrient management, organic amendments, and rotational grazing. “The economics side of these practices haven’t been delved into very much in Ontario and Canada in the last 20 years, so it’s a good starting point, summarizing what we already know from the research,” says Paul Smith, Consultant in Sustainable Agriculture, Environment, and Public Policy.
Soil management and regenerative soil practices
In addition to helping farmers maintain profitability, good soil management and regenerative practices can also provide environmental benefits to both the farmer and the broader public. “It means improved water quality, less erosion into our streams, and keeping carbon in the soil, rather than the atmosphere,” says Smith.
Good soil health practices also help to make crops more resilient to extreme weather, like drought, flood, and longer heat spells. “Obviously, these events are going to have an impact regardless of your soil practices, but when the soil health is good, the impact to the crops is generally less, so the yield will be more consistent year-to-year,” says Smith.
With Ontario’s population expected to continue growing, producing more food while also being better for the environment is an enormous challenge that requires multiple perspectives, especially those of women. “Women have always been critical on the family farms, but today, their perspectives are valued more than ever,” says Mel Luymes, Founder of Headlands Ag-Enviro.
It’s great to see how this work has been picked up and embraced to a large extent by the agriculture and farming sector, and we’re really looking forward to keeping things moving forward in co-operation with a whole range of partners.
The response to date to the research and recommendations has been enthusiastic. “It’s great to see how this work has been picked up and embraced to a large extent by the agriculture and farming sector, and we’re really looking forward to keeping things moving forward in co-operation with a whole range of partners,” says McDonnell.
The Greenbelt Foundation’s work moves the crucial conversation forward on the value of soil health for agricultural production and profits, food security, and climate resilience.