By Fertilizer Canada
December 3, 2015

The View from Here: Water Smart Agriculture

Cassandra Cotton, Director of Sustainability

While global leaders meet on climate change in Paris this week, an equally compelling environmental issue is surfacing here at home: Water.

Every spring, we see considerable discussion in the media concerning water as Canada’s most valuable resource and the importance of proper management of our water, so we can keep using it. Now, the provinces are responding.

This fall we have witnessed proposed legislation come out of multiple provinces on water management including Manitoba, Ontario and Prince Edward Island.

In Manitoba, the government is introducing proposed “Lake-Friendly” legislation that would strengthen the protection of wetlands, set nutrient targets to improve water quality, and enhance inspection and enforcement efforts.

In Ontario, both federal and provincial targets are being discussed with the Great Lakes Protection Act and the federal government announcing proposed binational phosphorus load reduction targets for Lake Erie. To provide context, Environment Canada is targeting a 40% reduction in total phosphorus entering the Western Basin of Lake Erie and to avoid algal blooms in nine years out of 10. Canada and the United States share the Lake Erie watershed, which is home to rich agricultural soil and 13.5 million people who deposit eight billion litres of treated sewage annually into the lake.

Prince Edward Island is the only province in Canada that is dependent on groundwater for its source of drinking water. The goal of the Water Act here is to protect the quality and quantity of the Island’s water and ensure that their water supply is healthy and sustainable now and into the future.

Additionally, in mandate letters to the Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister and the Environment and Climate Change Minister, Prime Minister Trudeau identified water issues as a top priority.

So, how is industry responding? 4R Nutrient Stewardship (Right Source @ Right Rate, Right Time, Right Place®) .

Fertilizer Canada has engaged with a number of stakeholder partners to develop a wide range of national and regional 4R-based programs for farmers and homeowners. Engagement includes Memorandums of Cooperation with watershed groups, farm groups and governments in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, and PEI; supporting 4R Nutrient Stewardship Demonstration Farms to show the effectiveness of science-based best management practices to growers; rigorous training programs for Certified Crop Advisers and agri-retailers to support the foundation of voluntary 4R Nutrient Stewardship standards; and funding several research programs across the country to synthesize data so that we may bring the reality of the concerns regarding nutrients, particularly phosphorus (P), to the attention of policy makers.

While many sectors contribute nutrients that impact algal blooms, we own a piece of this pie. We must also consider other culprits to this environmental issue including population growth, and wild card climate change issues including water temperatures, longer growing seasons and the increase in storm events, which move phosphorus from agricultural fields into waterways.

Of course, for farmers it makes economic sense to prevent nutrient loss from the root zone, and it’s a necessity for sustaining production systems and the environment. Knowledge regarding the role of 4R Nutrient Stewardship Practices continues to grow, research evaluating their environmental impact is progressing, but greater adoption is key. Each year, more and more retailers are implementing the 4R Nutrient Stewardship principles of nutrient stewardship. It is our goal that those principles will become so deeply ingrained in a retailer and farmers’ best management practices, that they’re second nature. As agriculture continues to meet the challenges of feeding a growing population, while responding to increased scrutiny of land and resource management closer to home, 4R Nutrient Stewardship will help everyone achieve sustainability in 2015 and beyond.

Will industry continue to show innovation in this arena? The choice is yours – will Canada be known as a laggard or a leader?


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