By Brandy Harrison
ST. ISIDORE — With meeting season in full swing, farmers have got the headline-grabbing issues on their minds — neonicotinoid restrictions and crop prices — but talk is slowly turning to the next possible hurdle facing Ontario agriculture: phosphorus runoff.
“It could be as much of an issue as neonics,” says Markus Haerle, Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) vice-chair, adding that the impact will be felt by crop farmers but also the livestock and horticulture sectors.
Here’s the rundown on what’s likely to dominate conversation at the GFO March Classic and semi-annual delegates meeting on March 22 and 23 in London.
1. Where grain prices are headed.
The low Canadian dollar has buoyed crop prices but it can’t last forever, Haerle says.
Farmers could be squeezed to cover costs if the dollar rebounds into the 80-cent range, especially if interest rates follow suit and take a chunk out of working capital, says the St. Isidore crop and poultry farmer.
“2016 is going to be a very long year. We’re just starting and a lot of farmers haven’t thought about grain marketing to the full extent,” Haerle says.
It’s got farmers talking about safety nets, says GFO director Lloyd Crowe. “We’ve had a good run. If the dollar started heading back to par, we’d hear the outcry.”
2. The yield impact of neonic restrictions.
With new provincial regulations limiting neonic seed treatment use, farmers are worried yields will suffer or inputs will go to waste if they need to replant, Haerle says.
“There is fear of the unknown. Let’s say a farmer loses half of his crop. He put all that money in. Who’s going to cover those costs?” he says. “Farmers feel overwhelmed by paperwork and red tape.”
3. Agriculture’s role in reducing phosphorus runoff.
Last June, Ontario joined Michigan and Ohio in a commitment to reduce phosphorus load in Lake Erie, which has fed algae blooms and compromised drinking water quality.
Farmers are seen as the front line and the GFO has already opened a dialogue with the provincial agriculture and environment ministries, Haerle says.
“We need to do our footwork now before it becomes a real issue. It has to be science-based,” he says, adding that it’s too early to speculate on how it will all shake out, but regulations restricting phosphorus applications based on soil tests are a possibility.
It’s hard to avoid feeling like farming is under attack, says Crowe. “It seems like any time there is an issue, we’re the first ones to be targeted. The writing is on the wall. If we don’t stand up for what’s right, we’re going to end up like Sweden, where we’ll be told what we can and can’t do.”