Balanced discussion needed on Lake Simcoe pollution

To the editor:

If you ate today, thank a farmer.

Every day, at least three times a day, you rely on farmers to feed and nourish your body. The milk in your coffee, bread and cheese for your sandwich, and the sirloin steak and glass of wine you have at the end of a long day all would not be possible without our farmers.

Farmers feed our growing population, and it is no easy feat. Increasingly, more and more valuable farmland is being lost to development, especially in Ontario, challenging our shrinking population of farmers to produce more food for more people on a smaller land base. And they do. Our farmers continue to provide us with the healthy, nourishing food we need while upholding incredible quality control and animal welfare standards.

With this in mind, I’d like to present an alternative perspective and address recent comments regarding phosphorus loading in Lake Simcoe. Farming operations in our township were criticized in a recent letter to the editor, and the statistic was presented that “88 percent of the problem is coming from non-point sources (farms and other sources).” This statement however is misleading, failing to identify what other non-point sources are and certainly puts agriculture in a bad light. To be clear, point sources of phosphorus loading are typically municipal wastewater treatment plants, while non-point sources include widely distributed elements from agricultural operations to urban development.

Looking at the source of the aforementioned statistic, the Environmental Commissioners report, it is actually noted for the non-point sources, 29% of phosphorus loading was from agricultural lands for hay, pasture, croplands and polders, while a higher proportion, 31% was coming from urban runoff.

In addition, I’d like to highlight the great initiatives many farms in the area are already undertaking to reduce phosphorus runoff. For example, from 2008-2012, the Lake Simcoe Farm Stewardship program provided millions of dollars to help complete 440 on-farm projects, contributing to a reduced phosphorus contribution.

Best-management practices are increasingly being adopted by farmers specifically in Brock Township. Winter cover crops are an example that help reduce phosphorus loss by limiting erosion. As of the 2016 census of agriculture, roughly 23% of farms in the township reported using winter cover crops, an increase of 22 farms over the 2011 census. Windbreaks also help prevent phosphorus loss by reducing erosion, and 83 farms, representing nearly 35% of all farms in the township reported using windbreaks or shelterbelts in the 2016 census.

While I’m not saying agricultural practices are perfect, I think balance in discussion and solutions needs to be brought to the table surrounding phosphorus in Lake Simcoe. Singular blame should not and cannot be put on a particular industry. Our farmers support us every day. Let’s show them our respect and support by having informed, balanced discussions on this issue.

Emma Drake

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