Water Protection Steering Committee holds erosion control meeting - March 29, 2018
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Last Friday, the Huron County Water Protection Steering Committee held a day dedicated to innovation in agricultural drainage and erosion control featuring guest speakers from as far away as Illinois.
Huron County Warden Jim Ginn, also chair of the committee, emceed the event at the White Carnation banquet hall in Holmesville, telling the approximately 30 in attendance that stewardship and erosion control had always been a passion of his.
He told a story of working on his home farm and applying gravel to a deep ditch at the back of his farm. Not until you’ve seen erosion with your own eyes, he said, do you realize how much land is being lost every winter.
He said he went back to the ditch one year and when he went back the following year, feet of soil had disappeared. It was then and there, he said, that he knew he had to take measures to save the land leaving his property. He immediately began no-till farming from then on and became passionate about stewardship for decades to follow.
Jacqui Empson-Laporte, an environmental specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Farm and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), was the day’s first speaker.
She quoted Nobel Prize-winning musician Bob Dylan, saying that “the times they are a-changin’” when it comes to just about everything, but especially with farming and environmental concerns.
She compared a rotary phone to the iPhone and, similarly, compared methods of farm drainage from decades ago to the advancements that have been made with the Natural Heritage Plan and how to recreate natural features on your farm like berms.
The benefits of the changing landscape, she said, can be seen in the preservation of soil and water quality. Ontario, especially Huron County, has some of the richest agricultural soil in the world and every year much of it is lost to rivers and lakes. To take care of your farm’s soil, she said, in this day and age just makes sense.
She told those in attendance, however, that while the concepts might be simple, the solutions aren’t necessarily that simple. If they were simple, she said, everybody would be doing them.
Drainage solutions for farms are not only complex, she said, but they are very often site-specific. A universal solution won’t work when it comes to farm drainage, she said.
Like most aspects of farming, Empson-Laporte said that not only do they need to make sense for the farm’s production and for environmental sustainability, but it can’t be cost-prohibitive and it needs to pay off on a farm’s bottom line as well.
Harold Rudy was the next speaker. Rudy is in research and business development with the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association and is currently writing a book about soil health. He is also in the Ontario Conservation Hall of Fame.
He spoke to the group about controlled drainage projects and the benefits of crop yield (increases of between three and five per cent depending on the circumstances) and dollar benefits per acre of land.
The projects, however, are not cheap, he said. Sometimes, in some areas, there are grants available from local conservation authorities, but without incentives, the projects can be cost-prohibitive.
The morning’s third speaker was Steve Sauder, a communications specialist with the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority.
Sauder spoke about erosion control methods and focused on the intense rain event of Feb. 20 across Ontario. He showed videos of intense flooding in the St. Marys area and explained that the area lost between 60 and 70 per cent of its annual phosphorus run-off in that one-day event.
While no amount of drainage or erosion control can completely prevent soil loss in such a dramatic rain event like the one earlier this year, steps can be taken to prepare your land to be in as good of shape as possible if the worst does happen.
Joe Vermunt, a local farmer, however, asked about how cost-prohibitive some of the methods are. Sauder, he said, has an off-farm job and a 100-acre farm. For those farming 200 or 300 acres as their only form of income, installing complicated drainage systems would almost be impossible.
Sauder agreed that it would be tough, but again directed people to potential grant programs that could help them get a start.
The final speaker of the day was Jeremy Meiners of AGREM LLC water management, based in Illinois.
Meiners spoke about a number of advanced farm drainage methods. The five methods of drainage he focused on were surface drainage, pattern tile drainage, contoured tile drainage, controlled drainage and sub-irrigation.
He spent most of his time speaking about contoured drainage. Though another expensive form of drainage, Meiners said it is the foremost solution to drainage issues on farms with any slope whatsoever.
While draining a flat farm can be relatively simple, he said, most farms aren’t flat and that’s where it gets complicated. He said that while contoured drainage can be expensive, farmers can also see increases in yields of between 10 and 30 per cent in their experience.
As part of a panel discussion later in the day, local drainage contractors said they are capable of installing these systems, but found that they are so cost-prohibitive that once farmers hear what they’ll cost, they immediately begin investigating alternate options.
For more information on the Huron County Water Protection Steering Committee, visit the county’s website and search under the “Water Protection” tab.