Report calls for new soil vision

Our soil is a great resource, and we need to change our vision of how we manage it.”

This is one conclusion from a roundtable held by Gord Miller, the environmental commissioner of Ontario, which brought together experts and stakeholders to discuss the opportunities and challenges of increasing soil carbon and building healthy soils.

The report from the event, “Investing in Soils for a Sustainable Future,” released March 27, outlines the great potential in increasing the carbon content of our soils.

“Farmers are vulnerable to climate change,” said the commissioner, “but they are not helpless. As one roundtable participant put it: Agriculture is 10 per cent of the problem, but 20 per cent of the solution. These numbers may be rough approximations, but they convey an important truth: There is much that farmers can do to both mitigate climate change and to adapt to it.”

Through the careful management of soil alone — by raising the organic-matter level in soils — farmers can help mitigate future climate change and adapt to change happening already, while at the same time cleaning water, guarding biodiversity, and ensuring productive farmland for future generations.

The science of good soil management, however, is evolving. Evolution means change and change means new practices, new equipment, new costs, and more risks. “Our roundtable revealed a high level of agreement that society should share these new costs and risks with farmers,” said Miller. “The important question that remains is how to go about doing that fairly and cost effectively.”

The report summarizes the presentations made at the roundtable by a group of international experts; the discussions, prompted by these presentations, of a mix of Ontario stakeholders, including farmers, academics, and government; and the commissioner’s own take on the proceedings.

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