OSCIA will deliver the project which focuses on improving soil health and enhancing watershed quality through farmer and researcher networking and collaboration
By Jackie Clark
On-Farm Applied Research and Monitoring (ONFARM) is a $5.75-million project to bring together farmers and researchers to focus on soil health, water quality, and overall environmental stewardship, the Ontario government announced on Dec. 5, World Soil Day. The Canadian Agricultural Partnership is funding the project, which is delivered by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA).
“ONFARM is a collaborative research program intended to evolve into a viable network. It is an applied research initiative that answers questions about stewardship from real farmers on real farms,” Angela Straathof, program director at OSCIA, told Farms.com.
“It is water-quality monitoring sites at field/stream edges in priority subwatersheds; it is paired management practice trials on farms across the province; it is a suite of demonstration events and stakeholder engagement opportunities across the farming community; and it is robust analysis to tie all of these findings together and share the data with the public,” she added.
The project “is very complementary to many past and ongoing environmental and demonstration programs,” Straathof said.
“Building on the findings of GLASI (Great Lakes Agricultural Stewardship Initiative) and Ontario’s Soil Ontario's Agricultural Soil Health and Conservation Strategy keep ONFARM looking forward while being well-informed by past initiatives. The BMPs we will test are combinations of those supported by the other OMAFRA-developed and OSCIA-delivered programs,” she explained.
Those programs include the Environmental Farm Plan, the Soil Action Group, 4R Nutrient Stewardship, and more.
“They all are important pieces, and they all complement each other to some degree,” Les Nichols, president of the OSCIA, told Farms.com.
“A lot of farm groups have done a lot already related to better soil health and soil management, and this (project) hopefully will put them all on common ground,” he added. “They’re all after the same end as far as improving soil health and minimizing runoff.”
The project will leverage some provincial government priorities and expertise through the Made-In-Ontario Environment Plan and the existing working relationship between the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs soils team, OSCIA and producers.
“There is farmer involvement in each core activity and throughout the duration of the program,” Straathof said. Producers will contribute to both research and outreach activities.
Members involved are eager to “moving forward and try to get it on the ground, literally,” Nichols said.
“It’s really building on what’s already been going on for several years,” he explained. “We certainly have a lot of growers who are doing a lot of really good stuff, unique projects on farm, but (the project will help) to get that information (out to) a bigger portion of the ag population,” he added.
ONFARM is a four-year project. “I think that’s a big plus for this program – it’s a longer-term plan that should be able to generate some good information,” Nichols said. Often improvements in soil health cannot be observed or measured in shorter-term programs.
And “there are staff across the participating conservation authorities, Soil Resource Group, and OSCIA contributing to the program’s activities and working to establish it’s sustainability beyond the end date of the Canadian Agricultural Partnership,” Straathof added.
The project will “concentrate on the Lake Erie watershed as an initial area,” Nichols said. “It will eventually focus on all of Ontario.”
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