International year of soils a good time to preserve natural resources with soil conservationBy Kate Procter
Food can be an emotional topic for most people, whether they admit it or not. It’s not just about what nourishes and sustains us physically, food also plays a role in community and family, it is the glue that holds us together. It is rare for humans to get together in a room without having food involved in one way or another.
We use the term “comfort food” to refer to food that, for whatever reason, makes us feel better. There is an endless amount of information telling us foods we must eat and foods we must never eat. There are foods we eat to help us celebrate and mourn, foods to mark certain events, foods that highlight the varied and exciting cultures around the world. Increasingly, people use food to make a statement – vegetarian, local, organic, – they all say something if we adopt them as our own.
As farmers, we are passionate about food from an increasingly rare perspective; while everyone eats, not that many actually grow any more. Farmers make sure to tell consumers that “if you ate today, thank a farmer,” and that “farmers feed cities”. The reality is that we all need each other and a better understanding on both sides would benefit everyone. While we know that we are producing the best and safest food in the world, we need consumers to support Canadian farmers so we can keep doing that.
Every year, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) calculates “Food Freedom Day”. This is the day that the average Canadian’s income will have covered the grocery bill for the year. In 2014, Canadians spent 10.4 per cent of their income on food, so Food Freedom Day this year fell on February 6. Last year, it fell on February 7. The CFA also reports that “In a 2012 comparison of food-at-home budget shares conducted by the USDA, Canada was found to spend the third lowest share of their total expenditures on food in the world, behind only the U.S. and Britain” (http://www.cfa-fca.ca/programs-projects/food-freedom-day-2015).
This year, CFA is using Food Freedom Day to highlight International Year of Soils, as designated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). FAO Director-General Jose Graziano de Silva, in proclaiming this the year of soils, referred to them as the “nearly forgotten resource”.
“The multiple roles of soils often go unnoticed. Soils don’t have a voice, and few people speak out for them. They are our silent ally in food production,” says da Silva. http://www.fao.org/soils-2015/en/
This is important for farmers and consumers alike, whether or not they realize it. It is not surprising to note that 95 per cent of food grown in the world depends on soil. Yet “according to Statistics Canada, between 1971 and 2011, Canada’s farm area decreased by 39 million hectares. The situation fares even worse elsewhere, as the FAO projects that up to 50,000 square kilometers of soil are lost every year around the world” (http://www.cfa-fca.ca/programs-projects/food-freedom-day-2015). Try to wrap your head around those stats.
As farmers, we are on the front lines when it comes to soil conservation. There are many things we can do to help preserve the awesome natural resource we have here in southern Ontario. Maybe the thought of switching to conservation tillage scares you. It is a big change and shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. But you don’t have to go all or nothing. It doesn’t matter where you are in your operation – any small steps you can take toward reducing tillage and managing residue will help. Get involved with one of our organizations – you will learn from people who have been working toward soil conservation for many years. Or get reading – there are lots of great resources available to help you.
While the topic of soil conservation is not new, many groups – locally, provincially, federally, and internationally – are using the International Year of Soils to highlight this important issue. Groups including the Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario and Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association are hosting exciting and informative speakers to bring the latest research and innovation to farmers.
The University of Saskatchewan’s Department of Soil Science is celebrating this year by announcing “soils of the month” and by hosting several seminars and events. http://agbio.usask.ca/departments/soil-science/international-year-of-soils.php.
The Maitland Conservation Foundation, in our own back yard, is also recognizing the International Year of Soils by making this the theme for the 27th annual fundraising dinner and auction, which is being held on Friday April 24, 2015. Money raised at the event will go toward several projects carried out by the Maitland Valley Conservation Authority that are focused on preserving soil and reducing erosion. You can get involved by donating to the auction, or buying a ticket to the dinner, and bidding on one of the many great items donated by local businesses. For more information, call 519-335-3557 or check the website at: http://www.mvca.on.ca/mcf_activities.php?event_id=102
When it comes to things that make headlines, or grab the public’s attention, soil might not top the list. However, it is vitally important to remember that we as farmers can all make a difference, one step at a time.◊
Kate Procter farms, hikes, canoes, and plays guitar in Huron County.