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Conservation and ag can work together

Conservation and ag can work together

Stakeholders from agricultural groups and Conservation Ontario seem to have similar priorities for management of conservation authorities moving forward 

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer
Farms.com

The government of Ontario is asking for input from various stakeholders in the province to inform how Ontario’s conservation authorities should be governed. Feedback will influence the mandate and oversight of conservation authorities as well as any changes to the Conservation Authorities Act.

The OFA encourages agricultural stakeholders to respond to an online survey by March 13, according to recent commentary from director Steve Brackenridge. Conservation authorities require secure and balanced funding, clarification within Section 28 of the Conservation Authorities Act, and greater involvement of agricultural groups to best protect the natural environment in the province, the statement said.

Section 28 in the Act defines prohibited development activities based on their threat to natural processes or areas. Each of the province’s 36 authorities has its own regulation under section 28 to protect the specific natural resources of that watershed.

The statement from the OFA advocates for greater collaboration between the agricultural community and conservation authorities, and encourages taking advantage of synergies between the two groups.  

“Conservation authorities have a 40-year plus history of working with the agricultural sector,” Kim Gavine, general manager of Conservation Ontario, told Farms.com.

Collaborations have “ranged anywhere from water quality improvement projects, soil health, and nutrient management initiatives,” she said. That includes working closely with the OSCIA to administer the Environmental Farm Plan and GLASI (Great Lakes Agricultural Stewardship Initiative).

“We’ve had a very close relationship with the agricultural community,” Gavine said. Sometimes farmers need to interact with more than one of the province’s 36 organizations, depending on their land, because the conservation authorities are designated geographically by watershed.

OFA leadership acknowledges the “importance of the watershed approach and how that must be maintained. (Management by watershed is) the logical measure in which to look at adopting best practices on the farmland … looking at how it effects the entire watershed,” she explained.

Conservation authority stakeholders appreciate agricultural groups like the OFA advocating for effective management of conservation in Ontario.

“We were really pleased to see the OFA recognizing the varying capacities amongst the conservation authorities and recommending that the conservation authorities require secure funding,” Gavine said.

“We have delegated responsibilities from the province and a working partnership with municipalities and other sectors, like the ag sector. We need to make sure we have that secure funding,” she added.

The conservation authorities’ programming involving hazard risk mitigation had its budget cut by 50 per cent, and that impacts everyone, Gavine said.

There is often disparity between the funding of larger, urban-based conservation authorities and smaller rural conservation authorities.

More secure funding for all conservation authorities “would go a long way in bringing consistency of delivering programs on the ground,” Gavine said.

“What’s really frustrating is if you’ve got a really good initiative in one conservation authority, or a really good stewardship initiative working in partnership with a local agricultural group. You might have another conservation authority who just doesn’t have the financial resources or doesn’t have the capacity to participate in that program,” she explained.

Alongside more stable funding, Conservation Ontario is also looking to the government to help improve the Conservation Authorities Act.

“We’ve asked for updated technical guidelines … policy support from the province will help to streamline reviews and approvals,” Gavine said.

She hopes that conservation authorities and agricultural groups in the province can work closer together in the future.

“We’ve got a lot of expertise within the conservation authorities and I know there’s similar expertise within the agricultural groups, and I think working together we can have a more effective impact,” she said. “There’s always room for improvement in every sector and by working together I think we have a better means of achieving that and making those improvements.”

Interested parties can respond to the survey from the provincial government here until March 13.

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