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Innovations Last Issue : Green Plan


Lawrence F. London, Jr.
Title: Innovations Last Issue : Green Plan

Innovations March 1997

Special Agriculture Green Plan Issue
Stewardship Information Bureau Closes
As the Canada-Ontario Agriculture Green Plan draws to a close on March 31, so does the Stewardship Information Bureau (sib). The Bureau has been in existence for eight years, beginning with the sweep program which preceded Agriculture Green Plan. The Bureau's mandate was to provide a network of clients in Ontario agriculture with current and useful information on sustainable farming and other agro-environmental issues. Another important mandate was to collect information created within the various Agriculture Green Plan subprograms-- Research, Environmental Farm Plan, Best Management Practices, Technology Transfer, Rural Conservation Clubs and Wetlands/Woodlands/ Wildlife--and disseminate this information among the subprograms and others in our client network.

The Bureau's accomplishments over the years were significant. It created and developed a library of more than 2,500 pieces including publications, newsletters, reports and videos on all aspects of sustainable agriculture. Staff responded to numerous requests via phone, fax, e-mail and snail mail. Replies were provided to both rural and urban people, as well as to organizations in Canada and around the world. The Bureau published a quarterly newsletter Innovations that was very popular among its network clients.

History of Green Plan

The Agriculture Green Plan Agreement was developed as a Canada-Ontario program to encourage and assist farmers with implementation of appropriate farm management practices within the framework of environmentally sustainable agriculture.

Program components were developed as a result of a Stakeholder Conference held at the Kempenfelt Centre, Barrie in October 1991. Later, objectives were identified and refined by project committees consisting of farmers, agricultural industry personnel, government extension workers and university scientists. Seven program components resulted:

Research Thirty-one research projects were conducted in three major categories--manure and nutrient management, on-farm research projects and monitoring and evaluation projects.

Rural Conservation Clubs More than 40 projects were developed and conducted by groups of farmers.

Wetlands/Woodlands/Wildlife A series of 10 projects with over 200 demonstration sites were designed to promote healthy ecosystems with a mix of agriculture, forest areas, wetlands and watercourses.

Best Management Practices Several standard reference booklets were produced for farmers and the public. The booklets describe the interactions of agriculture in the rural ecosystem, and present farmers with realistic production alternatives to help them develop a sustainable farm plan.

Environmental Farm Plans This farmer-led program provided several thousand Ontario farmers with an assessment of their individual farming operations.

Technology Transfer CommitteeThe Committee evaluated alternative methods for transferring information and technology to farmers and throughout the agriculture industry. the Bureau collected, edited and disseminated information to a client network.

Stewardship Information Bureau collected, edited and disseminated information to a client network of farmers, extensionists, researchers and agribusiness.

Agriculture Green Plan information will continue to be available through the Web site at: http://res.agr.ca/lond/gp/gphompag.html

Award Winning BMP Manuals

The Best Management Practices (bmps) Program is one component of Agriculture Green Plan that will live on after the program ends. According to Ted Taylor, Technical Coordinator, "The intent of the program was to develop accessible and visually appealing publications for farmers and rural residents regarding the planning and implementation of environmentally sustainable agricultural practices." In total, 14 books, two videos, two slide sets and one cd-rom have been produced on topics ranging from field crop production, manure, soil, and water management through forestry and wildlife. Task teams of key stakeholders from farm and conservation organizations, research, extension, agribusiness and regulatory agencies collaborated on each project. Market research results speak to the success of the program. Of the 600 farmers surveyed by telephone, 68% owned bmp publications and 92% of those found them to be useful, readable and credible. Moreover, 66% of those owning bmps had made changes to their operation after reading the books and the same proportion said they would be willing to pay for them. Three of the bmp publications have received international awards and several were produced with additional funding from public agencies and agribusiness.

For a complete list of titles, see Looking For More Information? later in this newsletter. To obtain copies of the bmp materials, visit your local agricultural ministry (omafra) office, or contact Ontario Federation of Agriculture (ofa). Tel (416) 485-3333 / Fax (416) 485-9027.


"To promote the development and adoption of sustainable farm management practices and new technologies to address priority wetlands conservation, woodlands conservation and drain management issues." This was the goal of the Wetlands/Woodlands/Wildlife (www) Component of the Agriculture Green Plan program, with 10 demonstration projects involving more than 200 farmers and landowners across Ontario. The 10 partners were Ducks Unlimited Canada, Federation of Ontario Naturalists, Grey County Soil and Crop Improvement Association, Grand River Conservation Authority, La Cité collégiale, Lower Trent Region Conservation Authority, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, with Ontario Cattlemen's Association, Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (oscia) and the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority. Here are some project highlights.

Fencing Improves Water Quality Onondaga Farms, a purebred polled Hereford cattle breeding operation is situated on 1,000 acres of hills, valleys, wetlands and ponds in Brant County. To restrict cattle access, two-strand electric fencing was installed around four individual wetlands. The fencing provides a variable width (3-20 m) buffer strip around the wetlands, removing only about three hectares from the adjacent pasture and hay fields. Fencing the wetlands created an area of permanent vegetation that reduces erosion and slows and filters surface runoff. It also creates more habitat for ducks and other wildlife.

Cattle are provided with an alternate source of clean water, which means a healthier herd. Owner, Gil Henderson says, "it's a little too early to fully assess the project, but we do know we are providing more wildlife cover and we do see some improvement in water quality." Fencing around the wetlands fits well with rotational grazing. "We double our carrying capacity with the paddock system", says Henderson. In addition, a flushing bar was attached to the front of the tractor during haying season. Noise and movement of the bars flushes wildlife such as ground nesting birds and fawns in time to prevent the machinery doing injury with the mower.

Buffer Strips Save Crops Adult geese and newly hatched goslings can cause significant crop damage in spring and early summer. To combat this problem, lure crops (legumes and grasses) were planted in strips between the water and the cultivated crop to provide forage for the geese. A variety of mixtures was planted to determine the best combinations. All strips were mowed regularly to encourage new growth. Farmer Lloyd Moore gave up one-half acre of crop to establish a buffer but says: "It's a small price to pay to keep them out of the crops. There's also the added benefit of erosion control on banks around the wetlands. The main drawback is the time needed to mow the strips." At Brian Domm's farm, near Cambridge, Birdscare Flash Tape used in combination with a buffer worked well to keep geese out of adjacent fields.

Native Plants Used to Expand Woodlots Recent studies have shown that increasing the size and number of larger woodlots--as opposed to planting many smaller ones--is critical to biodiversity and particularly important to many bird species. Forest edges and stream corridors were planted by volunteers to increase the size of larger woodlots and to connect large forest blocks by volunteers using locally collected native plants including Black Oaks, Sugar Maples, White Pine, Indian Grass and Northern Wheat grass. Flora and fauna surveys were conducted to monitor pest species and mammalian predators to determine the benefits and drawbacks to agriculture. Farmers are already seeing a benefit with stabilized fragile lands, and will benefit from selective wood removal in future.

Healthy Creeks Good Agricultural Drains, Good Fish and Wildlife Habitat and Good Quality Drinking Water... Native shrub cuttings such as willow and red osier dogwood were planted along the streambanks in the Halls Creek watershed in Southwest Oxford. These bioengineering techniques--ones which employ native plant materials--are an alternative to conventional streambank erosion control materials such as rock riprap. Although these alternatives are more labor intensive to install, they offer improved riparian wildlife habitat, help to cool water temperatures by shading the creek and provide food sources for fish from fallen leaves and insects. In addition, using best management practices such as conservation tillage and buffer strips on cropland next to the creek prevents sediment from going into the water. If less soil is washed into the creek its drainage capabilities are enhanced and the need for costly cleanouts is lessened.

In a one-kilometre section of the Cranberry Creek Drain, near Long Point, depressions, called sand traps, were dug in the channel bottom to collect eroded sand material. Only the two sand traps had to be cleaned out, with the remainder of the channel bottom left undisturbed. This protected trout spawning and resting areas in the stream while reducing cleanout costs by approximately 20 percent.

Contact: Laurie Maynard, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada 75 Farquhar St. Guelph, ON N1H 3N4. Tel (519) 826-2093

Environmental Farm Plan Achievements

Since introduced province-wide in 1993, over 8500 farm families have voluntarily participated in the Environmental Farm Plan (efp) process. The farm community has been involved in every stage of developing the efp through the Ontario Farm Environmental Coalition (Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, AG Care and Ontario Farm Animal Council). Surveys reveal 95% of the participants recommend the efp to farming neighbours. It has been a valuable management tool to help highlight environmental strengths on their farms, identify areas of environmental concern, and help set realistic goals to improve environmental conditions according to the farmers' own timetables.

Delivery of the efp was the responsibility of the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association in partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (omafra). The organized workshops provided a forum for farmers to discuss current environmental issues, and an ideal opportunity to distribute relevant resource materials.

The $1500 Incentive Grant was claimed by one-half of those farmers whose efp had been deemed appropriate by the local Peer Review Committee. The money was used toward a variety of environmental projects, and stimulated expenditures by the farmers averaging three times the value of the grant.

The Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (aafc) Agriculture Green Plan funding helped support the influential activity of the Coalition, and helped to create a very effective network to address environmental issues and foster communication among the farm groups, federal and provincial governments, academic institutions, agribusiness and a long list of related agencies and interest groups.

The efp initiative has gained both national and international recognition and appeal. efp will continue from 1997-2000 with financial support from aafc through the CanAdapt program administered in Ontario by the Agricultural Adaptation Council.

Contact: David Armitage, Ontario Farm Environmental Coalition. Tel (416) 485-3333 / Fax 485-9528.

Environmental Farm Plans, coupled with the support of educational and advisory programs, research and development, and financial support programs are the foundation of Our Farm Environmental Agenda.

Technology Transfer Committee

The goal of this committee was to ensure that new technologies are transferred to the public effectively and efficiently. The current technology transfer process was evaluated using manure management technology as a case study of what's needed. The committee also investigated new technologies such as expert computer systems, CD-ROM and Web site http://res.agr.ca/lond/gp/gphompag.html. A study to determine the most appropriate ways of packaging information for the target audience was commissioned. A summary of the committee's findings will be available in the committee's final report.

Rural Conservation Clubs

A total of 38 clubs were funded under the Agriculture Green Plan Program. Areas of interest covered manure management, constructed wetlands, conservation tillage, pest control and more. Here are a few samples of what was learned under this section of the program.

Only Red Clover Saves N for Next Crop...A two-year study looked at the ability of cover crops (fall rye, oilseed radish, oats and red clover) established after winter wheat to sequester soil nitrate and to provide nitrogen to a succeeding corn crop in either a no-till or plow tillage system. Each of the cover crops examined reduced soil nitrate levels during the post wheat harvest period while they were actively growing. However, only red clover provided a significant nitrogen contribution to the succeeding corn crop. Allowing an over wintering cover crop (i.e., fall rye, red clover) to re-grow in the spring before killing in a no-till system actually decreased nitrogen contribution of the cover crop to the succeeding corn crop. Mineralization of nitrogen from cover crop biomass occurred at a faster rate in a plow tillage system than in no-till. Following red clover, the soil nitrate test results showed that at planting time, the soil nitrate test may, on average, overestimate actual nitrogen requirements by 100%. Sampling for soil nitrate levels close to sidedness time provided a good estimation of actual N requirements for corn following red clover.

No-Till Corn Yields on Wheat Stubble Competitive...No-tillers were commonly experiencing reduced corn yields following winter wheat. Over 30 veteran no-tillers in Middlesex County evaluated different types of tillage in side-by-side trials to find a solution. However, yield data from over 50 corn fields (wheat-corn-soy rotation) between 1994 and 1996 has blown the yield reduction myth out of the water for most club members. Although there are situations where pre-tillage is effective (poorly drained clay soils or straw residue levels greater than 65%). In general, a well-managed no-till system yields very competitively with all other types of tillage. No-till plots had yields which actually ranked first or second about 50-65% of the time.

Even more impressive, no-till corn on wheat stubble put the most money in members pockets 75-80% of the time in 1995 and 1996. Although the Pre-Till Club was initially looking for a light, single-pass tillage for wheat stubble that would boost corn yields the following year, it seems the club is back where it started. With proof of competitive no-till yields--and more importantly with proof of more profit per acre in a no-till system--producers have gained new confidence to stick with a long-term no-till system that includes winter wheat.

No-Till Cuts Costs...E Plus is a "bottom-line" program that provides growers the opportunity to compare the costs and returns of their current crop production practices across their own trials and with other producers. Program participants submitted information on their use of inputs, field operations and crop yield. The data was entered into the E Plus computer database that used software developed at Purdue University and modified for use in Canada. Standardized Ontario prices were used for crop inputs, custom rates and selling price for all cost and profit calculations. This places all participants on a "level playing field".

Some interesting results have emerged. E Plus four-year data indicate that no-till soybeans produced the highest return to land and management, yet soybean yields were similar across all tillage practices. However, no-till reported substantially lower field operation costs which gave it an advantage over both reduced till and plowing. Also, the return to land and management for corn following wheat is less than for corn following corn, not because of lower yields, but because of higher fertilizer and field operations costs for corn following wheat.

No-Till Canola Trials... Tillage trials conducted by the Ontario Canola Growers' Association showed that spring canola can be grown successfully under a variety of tillage systems. Under no-till conditions, yields tended to be lower but when net contribution margin was calculated the differences became relatively small. Plant stand counts showed that the lower populations in no-till had little effect on final yield. The question which now remains is how can we give no-till canola a little extra boost in yield to make it more attractive to growers. Novel-trait canola should help swing more acres to no-till due to increased weed control options.

No-till Works in Eastern Ontario No-till corn yielded as well as conventional tillage on soybean stubble when plant populations were similar. That's according to trials conducted by Carlton Soil & Crop Improvement Association. Wet conditions at planting in no-till fields did result in reduced populations and reduced yields in parts of the field. A single pass with a cultivator in the spring not only dried out the soil to overcome this problem, it also also eliminated the need for a burndown and provided an opportunity to incorporate nitrogen.

No-till soybeans drilled into corn stalks yielded almost as well as soybeans planted into fall-plowed fields-- and produced higher returns. Narrow-row soybeans outyielded wide-row beans in both tillage systems. The Nitrogen Soil Test did not consistently predict the maximum economic rate of nitrogen to use on corn, although it did show that N rates above 120 lb/ac are seldom required in Eastern Ontario.

Solar-Powered Pumps to the Rescue Livestock allowed direct access to watercourses create adverse impacts on surface water quality, such as bacterial contamination, nutrient loading, sediment loading and disease transmission. The best solution is to fence livestock out of the watercourse. However, in many isolated pastures it is necessary to use the watercourse for the drinking water supply.

A consortium of three conservation autorities--Lake Simcoe, Rideau Valley and Upper Thames River-- joined forces to research solar-powered pump applications in these locations. Six demonstration sites were established at Westport, Nepean, Schomberg, Cannington, Monkton and Thorndale to collect information on how these systems respond to different climatic conditions across the province. A draft copy of an extension manual for the installation of a solar powered watering facility was developed. For more information, contact Terry Davidson, Rideau Valley Conservation Authority, Nepean at Tel (613) 692-3571, or Fax (613) 692-1507.

Contact: Nancy Cherny or Mike Hicknell, Market and Industry Services Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 174 Stone Rd. W, Guelph, ON N1G 4S9. Tel (519) 837-9400 (Ext 2151).


Thirty-one research projects were conducted under Agriculture Green Plan in three major categories. (1) Manure and Nutrient Management projects (11) were designed to improve the handling, storage and application of manure to minimize its impact on water quality, as well as develop practices for safely applying urban organic waste on agricultural land. (2) On-Farm Research projects (7) studied conservation cropping systems, site specific farming, rotations and cover crops. (3) Monitoring and Evaluation projects (13) were conducted to assess current agricultural resources and develop techniques for tracking sustainable practices.

Crop Rotation Improves Tomato Yields

Mechanization necessary for competitive vegetable production has promoted practices on fragile soils which reduces soil organic matter, structure and aeration. In April, 1989, a large project was initiated by Ridgetown College at two sites near Leamington and Dresden on sandy loams. The purpose was to research methods of improving soil conditions on intensely farmed soils. Nine short-term rotations were set up at Leamington and eight at Dresden. Rotations included high residue crops such as rye, winter wheat and corn, as well as the legumes red clover and alfalfa. When the best four crop rotations are considered, marketable tomato yields were increased by 23% and 34% over continuous culture. However, despite these yield increases, economics in favour of rotation is not easily obtained due to the high value of the tomato crop (>$90/tonne) relative to the other crops in rotation.

This study also showed that tomato plug plants can be grown in high crop residue situations. The residue greatly reduced the need for replanting due to sand blasting. However, tomato yields were reduced every year following high grain corn residue levels.

Crop rotation did have a desirable effect on soil physical and chemical practices. Organic matter levels increased and bulk density levels decreased, compared to continuous culture.

Sustainable Application of Liquid Manure in No-Till Corn Crops

In an effort to find an environmentally friendly means of applying manure in no-till, researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada monitored water quality with three different application methods: surface application, conventional injection and modified injection (loosening the soil ahead of the injectors). Results showed that liquid manure applied to medium textured soil under no-till systems can result in high levels of nutrient and bacteria (exceeding water quality standards) in the tile drains for the first 48 hours for all treatments. Injection reduced the bacteria levels in tile drains over surface-applied (43% for "modified" and 26% for "conventional").

Liquid manure applications on light textured soils in relatively dry conditions and with minimal tile flow did not result in excessive levels of nutrient and bacteria in the tile drains. However, manure contaminants were observed in tile drains after simulated rainfall occurring shortly after application.

There was no significant difference in yield between the application methods and the control plots (conventional fertilizer management) on all three sites. The difference in fuel consumption between injection and surface-applied was negligible (<2 /ha) on sandy loam and loam soils. Further research is required on clay soils to improve injection methods.

Red Clover Increases No-till Corn Yields

No-till has not worked very well for corn following winter wheat. To find out why, researchers at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Research Station in Harrow set out to determine the effects of no-tillage systems on soil physical, biological and chemical properties. Treatments included conventional versus no-tillage both with and without red clover in a wheat-corn-soybean rotation on a clay loam soil.

No-till treatments had improved soil structure, increased soil water content and reduced soil temperature by 2-3 C in June. Soil respiration rates were 45% greater in conventional than in no-till treatments, leading to greater rates of residue decomposition under conventional tillage. Soil drying occurred along the planting slot of the no-till treatments, enabling the soil to open and the corn seedlings to become water stressed, even though the no-till plots were wetter in the spring.

The net result was that the corn in the no-till treatments was significantly delayed and had 13% lower grain yield than corn in the conventional treatment. However, when red clover was included in the crop rotation, no-till corn gain yields were similar to conventional tillage yields. Red clover improved soil structure and accelerated the decomposition of crop residue which contributed to the yield improvement in the no-till treatments.

Early Warning Systems to Assess Soil Health Soil enzyme activity levels were found to be up to twelve times more sensitive to farming practices than soil organic matter content or pH. They were measured on four farms with different climates, soils and management systems on both cultivated and forested sites. Thus, soil enzymes can be used as an early warning system for assessing soil health. Seven activity levels from low to high were defined. Most soil samples (>90%) taken from the forested sites had medium to very high enzyme activities. Most soil samples (>85%) taken from the sites cropped with conventional tillage had very low to medium activity. Conservation tillage systems and crop rotations including hay maintained greater amounts and activities than conventionally tilled soils.

This research may lead to a simple, fast and low-cost means to assess soil health that can easily be incorporated into routine testing.

Contact: Dr. Bruce Bowman, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Pest Management Research Centre, 1391 Sandford St., London, ON N5V 4T3. Tel (519) 457-1470 or Fax (519) 457-3997.

Looking For More Information?

Several new publications on woodlot management are hot off the press. Copies are available from the Centre for Land & Water Stewardship, Richards Building, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1 Tel (519) 824-4120 (Ext 8329) or e-mail pmitchel@uoguelph.ca.

A Pocket Guide to Ontario Trees & Some Woodland Plants. Individual copies $6.00 plus $1.00 S&H; 10 copies or more $4.00/copy plus $4.00 S&H.

Greening the Land: Principles, Guidelines & Cases--A Revegetation Project Handbook for Community Groups and Landowners. Individual copies $10.00 plus $2.00 S&H; orders of 10 copies or more $6.00/copy plus $5.00 S&H.

Other publications soon to be available include:

Taking Stock: Preparing an Inventory of Your Woodland

Woodlands for Nature: Managing Your Woodland for Wildlife and Nature Appreciation.

Soil Ecology in Conservation Crop Production SystemsQuestions and Answers on Soil Life For a copy, contact Denise Brenner, Dept. Land Resource Science, University of Guelph. (519) 824-4120 (Ext 6364).

Internet & World Wide Web...a User Guide for Farmers and Agriculture. This comprehensive manual covers using e-mail, search engines, creating a Web site and includes a diskette of over 300 addresses for agricultural Web sites. Cost: $10.00 + gst. For a copy, contact Ontario Agriculture Training Institute (oati). Tel 1-800-ONT-OATI.

Best Management Practices Titles

Single copies of the following are available free to farmers through field offices of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

A First Look Farm Forestry and Habitat Management (also video)

Field Crop Production Fish and Wildlife Management

Horticultural Crops Integrated Pest Management

Irrigation Management Livestock and Poultry Management

Nutrient Management Soil Management

Water Management (CD-ROM available Spring '97) Water Wells (available Spring '97)

No-Till: Making It Work (available Spring '97) Pesticide Storage, Handling and Application

(available Spring '97)

For more information on the Agriculture Green Plan check out the Web site at http://res.agr.ca/lond/gp/gphompag.html