Agriculture in the Great Lakes Basin – Stewardship and Innovation

Table of Contents

  1. Ontario Producers in the Great Lakes Basin Have a History of Good Stewardship
  2. Innovative Producers in the Great Lakes Basin
  3. Assisting Producers in the Great Lakes Basin to be Good Stewards and Innovators
  4. Some of OMAFRA’s Great Lakes Basin Partner Agencies – Past, Present and Future
  5. Endnotes

Agriculture is Important in the Great Lakes Basin

The Great Lakes Basin provides 20 per cent of the world’s fresh surface water, and is home to roughly 87 per cent (10.6 million people) of Ontarians and virtually all of Ontario’s agricultural industry.1,2

In Ontario, one-third of the land in the Great Lakes Basin supports a thriving agricultural and food industry that produces a diversity of products including grains and oilseeds, meats, dairy, fruits, vegetables, food and beverages as well as innovative bio-products and neutraceuticals. This industry accounts for nearly 25 per cent of all of Canada’s agricultural production, with almost 60,000 Ontario farms providing jobs for 1.4 million people.

Ontario’s farmers account for $9.1 billion in annual revenues.3,4,5 Food processing is the third largest manufacturing sector in Ontario, following transportation and electronics. There are estimated to be at least 3,500 food processing firms in the province, generating more than 120,000 jobs and $32.5 billion in annual sales6.

Ontario Producers in the Great Lakes Basin Have a History of Good Stewardship

Since the 1970s, farmers have been reducing the environmental impacts of farming. This legacy is highlighted in some major farm environmental stewardship achievements.

  • Tillage reduction and no-till – results in more crop residue being left on the land. This increased cover protects the soil, prevents erosion and runoff, and improves soil carbon and quality.
  • Soil erosion control structures (for example, grassed waterways and diversion inlets) in concert with sub-surface drainage systems – results in reduced surface runoff from cropland; buffer strips and riparian management; and, separating cropping and pasture activities from surface waters.
  • Crop rotation and cover crops – forage-based rotations provide increased soil protection from erosion and improve the quality of cropland soils.
  • Manure application – solid manure adds organic matter and slow-release nutrients thereby improving soil quality.
  • Forestation of fragile lands – results in retiring highly erodible croplands (for example, blow sands and eroded knolls) to plant trees. This practice helps restore soil quality and protect surface and ground water.
  • Pesticide use – 53 per cent reduction in pesticide use since 1984 under the Food Systems 2002 Program.

Innovative Producers in the Great Lakes Basin

Since 1992...

  • 34,500 Ontario farmers have participated in an Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) educational workshop.
  • More than 27,300 farmers have continued on with the EFP process and had their EFP Action Plan peer reviewed and deemed appropriate. These farmers are eligible to apply for cost share assistance to implement their plans.

Between April 18, 2005 and March 31, 2008, under the Agricultural Policy Framework...

  • On-farm Voluntary Environmental Improvement Projects – $58.5 million in federal cost-share funding was paid out in Ontario through the Federal-Provincial Agricultural Policy Framework (APF). Funding for the Agricultural Policy Framework is provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). This has resulted in more than 13,700 beneficial management practices (BMPs) and technology projects identified in farmers’ EFP Action Plans being implemented across Ontario. Ontario farmers have contributed over $100 million (money and in-kind resources) towards implementing these environmental improvement projects.
  • The top five BMP project categories that farmers completed through the federal-provincial Agricultural Policy Framework’s cost share programs were:
    • Improving Cropping Systems – 2,700 projects involving precision farming applications, including improving accuracy in applying nutrients and pesticides, and modifying equipment to reduce risks for seeding and post seeding implements for low disturbance placement of seed and fertilizer.
    • Improved Pest Management – 1,300 projects involving adopting practices that improve efficacy of pesticide applications, reduce the number of applications and improve pest control effectiveness. They also promote the use of approved biological and cultural control practices to reduce the volume of pesticides used and the risks of releasing pesticides into the environment.
    • Improved Manure Storage and Handling – 1,160 projects involving increased manure storage to permit timely field application according to weather, soil and crop conditions, and improved features to prevent leaks and spills and thus protecting water quality.
    • Water Well Management – 1,100 projects involving properly upgrading existing water wells and properly decommissioning unused/old water wells to prevent ground water contamination.
    • Nutrient Management Planning – 1,000 projects involving development of nutrient management plans, planning and decision support tools to better use nutrients and manure on farm operations.

Assisting Producers in the Great Lakes Basin to be Good Stewards and Innovators

Like farmers in the province, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) has a long history of supporting environmental farm management practices. Often this is done through partnerships with researchers, farm organizations, conservation groups, other ministries and the federal government. For example under the $23 million Nutrient Management Financial Assistance Program (NMFAP) OMAFRA assisted eligible farmers in implementing nutrient management-related practices and technologies. Similarly the $90 million Healthy Futures for Ontario Agriculture Program focused on encouraging the agri-food industry to:

  • Enhance the safety and quality of Ontario food products
  • Capitalize on marketing and export opportunities and
  • Improve rural water quality and make efficient use of rural water resources

OMAFRA invested $12 million dollars under this program to encourage farmers to implement best management practices to safeguard water quality and quantity in rural Ontario.

Other examples of farm environmental protection programs that OMAFRA has worked with partners over the past 25 years, especially Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, include:

  • Soil and Water Environmental Enhancement Program (SWEEP)
  • Green Plan
  • National Soil Conservation Program
  • Land Stewardship Program.

In addition to supporting agri-environmental protection in Ontario through funding programs and legislation, OMAFRA is involved in research, education and training programs. Three recent examples of research programs include: the Nutrient Management Joint Research Program (NMJRP), the Environmental Sustainability Research Program and OMAFRA's Great Lakes Program  (OGLP) under the 2007 Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Ecosystem (COA).

OMAFRA’s education efforts include developing educational materials such as Best Management Practices Books and supporting education and outreach programs (for example, the Canada-Ontario Environmental Farm Plan).

Recent environmental programming available under the Agricultural Policy Framework and continuing for 2008-09 under the continuity year of Growing Forward include:

  • Canada-Ontario Farm Stewardship Program/Canada-Ontario Environmental Farm Plan (EFP). Approximately $16.6 million in cost-share assistance and support for EFP educational workshops is available to help Ontario farmers in environmental stewardship. The programs are delivered through an agreement signed between Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) on behalf of the Ontario Farm Environmental Coalition (OFEC). The Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) delivers the programs on behalf of OFA.
  • Canada-Ontario Water Supply Expansion Program (COWSEP) – Approximately $3 million is available in Ontario under three Tiers to improve the capacity of agricultural producers to deal with water supply issues. Tier 1, the on-farm infrastructure component, is available for cost-share for individual producers implementing projects to address water supply issues. Projects include new water wells for agricultural purposes, ponds for storing water and water treatment equipment for agricultural use. Tier 2 is available for multi-user infrastructure projects involving a large number of users, providing funding of up to thirty three per cent of eligible project costs. Tier 3 is available for strategic initiatives to enhance operational and developmental limitations to agricultural water. Tier 1 is delivered by OSICA and Tier 2 and 3 are delivered by the Agricultural Adaptation Council (AAC).
  • Greencover Canada – Approximately $1 million is available for farmers in Ontario for financial and technical assistance to:
    • Improve water quality in streams, rivers and lakes
    • Adopt sustainable land use practices
    • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
    • Enhance fish and wildlife habitat

Cost share funding of 50 per cent is available for eligible projects in five BMP categories, including riparian area management, erosion control structures (in riparian areas), shelterbelt establishment and consultative services for grazing management planning and riparian health assessment. Ten Greencover (GC) demonstration sites were funded under the APF to promote the adoption of BMPs. GC is delivered by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association under agreement with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada.

With other organizations sharing common environmental objectives:

  • Oak Ridges Moraine Environmental Enhancement Program (ORMEEP) – The Oak Ridges Moraine Foundation provided $1.4 million to top-up nine of the BMP categories available under the three APF funded cost share programs. The ORMEEP combined with the federal funding available, provides up to 90 per cent cost share for eligible projects. This program is delivered by the OSCIA. A deemed appropriate EFP Action Plan is required.
  • Greenbelt Farm Stewardship Program (GFSP) – The Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation provided $2.4 million to enhance the level of funding available to producers living in the Greenbelt in 22 of the 36 BMP categories funded under the APF to a maximum of 75 per cent. This program has been very well received by farmers in the Greenbelt and is now fully subscribed, with over 700 environmental improvement projects completed. This program is delivered by the OSCIA. A deemed appropriate EFP Action Plan is required.

Some of OMAFRA’s Great Lakes Basin Partner Agencies – Past, Present and Future

  • Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
  • Ontario Farm Environmental Coalition
  • Ontario Cattlemen’s Association
  • Ontario Federation of Agriculture
  • University of Guelph
  • Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association
  • AgCare
  • CropLife Canada
  • Conservation Ontario


  1. Great Lakes Environmental Laboratory
  2. Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem
  3. Agriculture in the Great Lakes Region
  4. Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, November 2005
  5. Statistics Canada 2001 Census of Agriculture, Retrieved 11 April 2005
  6. Overview of Ontario's Food Processing Industry

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
Author: OMAFRA Staff
Creation Date: 18 November 2008
Last Reviewed: 22 January 2014