Plans for Healthier Watersheds

When Kevin and Sherry McGuckin asked themselves how they could modernize their farm operation and reduce their environmental impact, they knew anything they did would involve careful planning and hard work. They also knew that putting in the effort would pay off in more ways than one.

The couple owns a 125-acre dairy farm located in the Lake Simcoe watershed near Woodville, Ontario. In addition to dairy, the farm produces hay, corn silage and some grains.

Kevin believes that one of the most important things they produce isn't a crop at all: "Manure is a farmer's most valuable resource, yet people don't realize it," he says. But manure stored improperly can pollute and cause nutrients like phosphorus to find their way into waterways. Too much phosphorus causes undesirable plants to thrive in water, degrading the natural habitat of creatures living in rivers and lakes.

Knowing that their farm's manure management system could use an upgrade, the McGuckins first completed an Environmental Farm Plan, then obtained cost-share funding from the Canada-Ontario Farm Stewardship Program; the Lake Simcoe Farm Stewardship Program; and the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority's Landowner Environmental Assistance Program.

The funds helped them to complete a Nutrient Management Strategy and start modernizing their operation, beginning with a concrete barnyard, which acted as a temporary manure storage, and eavestroughs to divert clean water.

"The ease and access of the new yard is wonderful," says Kevin. But why stop there? Encouraged by the help they received, the McGuckins then applied for Lake Simcoe Clean Up Funds from Environment Canada to build a covered manure storage. The new facility, currently under construction, will allow all the farm's manure to be stored in one place without the risk of runoff.

Keeping manure in its place does more than keep phosphorus out of our lakes. Soil health on the farm benefits from properly stored manure, since keeping nutrients in the manure produces better fertilizer.

A Worthy Investment of Time

The McGuckins admit they were nervous about showing the farm to outsiders, because they knew improvements were needed. Kevin says that the partnership approach reassured them and got them the help they needed. "Without all the partners we wouldn't be doing this," he adds.

Going through the application process to receive funding took extra time and effort on their part, but they take pride in the state-of-the-art facilities they built, and that they're continuing to build. "Barring winning the lottery, there is no physical way that we could have done this," says Kevin. "The programs are there to help, and we're certainly glad we applied."

Based on their experience, the McGuckins don't hesitate to encourage other farmers to complete an Environmental Farm Plan and apply for cost-share funding. They especially valued the specialists working for the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and other partners like the Conservation Authority, who provided advice, "just a phone call away", says Kevin.

For those daunted by the application process, the McGuckins have words of reassurance. "Don't be afraid, take the chance," say Kevin and Sherry. "If we can do it, anyone can."

The McGuckins continue to look for more ways to improve their operation with the help of existing funding programs that share the costs.

"There is more potential here, and more ideas to come," says Kevin. "It takes a lot of work and dedication, but it's worth it."

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Author: OMAFRA Staff
Creation Date: 28 April 2011
Last Reviewed: 28 April 2011