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OPINION: Soil a valuable resource for farmers

Charley McCarthy guides a set of harrows through a field being prepared for potato-planting.
Charley McCarthy guides a set of harrows through a field being prepared for potato-planting. - Eric McCarthy

David Mol
Guest opinion

As the president of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture (PEIFA), I welcome the letter from David Weale of Vision P.E.I. and other letters that lays forth concerns and outlines some of the challenges the agriculture industry faces around the health of our Island soils in the province of P.E.I. 

The PEIFA is a grassroots, member-based farm organization composed of family farms from all major sectors of agriculture on P.E.I., plus 16 individual commodity organizations. 

As a not-for-profit farm organization, we serve as a collective voice for the Island farming community while providing programs for farmers. 

One such program is the enhanced environmental farm plan program (EFP).

The objective of this particular program is to help farmers develop a practical plan for operating their farm in a way that is environmentally sustainable, socially acceptable, and economically viable. 

Farmers and farming practices continue to evolve and improve, but we admit we have not always been perfect and we have made mistakes. 

The island farming community is committed to continuously improving and make significant efforts to “raise the bar” when it comes to our environmental footprint. 

As family farms, we must work to ensure the land we leave behind is in a good state of health for future generations to utilize. 

Our soils are our most valuable resource. The industry is investing in research and changing common practice to improve the state of our soil health. 

In the spring when the snow melts, drive around the countryside and you will see cover crops, terraces, berms, grassed waterways, strip farming and other practices aimed at keeping soil where it belongs. 

You will also see land that has been taken out of production and put into the alternative land use program (ALUS).

You may note that there are over 500 farms across the Island operating under EFPs which are now subject to random audits. 

You will also find farms investing in residue tillage equipment, nutrient management, specialty rotational crops and new lower input crop varieties to name just a few more examples.

The industry is also partnering with government and academia through a four year, $2.4 million, on-farm living labs project that is aimed at improving sustainable farm practices and improving our soil health. 

In the potato industry the agronomy initiative for marketable yield (AIM) is another large research project that includes aspects that improve soil health and this is only scratching the surface. 

Name a commodity and they are investing in research and I cannot think of a crop commodity that is not including soil health in those discussions.

In 2019, the PEIFA partnered with the P.E.I. Water Alliance and created the P.E.I. Agri-Watershed Partnership. 

This committee is now in place to help island farmers approach farm-related environmental issues and to encourage beneficial land management practices. 

The goals of the partnership center around keeping our soil in the field and developing industry standards for crop production on P.E.I. 

This is an historic partnership and we believe it holds great promise. 

Another organization is the P.E.I. Soil & Crop Improvement Association which was founded in 1968 and continues their commitment to the conservation of agriculture land and promotion of practical management tools to sustain healthy land, water and air resources. 

As a person who has committed their life to working on my own family farm, myself and all island farmers are dedicated to the soil. 

Farmers are proud of their operations and strive to improve environmental sustainability as their children’s future production and success relies on their ability to take care of the land and precious soil. 

David Mol is president of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture and a farmer.

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