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News Release

May 08, 2006

Farmers Taking Measures to be Better Neighbours

The closer a farm is to a city, the more likely the farmer is to adopt environmental practices like odour controls, says a University of Guelph agricultural economics professor who’s studying the habits of 16,000 Canadian farmers.

Alfons Weersink has found that whether or not farmers make an effort to improve their environment is related to where their farm is located. As the distance to an urban centre becomes shorter, farmers are more likely to take positive approaches to help protect the environment than their counterparts are in more remote rural areas.

“The growing urbanization of much of Canada’s prime farmland means farmers’ practices and land uses are increasingly likely to conflict with the preferences and concerns of nearby urban residents,” said Weersink.

Among the most popular approaches used by farmers to improve their environment are better odour controls, soil sampling to check nutrient availability, improved irrigation methods and better manure storage practices.

“We know farmers are adopting environmental management systems,” he said. “Now we’re trying to identify whether they’re adopting them because they improve their bottom line, or whether it is due to direct and indirect pressures from neighbours.”

Weersink and U of G agricultural economics professor Brady Deaton based their findings on responses of Canadian farmers in a Statistics Canada survey. Eight types of environmental management systems were researched, including manure, fertilizer, pesticide and water management plans. The survey collected data on the use of environmental management systems and a host of other variables such as farm type and demographics.

There are several programs that help guide and document a farm’s efforts to improve its environment; one that’s been particularly successful is the Ontario Environmental Farm Plan introduced by farm organizations in the early 1990s. Through local workshops, farmers emphasize their operation’s environmental strengths, identify areas of concern and set realistic goals with timelines to improve conditions.

The main limiting factor for not embracing new programs is the additional cost to the already cash-strapped farm sector. Weersink said farmers believe they should be partially compensated by government for environmental initiatives because of the many end benefits to society and the cost burden to participate.

Alfons Weersink
Department of Food, Agriculture and Resource Economics
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 52766 /

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