Ontario Farmers are turning out in force to participate in the Great Lakes Agricultural Stewardship Initiative (GLASI).
“We’ve had incredible response to GLASI in the targeted areas,” says Margaret May, regional program lead with Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, which administers the program. Interest and attendance at program meetings has been strong, she adds.
The heightened interest in the three-year program has also led administrators to make changes to ensure there is adequate funding and it’s distributed equitably. GLASI is targeted to farmers in the Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair watersheds, and Lake Huron’s southeast shores watershed, to help implement Better Management Practices (BMPs) that reduce phosphorus loading to the Great Lakes. The program consists of two components: First, the “Farmland Health Check-Up” offers farmers in the GLASI target area a free, one-on-one consultation with a Certified Crop Advisor (CCA). The Check-Up involves assessing soil and pollinator health to determine base and target levels. The second part of the program is called the “Farmland Health Incentive Program,” and offers funding to farmers interested in implementing BMPs identified in the Check-Up.
May explains that demand for the program has forced administrators to look for ways to manage program resources and farmer expectations. To meet these goals, the program is now limited to two applications per Farm Business Registration Number and overall funding has been capped at $50,000 per farm business over the life of program.
The “pre Check-Up” funding level, which allowed farmers to participate in the program without first having to complete the Check-Up, has now been eliminated. The pre Check-up was designed to get farmers involved quickly in the program and help get projects underway. May says this change really reflects the importance of the Farmland Health Check-Up and working with a CCA to fully assess a farm’s needs. It’s important to ensure “farmers are doing something that is customized for their business and not based on what everybody else is doing. It’s important to have the discussion with your CCA and do what’s best for your operation.”
The final significant change is that farmers must have a current Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) to access the cost-share program. The voluntary EFP program requires farmers to renew and update their plan at least every five years. Farmers now need to provide their certificate or letter of review before they can apply to the GLASI program.
Year one of the program ended Feb. 1 with “a mad rush of applications,” says May who notes that all projects that have been applied for need to be completed by Dec. 31. Year two applications are expected to be available Mar. 24 with the program set to open April 4.
Overall, May says there’s been huge interest in the equipment modification and cover crops categories. Cost share for cover crops is limited to 200 acres per farm business. The rules around cost share for organic amendments have also been tweaked. The program includes purchase of manure, biosolids and compost, but any of the biosolids that have a fertilizer designation through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are no longer eligible for cost share. “We’re not paying for fertilizer,” says May.
New categories have also been added for year two. Custom work or equipment rental is now eligible to allow farmers to test and evaluate equipment before buying. “That’s a great opportunity for growers who want to try strip tillage. It’s a good way to start,” says May.
There’s also a new water management category to help farmers manage run-off from their farm. “For example, farmers can look at a series of ponds to manage surface water,” says May. “That’s a new concept. Research is showing that phosphorus is leaving in water when water leaves the farm. So if the water doesn’t leave the phosphorus doesn’t either.”
GLASI details are available here. Farmers can also email [email protected] for more information. Eligible BMPs include: cover crops, organic amendments, crop nutrient plans, windbreaks/windstrips, buffer strips, tillage/equipment modifications, fragile land retirement and erosion control structures. Applications must include a Premises Identification Number, a Farm Business Registration Number (or appropriate exemption) and a current Environmental Farm Plan.