THE VOICE OF ONTARIO'S FRUIT, VEGETABLE
AND GREENHOUSE PRODUCERS FOROVER 150 YEARS

OFVGA response to Wetland Conservation in Ontario

Wetland
Photo by Krista Lundgren/USFWS, Creative Commons

Executive Summary

1. OFVGA recognizes the significance that wetlands play in the broader picture of Ontario watersheds. We commend the government of Ontario in taking the natural next steps to solidify legislation that will allow our wetlands greater longevity in the future.

2. OFVGA questions whether the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) has an up to date inventory of the wetlands in Ontario and suggests that a clearer definition of what constitutes a wetland be further pursued.

3. OFVGA is concerned that the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System (OWES) is too subjective; findings can be skewed based on weather events, season, species sightings, and land maintenance.

4. OFVGA recommends that man-made wetlands be exempt from wetland legislation.

5. OFVGA has concerns about who is responsible for proving/disproving that a piece of land is/is not a wetland.

6. OFVGA recommends that enhanced scientific rigour be applied to the development of processes for the evaluation of wetlands.


INTRODUCTION
The Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) and its members are appreciative of the opportunity to comment on the Wetland Conservation in Ontario discussion paper. Water plays a critical role to the entire population in Ontario, and the OFVGA would argue that few know that importance better than Ontario farmers.

The horticultural farmers of this province are acutely aware of current legislation and parameters set up to ensure the safety, longevity, and health of our wetlands, watersheds, and major water resources such as the Great Lakes. Farmers today are subject to legislation and acts such as Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act (2001), the Greenbelt Act (2005), Lake Simcoe Protection Act (2008), Endangered Species Act (2007), Ontario Water Resources Act, the Clean Water Act, the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement, the Great Lakes Water Protection Act (Bill 66 just recently passed), and many more, all of which relate in some way to the impact of agriculture on water resources.

The OFVGA currently actively supports the Permit to Take Water Program. The program is directly related to the Ontario Water Resources Act, which requires horticultural farmers to have a water taking permit if they intend on using greater than 50,000 litres of water per day. Through our support of this program, the OFVGA has seen first-hand some of the complex issues facing growers and wetlands here in Ontario. Our submission tackles some of the concerns this program and our growers will face, should a no net loss policy of wetlands be enforced without making careful, sound, and scientifically-based, rigorous decisions.


CONTEXT

Wetland Inventory

The OFVGA appreciates that a clear definition of what constitutes a wetland was included in the discussion paper, however, the definition on page 2 does not address whether human-made ponds, drainage ditches, and seasonably wet fields are considered wetlands. This is a primary concern for the OFVGA and its members because a no net loss policy might affect how these important water features are used agriculturally.

Further, adopting a no net loss policy is a substantial undertaking that would require an extensive inventory of Ontario’s wetlands, including those that exist on privately owned lands. Page 11 of the document states “There are 2,500 evaluated wetlands in Ontario covering over 600,000 ha of land.” 88 per cent of those are in the mixedwood plains ecozone that makes up 8 per cent of the province (but encompasses some of the most highly populated areas in Ontario), however, the paper does not discuss whether the surveyed wetlands are government-owned and what still needs to be surveyed. The OFVGA also contends that it is important to share how these areas are surveyed, the criteria used in determining decisions and how the ministry intends to work with land-owners to achieve further understanding.

Ontario Wetland Evaluation System (OWES)
The Ontario Wetland Evaluation System (OWES) is a good start at taking the broad definition of establishing a wetland and using a points-based system to observe it in person to ensure accuracy. The OFVGA’s concern lies in having specific factors that allow for a large margin of error to occur in this assessment. For instance, a particularly rainy season can often cause low points on farmland to retreat under water. After a few seasons like this, vegetation can crop up, and even waterfowl and water species can take up residence. A subjective visit by an OWES evaluator could result in an area used for farmland becoming rated as a wetland and potentially result in taking this portion of land out of production, whereas a normal drier season would result in nothing at all. This is a significant concern amongst growers, especially as it concerns other human-made wetlands such as drainage ditches and irrigation ponds.

Exemptions of Huamn-Made Wetlands from Legislation
Due to the lack of definition provided on human-made wetlands (irrigation ponds, canals, drainage ditches, etc.), and the subjective nature of the OWES system, the OFVGA encourages that an exemption be given to growers that have these types of wetlands on their properties from the no net loss policy. We argue that if the intent of digging the pond or ditch was for irrigation purposes, then it should be managed for this intent and not for that of a wetland. This would be regardless of whether or not the human-made wetland is currently in use.

There is significant concern amongst farmers that should a human-made pond or ditch naturally grow any markers that would identify it as a normally defined wetland, that regulations would prevent them from being used for the original purpose. As an example, we contend that an irrigation pond should always have the opportunity to be used as intended. In perpetuating this fear, legislators de-incentivize farmers to allow natural buffers and species to thrive among a shared common element. In fact, the development of buffer strips and native species habitat is a key component of several pending provincial government initiatives (i.e. agricultural nutrient management, pollinator strategy, etc.) and should be encouraged for the greater environmental benefit.     

Potential for Disagreement in Wetland Labeling
Where there are disagreements on how to class a wetland (human-made or natural), the OFVGA suggests that a neutral, independent, third party, similar to an ombudsman, be given the authority to review disputes between landowners and enforcers of the wetland categorization system. It is, from the OFVGA perspective, the only way to maintain a fair and science-based method of conflict resolution.

Additionally, the OFVGA believes the onus should be on the province to prove whether or not a specific wetland is human-made or naturally formed. Farmers are already burdened with the cost of permits to take water and various other expenses related to related legislation. It would be grossly unfair for them to commit more resources in terms of capital, equipment and time towards a conflict regarding the use of a wetland.


Conclusions
The OFVGA would like to remind legislators that farmers of Ontario are responsibly managing wetland habitat everyday. In fact, there are data to support this conclusion by carefully looking at cost-share opportunities available to farmers and the uptake in those programs. For instance, through the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program (SARFIP), over 100,000 m2 of wetlands have been restored to protect water quality. 62,000 m2 worth of vegetation has been planted into buffer strips (OSCIA, 2013). This is just one program, many others including the Water’s Edge Transformation Program (WET), Ducks Unlimited programming and more have all contributed positively to the wetlands that farms manage daily. Consideration must always be made to the costs absorbed by farm businesses with legislation that restricts the access to human-made and natural wetlands, especially where irrigation is concerned. Being mindful of agricultural practices surrounding wetlands is a sound start and in the right direction to instituting legislation that will help farmers manage wetlands even further.  The OFVGA appreciates the province’s ability to put a foot forward in obtaining this balance, but more work has yet to be done. We hope that moving forward you will continue to engage Ontario’s growers in this discussion.

About the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association
The Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) was established in 1849, which makes it one of Ontario and Canada’s oldest farm commodity organizations. As the voice of Ontario’s vegetable and greenhouse farmers, OFVGA is a nationally recognized not-for-profit association that advocates on behalf of Ontario fruit and vegetable growers and the edible horticulture industry. We represent our members provincially, nationally, and internationally.

The fruit and vegetable sector supports 30,000 farm-based, non-family jobs in Ontario, as well as a further 8,700 jobs specific to horticulture and specialty crops. Over 125 different fruit and vegetable crops are grown in Ontario with an estimated farm gate value of $1.6 billion (2013).

About the Permit to Take Water Program
Support for the Permit to Take Water Program, as it applies to fruit and vegetable growers in Ontario, is currently managed by Water Specialist George Shearer through the OFVGA. The program was initially supported by the Province of Ontario, and started in 2008. A qualified person was required to assess the farmer’s water supply and help them acquire a permit to take water through the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. Today, the program acts as a facilitator between the Ministry and OF&VGA fruit and vegetable growers.

References
Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (2013). “Actions on the Farm: How Farmers Support Wildlife Through the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program” Retrieved from: www.ontariosoilcrop.org

Click to download a copy of the Wetland Conservation in Ontario response.

Contact Us
Dr. John Kelly, Executive Vice President
Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA)
105-355 Elmira Road North
Guelph, Ontario N1K 1S5
johnkelly@ofvga.org
519-763-6160 X115

Dr. Justine Taylor, Energy and Environment Coordinator
Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG)
32 Seneca Road
Leamington, Ontario N8H 5H7
jtaylor@ontariogreenhouse.com
519-326-2604 X205

Mark Wales, OFVGA Section Chair
Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA)
105-355 Elmira Road North
Guelph, Ontario N1K 1S5
walesfarm@hotmail.com
519-773-6706

Brian Gilroy, OFVGA Section Chair
Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA)
105-355 Elmira Road North
Guelph, Ontario N1K 1S5
nighthawkorch@brucetelecom.com
519-270-3032

George Shearer, Water Specialist
Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA)
105-355 Elmira Road North
Guelph, Ontario N1K 1S5
water@ofvga.org
519-763-6160 X219