July 21, 2016
By Lilian Schaer
Smithville, ON — There is a delicate balance in nature between predator and prey. There are many natural pests, for example, that can threaten an orchard of fruit crops, but also many predators that can help keep those pests at bay. But what if the species helping to manage pest populations themselves become at risk?
That’s where on-farm protection of species at risk by farmers and landowners and the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program (SARFIP) come in.
SARFIP, delivered by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) provides cost-share funding for farmers to implement best management practices that help protect essential habitats of species at risk located on-farm. The range of possible activities under the program applies to orchards, croplands, grasslands, stream banks, shorelines, wetlands, and woodlands.
Peter and Mary Bosman of Lincoln Line Orchards, a family-run fruit farm in the Niagara Peninsula, try to work with nature as much as possible to keep their trees healthy.
They grow 15 apple and five pear varieties on their 65-acre orchard, as well as some peaches and plums, with about 80 per cent of their fruit being retailed through their on-farm store outside of Smithville. A partnership with FoodShare gets their small pears into approximately 250 Toronto schools through a snack program.
Last year, the Bosmans accessed cost-share funding through SARFIP to install bat boxes throughout their orchards as a way of providing habitats for the little brown bat, an endangered bat species in Ontario.
Bats are essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems as they eat a lot of insects, including farm pests, and little brown bats are one of only two bat species in Ontario that are known to use human structures, such as barns, attics and abandoned buildings, as summer maternity colony habitats.
Bat populations are declining around the world, including Ontario, often because of disappearing habitat. In Ontario, bats also face challenges from a disease called White Nose Syndrome (a fungus that thrives in cold, humid environments) which disrupts bats’ hibernation cycles, burning up essential body fat supplies before the spring when they can begin foraging again.
“We’re not sure how many there are in the area currently, but we hope we can attract them by giving them habitats in our orchards,” explains Peter. “Bats hunt insects and moths and if we can increase the bat population, they’ll help us with natural insect control in the orchard.”
Four bat boxes have been installed atop long poles throughout the orchard. Each box can hold up to 600 bats, and all are close to water sources – either the farm’s ponds or Twenty Creek, which flows through the property.
To be eligible for SARFIP cost-share opportunities, Ontario farm businesses have to complete a third or fourth edition Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) workshop and have a verified complete Action Plan, as well as implement at least one SARFIP-eligible best management practice directly related to an action identified in their EFP Action Plan.
The Bosmans have previously completed projects through cost share programs delivered by OSCIA, as well as with Niagara Conservation, and are appreciative of funding programs like SARFIP to support on-farm improvements.
“We have six children on our family farm and our grandson is the fifth generation, so we try to do what we can to be natural and support nature,” says Bosman.
SARFIP is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry through the Species at Risk Stewardship Fund, and the Government of Canada through the Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk.
SARFIP is linked to the Canada-Ontario EFP supported by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.
Hayley Paquette, Programs Assistant
hpaquette [a] ontariosoilcrop.org