Canada’s federal, provincial, and territorial ministers of agriculture have singled out climate change as the first priority for the country’s new Agriculture Policy Framework (APF).
A statement issued at the end of a three-day meeting in Guelph, Ontario November 12 listed “tackling climate change and environmental protection to support GHG emission reductions and the long-term vitality of the sector, while positioning producers and processors to seize economic opportunities from evolving consumer demands” as its top action item.
But “what’s even more encouraging is seeing action on climate woven throughout the priorities,” writes Farmers for Climate Solutions in an alert to supporters. “Climate change is not an isolated crisis, and its impacts are felt across various areas.”
As the backbone of Canada’s agriculture policy and support programs, the APF charts an investment strategy that strongly influences the farm sector’s performance. Federal, provincial, and territorial ministers renegotiate the APF on a five-year cycle, and the next cycle begins after the current APF—the Canadian Agricultural Partnership—expires on March 31, 2023, says Agri-Food Canada.
By prioritizing climate change in the Guelph Statement, the ministers are laying the groundwork for a Canadian agriculture policy that recognizes farmers’ need for support to adapt to climate change, write Greenbelt Foundation CEO Edward McDonnel and Équiterre Executive Director Colleen Thorpe, in an opinion piece for Policy Options. It also promotes Canadian agriculture as a climate solution. Laying that groundwork now is especially critical, both because of the devastating climate impacts that farmers experienced this past summer, and because this will be the last full APF cycle before the 2030 Paris Agreement deadline for Canada to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45%.
In light of agriculture’s deep ties to climate change and the capacity for soils to absorb atmospheric carbon, the next APF offers an opportunity to develop a soil health strategy as “a pillar of the agri-environmental strategy proposed in the new Federal Climate Plan.” In their post for Policy Options, McDonnel and Thorpe recommend “a soil health strategy that has clear targets and specific actions to improve the health of our soils and mitigate climate change, [that] is adapted to Canada’s different regions, and includes a secretariat to ensure implementation.”
But that strategy will need long-term, consistent funding, they note. Although governments have recently rolled out several farm programs aimed at sustainability—like Ontario’s Soil Health and Conservation Strategy—resources for those programs are limited, and recent research from Farmers for Climate Solutions shows that Canada spends far less on environmental programs per acre of farmland than the United States or the European Union.
FCS Director Brent Preston said Canada’s agri-environment programs are “just not big enough”, and often become oversubscribed so quickly that farmers are shut out within hours of opening.
“The biggest barrier has been that these kinds of efforts have been kind of scattershot, one-off programs, so there haven’t been enough resources to match the demand for these programs,” he told The Energy Mix.
So far, the climate priorities in the new APF include better management practices and improving biodiversity. But Preston says he also wants to see adjustments to Business Risk Management (BRM) programs—which “are right now pretty much blind to climate risk”—and better support for farmers trying to adopt new management strategies.
“The key to reducing emissions is changing on-farm practice, so we need programs targeted at supporting farmers to do that,” he says. “We need incentives, but we also need information and education, and support for farmers to get the knowledge they need to implement those practices.”
A recent report from Équiterre and the Greenbelt Foundation aligns with Preston’s recommendations, specifying that “better understanding farmers, and how and why they make decisions, is an important step in designing policies that will foster the adoption of soil health practices.”
“It is important that policies support farmers through the adoption, maintenance and retention of soil health practices, as they learn more about beneficial practices, their soil, and their farms over time,” the report says, adding that efforts to adopt better farm practices need ongoing support, rather than one-off interventions.