A detailed carbon reduction roadmap for agriculture will have to compete with a menu of other farm sector priorities at a high-level meeting in Saskatoon this week, as federal, provincial, and territorial ministers hash out the details of Canada’s next Agriculture Policy Framework (APF).
Hanging in the balance is a 19-point, C$2.1-billion plan that could cut the sector’s emissions 14% by 2028—a vast improvement on Ottawa’s current projection of 1%, said Brent Preston, director of Farmers for Climate Solutions (FCS).
But even though that roadmap “has landed really well with the federal government,” climate measures won’t likely be at the top of the agenda when agriculture ministers gather in Saskatoon July 20-22.
“There’s no argument from anyone about whether or not the practices we’ve identified are effective or doable,” Preston told The Energy Mix. “They’re things farmers already do in a lot of places, the science is very clear on the emissions reduction potential, and everyone recognizes that they have tonnes of environmental and economic co-benefits.”
But with the federal government unlikely to offer major new funding for the wider APF, which will run five years beginning April 1, “the ability to follow through on the government’s commitment to have climate change as a core priority will be limited. There’s lots of other competing priorities, and they’re not going to defund everything else and put it into climate.”
The APF is a five year-policy framework that guides Canadian agriculture policy, and Farmers for Climate Solutions’ report laid out a series of climate-friendly practices that would also help boost farm economies. With lead recommendations like nitrogen management, better manure handling and storage, and livestock and soil management, it calls for cost-share support for equipment upgrades and greater access to information and support through farmer-led mentoring and research programs.
“A much more ambitious, system-wide approach will be necessary if agriculture is to make a meaningful contribution to achieving Canada’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050,” the report says.
Preston said many of the recommendations would save farmers money right away. Others would deliver longer-term savings after farm operators incur short-term costs for new equipment or professional advice.
“What we’re proposing is that you make this investment in the short term to help farmers over the hump to adopt these practices,” he explained. “Most of them cost something in the short term, but over the long term they’ll have an economic benefit.”
Preston cited nitrogen fertilizer management—aimed at curtailing nitrous oxide emissions that carry about 300 times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide—as the obvious example.
“The research shows that we could probably reduce nitrogen fertilizer rates across Canada by something like 20% with no impact on yield, and that would have a big climate impact,” he explained. “That goal is absolutely realistic and doable, and if it’s implemented properly it’s going to save farmers a lot of money.”
Despite a concerted campaign by the fertilizer lobby, first reported by The Energy Mix last fall, to undercut Ottawa’s fertilizer reduction target, Preston said federal and provincial ministers are increasingly onboard. “There’s been a lot of misinformation circulating about what the government’s trying to achieve and what the impact would be for farmers. But as time goes on, farm groups and provincial ministers of agriculture are realizing there really are opportunities here to reduce emissions, protect yields, and also save money for farmers.”
With the current negotiations taking place against a high-stakes backdrop—with food producers facing ever more dire climate impacts, and rising interest rates holding farmers back from making new investments—Canada’s National Farmers Union (NFU) is also weighing in for more support. In an open letter, the NFU is urging Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau to establish a Canadian Farm Resilience Administration and “ambitiously” support farmers’ efforts to reduce fertilizer applications.
The NFU is also pointing to the corporate influence that permeates the food system and erodes policies’ effectiveness. “While removing thousands of farmers from the land, the food and agriculture system is also creating very unbalanced wealth and power,” the letter states, with six of Canada’s 10 wealthiest families now directly involved in food and agriculture.
In addition to more funding, the NFU is urging ministers to stay the course on social equity, sustainability, and climate action.
“These need to be top priorities, and not sidelined or undermined as a result of pursuing other goals in ways that conflict with the need for a stable and liveable climate, social cohesion, and justice,” the letter says.
The federal government also sees a need for greater investment in climate-friendly agriculture, and has introduced measures outside the APF negotiations. Last week, Bibeau announced funding for nine new labs across several provinces, where farmers and scientists will work to identify “innovative technologies and on-farm management practices that can be adopted by farmers countrywide to tackle climate change,” reports CBC.
“The way we use and manage the millions of acres of farmland across Canada will play a key role in addressing climate change and feeding the world,” Bibeau said. “Our efforts are accelerating the sector’s ability to respond to climate change, all while working to ensure global food security.”