Farmers already doing a good job reducing emissions: webinar

·4 min read

Canada West Foundation hosted a webinar on Monday with a panel of guests to discuss the introduction to cut fertilizer emissions by 30-percent over the decade as part of the Canadian Government’s Emission Reduction Plan.

The panel was hosted by Gary Mar, CEO and President of Canada West Foundation, including a panel of guests to talk on emissions reduction, sustainable farming practices and food production in relation to the Canadian Government’s plans on cutting emissions.

Nate Horner, Alberta’s Minister of Agriculture, who was among the panel, included background from the talks in July where the federal and provincial ministers signed the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership Agreement to fund emission reduction activities.

“As a province we desperately wanted to see more funding from the feds be brought to the table. They did bring the funding forward, because we know they have real aspirations on the emissions, the climate side, and making sure that the money connects with those pursuits,” said Horner. “Producers wanted to have a better understanding about what it meant. They wanted to know that there would be recognition for the good work that already happened. They wanted to know that it wouldn’t be voluntary or aspirational, and then turn into something else.”

Alanna Koch, board chair of Global Institute for Food Security, and former Deputy Minister of Agriculture in Saskatchewan under Brad Wall’s government, said these talks showed a unity of provinces.

“The Federal Government tries to divide and conquer. I was very impressed that the provinces were able to hold the line and work together. Focused on seeing agriculture grow, and being practical with solutions for farmers,” said Koch.

Farmers have made strides to reduce emissions across the board on their farms. Nevin Rosaasen, with Alberta Pulse Growers Commission, noted five major technologies that mitigate fertilizer emissions.

“There are specific technologies and beneficial management practices farmers have already adopted which have greatly reduced fertilizer emissions. There are five key practices. Number one, our nutrient stewardship program. Number two, in terms of the impact, the sectional control technology. Number three, the variable rate technology that’s employed by quite a few farmers across the prairies. Number four, environmentally smart nitrogen and nitrification inhibitors. And number five, the sound agronomic crop rotations that include pulses,” said Rosaasen, also noting the biggest increase overall in crop emissions over time has actually come from transportation, when the prairies went from 6,000 delivery points to less than 220, since 1980.

“The railways abandoned tertiary and secondary lines, resulting in all of those efficient rail emissions being converted to farmer truck emissions. The railways and grain companies effectively transferred their emissions to the back of farmers.”

Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel, a farmer in Saskatchewan, says the approach to cutting emissions has been frustrating and lacks knowledge about how the industry is run.

“The condescending approach that we’ve seen from the government is frustrating. I could understand people outside of the agriculture industry not being fully aware of all of the new technology that farmers have adapted, because there’s a lot of it. What I don’t appreciate is, it feels to me like the government has come out, had a dream wanting to be better environmentalists, with a list of their ideas and solutions… without fully comprehending, understanding, and consulting with farmers about what we’re doing today,” said Jolly-Nagel. “Their information in their baseline of what we’re doing today is completely off. They’re not fully understanding,” noting that farmers do soil testing to find out nutrients that are available in the soil and what needs to be added.

When considering how much fertilizer to use each year, they use crop rotations to get the best results.

“Every zone within our field needs a different fertilizer prescription. We are very, very careful when it comes to how much fertilizer is put down.”

Koch also notes a lot of misunderstandings have tainted the perception of fertilizers and pesticides, noting how sustainable crop rotation helps improve soil health and comes from not overusing inputs.

“Canadian farmers have been making meaningful emission reductions on farms for decades, while growing more food consistently on the same land base. This has to be fundamental. There can’t be a reduction in emissions at all costs, because we’re being asked to feed the world,” said Koch.

Mar joked that maybe every farmer should adopt a member of Parliament who has never actually stepped foot on a farm, to come out and see how its done. But his notion is not far fetched. In an industry that puts food from farm to table, when changes are handled incorrectly the effects to our supply can be drastic.

“I hope at the end of this is, we have a government who can give us a thumbs up and say we’re really worried about the environment, but one thing we don’t have to worry about is the way our producers produce food,” said Jolly-Nagel.

Ryan Clarke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald