Ontario's agricultural federation feels farmers are left in the dark by feds' fertilizer emission targets

·3 min read
Mark Reusser, vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, is concerned about the government's voluntary emission target for 2030.  (James Chaarani/CBC - image credit)
Mark Reusser, vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, is concerned about the government's voluntary emission target for 2030. (James Chaarani/CBC - image credit)

The federal government has set a voluntary goal for farmers to reduce emissions from synthetic fertilizers, but some farmers say the government is not doing its part to help achieve that goal.

Mark Reusser, vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), says there's a lack of guidance from the government regarding the targets, and that farmers in the province don't have the resources to achieve this goal feasibly.

"Can we reduce nitrous oxide emissions? I suggest we probably can, but we probably need help from both the federal government and from society to do that," said Reusser, who is also a farmer in in Wilmot, Ont.

"We need help developing new varieties of corn and soybeans and wheat and so on, that is more efficient at utilizing the fertilizer that we apply.

"We need help in best-management practices to better manage the crops that we grow. We need a lot of things that require research and government money to try and meet that target."

The goal is for farmers across the country to reduce emissions that come from synthetic fertilizers by 30 per cent by 2030, from the 2020 levels. This target was established two years ago, but last month OFA voiced concerns.

James Chaarani/CBC
James Chaarani/CBC

The target is voluntary, and the federal government has allocated $1.5 billion to help the agriculture sector with sustainability programs nationwide.

Reusser said that he's unclear whether the Ontario farming community is aware of the funds or if they're seeing any of the money.

"It's sometimes difficult for farmers to see funding come down to them," he said.

"It would be great if there were programs that were highly visible, and highly usable by farmers that rewarded us for doing things that are good for society."

A spokesperson with Canada's Agriculture and Agri-Food said that at least $670 million of the $1.5 billion is available to farmers nationwide to help reach the 30 per cent target. Farmers can apply — and according to the spokesperson, they have been applying — through localized partners or online.

They also said that $550 million of the total funds have already gone to green farming initiatives last year alone; however, there aren't funds available to reward farmers who are already utilizing best practices.

'30 per cent is very doable,' says researcher  

"The 30 per cent is very doable," said Claudia Wagner-Riddle with the University of Guelph's School of Environmental Sciences, whose work focuses on agricultural emissions.

"In fact, the International Fertilizer Association came out with a number of 70 per cent reduction globally and that, of course, is skewed by countries that make much less efficient use of this nutrient compared to Canada, but 30 per cent is a doable target."

Submitted by Claudia Wagner-Riddle
Submitted by Claudia Wagner-Riddle

She acknowledges that there will be challenges for farmers.

"There is a recognition that on a practical level … we need to have the farmers on board to reach this goal," said Wagner-Riddle.

"We need their innovation at the farm level in terms of the goal of reducing emissions because I think the goal so far has been how do I produce more crop and now we're saying, can there be gains and efficiencies when you're producing the crop to reduce the environmental losses, which often has not particularly been the goal."

Ultimately she believes that having a target is significant since it puts a spotlight on the problem and has led to conversations about the issue.

Reusser didn't quite see it the same way.

"I would rather have an initial consultation and discussion about the concept itself," he said.