BY ERIN GOWRILUK
Canada has entered a new political era defined by concerns about climate change and the environment. Top of mind for the federal government, many of its strategic priorities tie into climate goals and sustainability.
While some may view this pessimistically, it is a positive development for our industry. Intimately familiar with Canada’s land and environment, Canada’s grain growers are uniquely positioned to help the country achieve its ambitious climate goals and ensure the long-term health and sustainability of our soils. Farmers know better than anyone else what practices can be effectively implemented on their farms and where the potential to do more exists. We can leverage this to work with the government to support our industry. Support for farmers in turn supports the priorities of all Canadians.
This is why, following the fall federal election results, the Grain Growers of Canada (GGC) shifted its focus to reflect the fact all federal departments are now effectively “environment” departments. Our advocacy and outreach will reflect this new tone. We believe this will ensure positive results for our farmer members.
This was also the chief focus of our presentation to the November meeting of federal–provincial–territorial (FPT) agriculture ministers. We strongly relayed the following important points for the ministers to consider in the creation of climate change strategy.
FARMERS ARE PART OF THE SOLUTION
Canadian farmers feel the frontline impacts of a changing climate. They know how important it is to adapt and mitigate these effects. At their own expense, farmers are voluntarily adopting innovative technologies and field practices that improve soil health and ultimately contribute to long-term environmental sustainability.
On-farm initiatives create positive impacts on our environment. Improvements such as wetland restoration or creation, shelterbelts along waterbodies and the retirement of marginal land have produced tremendous benefit and will greatly improve Canada’s chances of meeting climate change goals. However, they do come at a cost to landowners. As the public benefits, so too must the farmers who undertake the work.
Such an approach is required to achieve our goals and maintain the competitiveness of our agricultural exports on the world stage. Canada lags behind other countries such as the United States in the availability of conservation programs that reward farmers who protect ecologically sensitive land and farmable wetlands. We can model our own program on those of other nations and adapt it to fit our unique needs.
Initiatives should not adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. Ideas such as an absolute reduction in the use of fertilizer or crop protection products will inevitably shrink production and profitability, decrease food security and create higher prices for consumers.
Innovation will also be key to increase production while fighting climate change. Should Canada implement a marginal land program, farmers need to be confident the inputs and practices they currently use will remain available with new ones on the horizon. This will ensure they can increase production on their best land while doing their part for the environment.
The effectiveness of new environmental programming hinges on government enablement of continued innovation. This will ensure productivity keeps pace with the food demands of a growing population. Without proper investment in publicly funded research, the government will fail Canadians in terms of food security and environmental objectives. A predictable regulatory system and a strong, enticing business environment are needed.
All levels of government grapple with serious financial challenges related to the pandemic. However, as farmers have more and more responsibilities placed upon them, it is critical that agricultural funding be significantly increased, specifically through the Next Policy Framework (NPF), the nation’s five-year FPT agriculture program.
This is necessary so other valuable programs in the areas of marketing, research and risk management will not be negatively affected. Alternatively, funding mechanisms outside the NPF should be created to avoid diluting its core purpose—to increase demand for farm commodities, boost productivity and improve risk management tools.
Canadian grain farmers are uniquely positioned and eager to help Canada meet its climate change goals.
Erin K. Gowriluk is the executive director of the Grain Growers of Canada.