THE VIEW FROM OUR SIDE
BY ERIN GOWRILUK
Unfortunately, the conversation on climate change policy in Canada is being led by groups that represent a small minority of farmers. While not ideal, this is a natural consequence of the fact the federal government is more ideologically aligned with groups supportive of its 2050 net-zero CO2 emissions agenda. Secondly, and more importantly, these groups, such as Farmers for Climate Solutions, have provided the political cover necessary by providing detailed, data-driven solutions for the government to embrace. The problem being, this data is not representative of the majority of Canadian grain farmers.
The view from our side is this must change to reflect the realities of the average grain farm. In areas where climate change policy impacts agriculture, conventional farmers should be the ones to drive forward practical solutions.
They are the ones who should aid the government in the implementation of policies that achieve shared environmental objectives that simultaneously aid the profitability of all grain growers. This approach will keep new policies from hindering farm productivity. Collaboration between industry, government and academia is the key component to reach these climate goals.
A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE
If you look to our farm friends across the Atlantic in the U.K., it is apparent just such conversations have generated results and their actions offer a way forward for us on this side of the pond, should we choose to act.
Perhaps the most instructive of these examples can be seen in England and Wales in the work of the region’s National Farmers’ Union (NFU). As in Canada, this large farm advocacy organization found the government wasn’t interested in engaging with groups that weren’t prepared to offer solutions to help them meet its 2050 goals. The NFU made a place for itself at the U.K. climate policy table by embracing a future-focused and solutions-based approach. It created a plan that identified immediate mitigation opportunities within the ag sector, associated best farm management practices and included a role for government to incentivize those practices. The plan fit under three pillars: boosting productivity and reducing emissions, farmland carbon storage and coupling bioenergy for carbon capture, utilization and storage.
By being deliberate and anticipating the sea-change in government sentiment, farmers in England and Wales changed the conversation and achieved widespread adoption of their aspirations for a net-zero contribution to climate change across the whole of agricultural production by 2040—10 years ahead of most of the world’s national carbon neutrality plans.
This was accomplished while leaving flexibility in their approach for every farm to start the journey to net-zero from a different place and with their own unique action plan. Canada may differ greatly in both population and climate, but this approach can work here, as circumstances are not that different from those faced in the U.K.
While farms across the country continue to improve their sustainability and lower their environmental impact, this government has no interest in rewarding work previously done. What we in the farm sector do share with the government, however, is that we care about making the world a better place over the coming 28 years.
With that in mind, the Grain Growers of Canada is ready to provide leadership. Our Roadmap to Net Zero, which is now in the works, will articulate the needs and wants of our members in a framework that makes sense to government and farmers alike. The document will be made public later in 2022.
Either we lead the conversation about what it is coming, or we risk having an approach dictated to us. Let’s get to work.
Erin K. Gowriluk is the executive director of the Grain Growers of Canada.