By Peggy Brekveld
Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Few outside the farming community would realize that many farmers begin to plan for the next season before the current one is done. Thoughts are already turning to next year’s crop questions, including how we will feed the crop with nutrients and ensure soil health. This means planning for fertilizer and best management practices around its use.
In fact, fertilizer is heavy on the minds of many farmers these days, but for two very different reasons. One is tariffs imposed by the Canadian government earlier this year on fertilizer sourced from Russia in response to its war in Ukraine; the other is the federal government’s 30 per cent nitrous oxide emissions reductions target for agriculture.
The topic was a large part of discussions at the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA)’s recent Policy Advisory Council meeting in Orangeville, and we share the concerns of both our membership and our farm organization partners.
Although both issues involve fertilizer, tariffs and emissions are very different issues, but OFA has been actively working on both of them this summer. From London and Sudbury to Ottawa and Niagara, recent OFA meetings have included our federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau, MP Francis Drouin who serves as Parliamentary Secretary to Minister Bibeau, MP Kody Blois who also chairs the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, Ontario Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Lisa Thompson, political staff and bureaucrats.
At each of these events, we raised farmers’ concerns with these fertilizer issues, and engaged in discussions towards possible solutions. Here’s what we know so far.
The federal government’s tariff on fertilizer coming from Russia has placed an added financial burden on farmers who were already facing sky-high fertilizer prices and pressures from inflation and rising interest rates – and uncertainty remains as we look ahead to the 2023 growing season.
The financial impact on the industry has been significant; many already felt it this spring. However, for a variety of reasons, as the crisis in Ukraine is ongoing, we are unlikely to see a removal of the tariff on fertilizer imports and this will likely continue to affect the global price of this important input. And while a direct reimbursement of funds already collected is not on the table, OFA continues to advocate for the need for new federal funding to help farmers adjust to rising input costs.
The federal government has also stirred deep concerns in our sector with its nitrous oxide emission reduction target of 30 per cent below 2020 levels by 2030. Many equate this with reducing fertilizer use, but fertilizer use is not the same as nitrous oxide emissions. One source of nitrous oxide emissions is poor utilization of fertilizer by crops after application for a variety for reasons – things like weather, the type of fertilizer used or even when or how it was applied.
Minister Bibeau has been very clear in her meetings with us and others in the industry that the 30 per cent target is aspirational, that it’s not about a mandatory reduction in fertilizer use, and that all efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fertilizer are voluntary.
This is also clearly spelled out in AAFC’s newly released discussion paper, which is part of their current consultation process on the reduction target.
The discussion paper recognizes the importance of fertilizer in modern farming and places the focus on improving nitrogen management and fertilizer use through more and better use of on-farm of best management practices (BMPs) that are known to reduce emissions.
These are things that many farmers are already doing, like using the 4Rs (right type of fertilizer in the right amount to the right place at the right time), reducing tillage and adopting precision technologies. One of the big things the government is interested in is how to increase adoption of these types of practices by farmers, which actually have many other environmental and economic benefits beyond emissions reduction too.
What will be important is determining the best way to measure progress on nitrous oxide emissions reduction. We believe strongly that measuring BMP adoption rates is a much more accurate approach than simply tracking fertilizer purchases.
There will also be a need for support from government to help farmers achieve these targets – and given how many farmers are already using some or all of these BMPs, we hope to see some acknowledgement of those early adopters and the work they’ve already voluntarily put into improving environmental health.
OFA is currently developing a response to the fertilizer emissions reduction consultation, but I encourage all farmers to read the AAFC discussion paper and submit their own responses to the government too. The deadline for submissions is August 31.
These are important issues facing our farms and our businesses, so it’s important that we have engaged conversations with each other and with government as we continue to work towards finding solutions.