The Grain Growers of Canada says it wants to work with government to achieve net zero carbon emissions, but not be told how it must do so.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada issued a discussion document on July 22 that calls for a reduction of GHG emissions from fertilizers to drop 30 per cent from 2020 levels by 2030. The government is seeking input from farmers, processors, Indigenous communities, environmental organizations, youth and other stakeholders by August 31.
Late in March, the Grain Growers of Canada (GGC) announced it would launch a Road to 2050 net-zero emissions initiative. Andre Harpe, chair of the GGC, told Farmers Forum it wants to pursue the target while supporting farmers’ interests.
“We’ve gone and said, hey, let’s go with this, but let’s do it in such a way that farmers can live with it and that is beneficial to farmers and comes from the farmers — because, as we’ve seen over the past little while, some arbitrary lines have been drawn, and everybody’s quite concerned about them and whether they can be done or not,” Harpe said in an interview.
Fertilizer Canada, which represents manufacturers and distributors, commissioned Myers Norris Penny to report on the implications of reducing fertilizer applications by just 20 per cent by 2030. The estimate made last September said the result would be lower yields that cost farmers $48 billion by 2030.
“This would be devastating, such that any plan to reduce carbon emissions would need to be done in a way that the future productivity of major crops is maintained,” the report said.
Fertilizer reduction targets in the Netherlands have sparked protests, as they did in Sri Lanka, where a literal revolution occurred over the issue.
Harpe says the goal is not to reduce fertilizer use or yields, but to reduce emissions, and he believes both are possible. A press release from the Ottawa-based GGC said net agricultural greenhouse gas emissions have already dropped 10 per cent since 1981, even though yields and exports have enjoyed “historic growth.”
“Being a farmer, myself, I deal with climate all the time. And it gets back to, if we can do things to make the world a little bit better, I think we should be doing that,” Harpe said.
“If we have a better climate for better fields, we will probably get better yields, which makes a better living for us. So, it’s worth it, I think, for us to try and do better.”
GGC released a YouTube video on its initiative where producers shared how they were farming sustainably. Many mentioned how zero-till methods had reduced emissions and improved yields. Others said they planted more trees on their land, taken marginal lands out of production, or turned some land over to perennial coverage.
The federal government first called for lower fertilizer emissions in December 2020. A summary of early consultations from the provinces and commodity, industry, and grower associations was included in the newest report.
“Several agriculture commodity and producer associations noted concerns that the fertilizer emissions reduction target could result in a decrease in crop yields …[and] appears to be in direct conflict with the Government of Canada’s export growth target of $75 billion worth of agriculture and agri-food commodities by 2025,” the report read.
The latest round of consultations is open to farmers and closes August 31. Harpe, who farms near Valhalla, Alberta, said the GGC’s message has been consistent.
“What we have been asking is, come talk to us before you make a decision on certain percentages. We can tell you what we’ve been doing and maybe what we can do to make things better,” Harpe said.
“That’s why we’re talking about 2050. We need time for innovation to happen. There’s different ways of using fertilizer better, variable rate technology, which isn’t terribly widespread, but maybe it could become more widespread. We need the government to talk to us so we can work on this together.”