The House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food Presents Report Entitled “Stewards of the Land: Examining Canadian Agriculture’s Environmental Contribution”
OTTAWA – On 6 November 2023, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food presented a report to the House of Commons on the environmental contribution of the agriculture sector. This is the committee’s fourth substantive report of the first session of the 44th Parliament.
The report, entitled “Stewards of the Land: Examining Canadian Agriculture’s Environmental Contribution”, is based on testimony from 58 witnesses that the committee heard over nine meetings held between 28 March 2022 and 31 May 2023. It also considers testimony of 20 witnesses the committee heard over three meetings that took place between 13 May and 8 June 2021, during the 2nd session of the 43rd parliament.
Canadian agriculture has a long tradition of environmental stewardship and farmers have constantly looked for innovative ways to reduce their environmental impact while increasing their production. The report contains 14 recommendations that the federal government can implement to help farmers to unleash their full innovative potential and preserve natural resources for future generations. In cooperation with stakeholders and the provinces and territories, it can provide a national framework for data collection, allowing, for example, farmers to identify opportunities to preserve grasslands and wetlands in their operations. The federal government can promote efforts to reduce emissions in agriculture, such as the 4R Stewardship program and other fertilizer application methods, and it can identify and encourage practices that increase carbon sequestration in agricultural soils.
Warned by beekeepers of the worrying levels of mortality among honeybee colonies in Canada, the Ccmmittee devoted three meetings and four of the report’s recommendations to this pressing subject. The federal government should ensure Canadian beekeepers can access secure and cost-effective imports, notably from safe zones in the United States. The federal government should also ensure the Pest Regulatory Management Authority has the resources necessary to fulfill its mandate, namely, to provide producers access to effective pest control products in a timely manner and to ensure these products do not have adverse effects on pollinators and other parts of the ecosystem.
List of recommendations:
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada create a framework to encourage Canadian farmers who use nature-based solutions to climate change on their farms, in recognition of the good work already being done by farmers to reduce farm emissions, including no-till, low-till, cover cropping and intercropping agroecological farming methods, for example, by considering paying them for the ecosystem services they provide.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada work to encourage best practices by which farms in eastern Canada can sequester more carbon per hectare, such as reducing soil compaction.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada, in collaboration with provinces and territories:
- invest in research and technology to help cattle producers build upon conservation practices already in use;
- develop a comprehensive plan to protect and restore native grasslands, to better understand land conservation and reduction of industry emissions, while increasing carbon sequestration; and
- consider ways to continue to enhance and incorporate the role of livestock animals in regenerating grasslands.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada, in partnership with stakeholders as well as with provincial, territorial, and municipal governments:
- collect information on grasslands, pasturelands, and wetlands, to balance urban expansion, agricultural production, and environmental protection, in respect of their respective jurisdictions;
- investigate methods by which to reclaim unused federal land for the purpose of converting it into productive farmland, blended with native ecosystems; and
- promote regenerative agriculture in urban and suburban areas.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada develop a national soil strategy action plan to improve soil monitoring, data-sharing and promote best practices to improve and protect soil health, in collaboration with researchers, land holders, industry, provincial and territorial governments, respecting their jurisdictions, as well as First Nations, and academics, in a manner similar to the analysis and evaluation of the strategy introduced by the government of Australia in 2022.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada recognize the importance of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program as a sustainable fertilizer management tool and encourage the adoption of other “smart” fertilizer application methods.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada support the livestock sector in reducing methane emissions and its impact on climate change by creating a new environmentally-driven and science-based regulatory pathway for agricultural and veterinary products with environmental benefits, such as 3-NOP feed additives.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada further its support for Indigenous-led research to promote Reconciliation and the use of Indigenous knowledge systems in sustainable farming and agriculture.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada recognize environmentally positive measures by:
- working with industry and researchers to approve a method for assessing the environmental contribution of an innovation that provides fair value to farmers implementing these innovations;
- supporting growth and investments in the plant-based proteins agriculture and agri-food sectors;
- giving farmers access to funding using a decentralized approach, not necessarily as part of a set government program, since entrepreneurs are in a better position to decide the right time to invest; and
- providing recognition and compensation for environmentally positive measures introduced in the past.
The Committee recommends that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), as part of its new risk assessment of United States bee imports, assess the possibility of allowing imports from smaller entities (e.g., states, municipalities and individual businesses), within the United States, notably those located in safe zones in northern climates that meet Canadian requirements, while also addressing Canadian beekeeper concerns over bees with so-called “Africanized” genetics. If the CFIA chooses not to allow additional imports from the United States, it should explain its reasons for this decision and make clear the corrective actions United States beekeepers would have to take to reduce the risk associated with their imports.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada in partnership with the beekeeping sector and the provinces and territories:
- invest more in apiculture research with the goal of making Canada self-sufficient in producing and selecting queens and bees;
- investigate the existence and extent of possible causal relationships between soil degradation, climate change, and increased concentrations of parasites of desired species like honeybees, including but not limited to varroa mites, hive beetles, and wax moths;
- employ advanced technology to protect and facilitate breeding of pollinators; and
- support greater networking among government, academia and industry research and development centres on all causes of insect pollinator mortality.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada support the research and development of new biopesticides.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada ensure the Pest Management Regulatory Authority has the necessary resources to fulfill its mandate and that it conduct a comprehensive study on pesticides, including neonicotinoids, that examines their impact and cumulative effect on humans, bees, and native pollinators as well as their economic impact on the agricultural industry.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada work with the provinces and territories to develop a strategy to utilize and diversify natural infrastructure, including wild forages, to protect native pollinators on agricultural land.