The federal government is walking back an Agriculture Canada report that claimed a "30% reduction of fertilizer use" is their aim.
"The Government of Canada wants to be clear that it is not imposing a 30% reduction in fertilizer use," said Samantha Seary, a spokesperson for Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada (AAFC). "This is in fact an error, which will be corrected in our Departmental Results Report. We would like to apologize for any confusion this may have caused."
As first reported by True North, the apology followed a request for clarification by the publication last week.
Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAuley published the 2022-2023 Departmental Results Report that contained the discrepancy.
"The Department published a 'What We Heard Report' compiling the feedback received, which will inform AAFC’s work in collaboration with the sector, towards meeting the target of a 30% reduction of fertilizer use from 2020 levels by 2030,” read the report, which contends no mandatory reduction in fertilizer use for farmers exist.
AAFC told True North the suggestion of a blanket 30% reduction of fertilizer use is a mistake that does not reflect Canada's 2030 emission targets.
"Efforts to achieve emissions reductions will focus on improving nitrogen management and optimizing fertilizer use — not a mandatory reduction in the use of fertilizers," said Seary. "The goal is to enhance farmers’ yields, while reducing emissions," she added.
A University of Calgary report, Planning to Fail: A Case Study of Canada's Fertilizer-Based Emission Target, concludes a 30% reduction in fertilizer emissions would only be possible with drastic cuts to fertilizer use. "The proposed target [is] unachievable without drastic reductions in nitrogen fertilizer use," wrote researchers, adding it jeopardizes the economic viability of farming.
While a reduction up to 15% is possible using existing efficiency methods, the remaining cut would have to come from reduced fertilizer use, said Planning to Fail.
"Canada’s fertilizer emissions reduction target does not represent a ban or a mandatory reduction on fertilizer use," contends Departmental Results. "Any plan to reduce agricultural emissions will not impose restrictions on the amount of fertilizer that Canadian farmers use, nor will it limit Canada’s ability to maximize food production."
Seary stressed the importance of nitrogen fertilizer in maintaining higher crop yields.
"At a time of food insecurity and skyrocketing consumer prices for basic food staples, to fail to consider the impact on the food supply of fertilizer reductions is frankly appalling," said Gunter Jochum, president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers (WCWG).
He accused the federal government of basing their emissions reduction target on ideology, not science. "It will reach approximately 0.0028% of total greenhouse gasses [internationally]," he said. "Is this even worth it?"
However, Departmental Results contravenes internal AAFC analysis that shows fertilizer restrictions would harm crop production, as reported exclusively by True North.
In documents obtained by True North, a deputy minister at AAFC claimed the feds want to "reduce fertilizer use" altogether — a cause for concern among Fertilizer Canada representatives.
Additionally, internal AAFC documents show the feds considered a "regulatory backstop" similar to the carbon tax to maintain their 2030 emission targets.
In March 2022, Trudeau told farmers not to believe the web of "disinformation and misinformation" circulating social media. "I want to be clear; we are consulting with farmers in the industry about a voluntary, not mandatory reduction in emissions from fertilizer, not in the use of fertilizers," he clarified.
"I know there’s a bit of misinformation out there around going after farmers around fertilizer. That’s not what we are doing," said the prime minister. "There’s some concern about what’s happening in Europe, the Netherlands particularly but that’s not what we’re doing."
Contrary to Departmental Results, AAFC has called for a "30% reduction in fertilizer use" in the past. Notably, former agriculture minister Marie Claude-Bibeau told her European counterparts in 2021 of her desire for Canada to be "very closely aligned" with "the fertilizer reduction target in the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy."
According to Stuart Smyth, associate professor in agricultural and resource economics at the University of Saskatchewan, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) did not use factual information when setting a 30% fertilizer reduction target.
He called it an "unscientific" appeal to voters that "[doesn't have] the agriculture industry's best interests at hand."
According to a study by Smyth, roughly 70 farms converted 7.2 million acres of summer fallow to crop production, with total crop production rising from 1.3 billion bushels to 2.1 billion bushels.
Jochum claimed farmers are already "deeply incentivized" to make their operations sustainable without government involvement. "We want to produce the most outputs, with the fewest inputs, and keep our operations going long enough to pass them to our children and grandchildren," he said in December.
Using in-crop and with-seed applications at different rates, farmers have sequestered carbon, reducing carbon emissions by removing summer fallow. "That's the definition of sustainability," he said.