Canadian farmers already produce 'sustainable' crops without government intrusion, says one study

Canada’s carbon footprint is 60% lower than the global weighted average, uncovered a study, with Saskatchewan leading the way at 67%. The study celebrated its farmers as global leaders in reducing emissions without arbitrary declines in food production.

Canadian farmers already produce 'sustainable' crops without government intrusion, says one study
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A groundbreaking study into Canadian agriculture celebrated Saskatchewan farmers as leaders in reducing emissions without arbitrary policy. 

First commissioned in 2022, the University of Saskatchewan study analyzed the carbon footprint of staple crops, including canola, wheat, and lentils, from their cultivation in the fields to transportation and processing.

Canada’s carbon footprint is 60% lower than the global weighted average, it uncovered, with Saskatchewan leading the way at 67% — or 1.3 tonnes of carbon emissions gone for every tonne of canola.

In addition, non-durum wheat production in the province achieved a reduction 44% below the international average, reported True North.

"These impressive results are driven by the widespread adoption in Saskatchewan of agricultural innovations and sustainable farming practices that have significantly reduced the number of inputs and emissions needed to farm each acre of land," said researcher Dr. Steve Webb. 

"The sustainable practices include reduced tillage, the adoption of herbicide-tolerant canola, the variable-rate application of fertilizer, a robust crop rotation system, and the production of nitrogen-fixing pulse crops," he added.

Ottawa desires Canadian agriculture to "remain competitive," but in a 'net-zero' environment that promotes 'climate resiliency.' In 2020, they proposed a 30% target below 2020 levels for the year 2030. 

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." 

"If they're just looking at total pounds used … with the amount of land we're farming, the only way we'd achieve that is to farm less land or use less fertilizer," said Smyth. "There's more fertilizer being used because we're farming more acres."

Critics of the policy ascertain it adds additional strain on farmers. While a 15% reduction is possible using existing efficiency methods, the remaining cut would have to come from reduced fertilizer use. 

The Western Canadian Wheat Growers (WCWG) previously claimed the target would "hurt consumers, decrease production, and amplify already extreme food inflation."

According to the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, it would produce devastating economic consequences, projecting potential losses of $841 million for wheat and canola farmers in Western Canada.

"The government has stated that it's a voluntary goal,” said Gunter Jochum, president of the WCWG. “However, they have also said that not meeting this target is not an option."

"It will reach approximately 0.0028% of total greenhouse gasses internationally," he added. "Is it even worth it?"

A separate study by Smyth showed roughly 70 Saskatchewan farms converting 7.2 million acres of summer fallow to crop production across 1991/94 to 2016/19. Total crop output rose from 1.3 billion bushels to 2.1 billion bushels.

During that period, fertilizer use increased by 44%, but farmers applied it differently using in-crop and with-seed applications at different rates. They also sequestered carbon and reduced emissions by removing summer fallow.

"That's the definition of sustainability," said Jochum, adding that farmers are "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.

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  • By Sheila Gunn Reid

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