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Agriculture This Week: Sustainability will mean new tech needed

Research funding needs to be well spent
combining west of Langenburg
What crops we grow in the future may need to change. (File Photo)

YORKTON - Earlier this month the Government of Canada announced that it would be making an investment in clean technology “focused on supporting farmers through the challenges of today – from droughts to extreme weather – while taking climate action to build a healthy future for generations to come,” according to a government release. 

Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, announced the first wave of 60 approved projects under the Agricultural Clean Technology (ACT) Program. With $17.9 million for projects across Canada, farmers and agri-businesses will have access to the latest clean technologies. This will help farmers adapt to a changing climate and boost their long-term competitiveness, all while cutting emissions. This funding is focused on three priority areas: green energy and energy efficiency; precision agriculture; and the bioeconomy. 

But, will the investment be effective? 

Certainly farmers are going to welcome anything that supports the idea of sustainability, since to have a business to pass on to another generation, or sell, the land has to still be productive.  

So, most farmers have tried to be sustainable. 

Of course, how that is accomplished is a matter some will debate. 

Some see a need to return to a system that looks to build soil through crop residue and crop rotations. 

Others simply see the answer to sustainability being the use of fertilizer, albeit most would be quite happy to fine-tune applications to save money. 

But, is continual use of fertilizer sustainable though? Are the processes of fertilizer production energy efficient in a changing world? 

Then again there are certainly those who think the warnings of climate change being little more than someone crying wolf when it’s really just the wind howling. The reason climate change has always occurred through the centuries, and this is simply that process happening again. 

That would be a reasonable way to look at it, but it discounts that the massive human population of earth today, the garbage we produce, the emissions our machines produce, the impact of what we do daily, has no effect on our world.  

At best that suggestion would seem wishful thinking, and at worst it is outright folly, a case of the ostrich with its head stuck in this case a pile of refuse we create daily. 

That is why farmers, researchers, and government, need to take the idea of climate change to heart. It will be too late to adapt if we don’t start changing processes now. 

If in the end change is a mirage we have simply instituted better practices. 

But, if the changes predicted are real, farmers need to know how to best adapt to a climate that in Saskatchewan may well be hotter, drier, with more severe weather vents mixed in, than we are currently used to.

That is where sustainability will need the hand of research, in developing crops better-suited to changed conditions, with fertilizer regimes that work in a system different from the one we use today.