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Farm group proposes strategy to cut emissions

A national coalition of producers is proposing solutions to tackling climate change.
Farmers for Climate Solutions has recommended 18 best management practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including changes in nitrogen management.

WESTERN PRODUCER — Farmers for Climate Solutions says producers can cut emissions by focusing on nitrogen, soil and livestock management

A national coalition of producers is proposing solutions to tackling climate change as the federal government develops policies for the next Agricultural Policy Framework, which will provide funding to industry initiatives.

Farmers for Climate Solutions released its report, Rooted in Climate Action, outlining a plan to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by 14 percent by 2028 through practices primarily focused on nitrogen, soil and livestock management.

Brent Preston, director at Farmers for Climates Solutions and vegetable farmer in southern Ontario, said numerous agriculture associations want more action on climate change initiatives.

“We started out with eight organizations when we first came together two years ago and we’ve now grown to include 24 farming organizations, which range from small provincial organizations to big national organizations,” said Preston. “Our combined membership is over 20,000 farmers and ranchers.”

The message from those members is more needs to be done on climate policy, he said.

So far, Preston said the organization does have the ear of provincial and federal agriculture ministers.

“We feel like we’re being heard but the proof will come at the end of (July) when the ministers get together and actually decide what’s going to be in the policy framework and what’s not,” said Preston.

Policies the group is advocating focus on 18 best management practices that will reduce GHG emissions, while increasing carbon sequestration and resilience on farms and ranches.

That includes changes in nitrogen management that could meet, if not exceed, the federal government’s 30 percent emissions reduction target for fertilizer by 2030.

“Even if you don’t think that climate change is worth getting worried about, the practices that we’re talking about in our report are practices that will lead to better soil health, to better economic outcomes for farmers, for better environmental outcomes generally,” said Preston. “I can’t see anyone, with current nitrogen prices, who wouldn’t want to find ways to reduce their nitrogen use.”

The specifics of those recommendations in the report include ensuring the right rate of nitrogen is being used with research showing the average farmer could reduce their application rates by 10 to 30 percent with minimal yield loss. It also recommends precision in nitrogen use leveraging the ability of new equipment to perform variable-rate applications.

Elimination of fall nitrogen application, better manure management and improved crediting of organic nitrogen sources round out the report’s recommendations.

Regardless of what farmers and ranchers might think of climate change, Preston said those buying the commodities they produce are requiring the issue be factored into production methods.

“The big multinational food companies have all made commitments to reducing emissions in their supply chain,” he said. “If they can’t get low emission commodities from Canada, they are going to get them from another country whose government is supporting them to make that transition.”

But it will cost money to enact the groups’ recommendations, which also include better manure handling and wetlands management methods.

The report estimates those costs will require an annual investment of $640 million by 2028 from federal, provincial and territorial governments and a total of $2.1 billion total over the course of the five-year Agricultural Policy Framework period.

Preston said with the framework seeing 60 percent of the costs being borne by the federal government, it’s a good deal for provincial governments, which pick up the remaining portion under the cost-sharing agreement.

“The feds have shown their willingness to devote money to this. In the last year-and-a-half, they’ve committed over a billion dollars in new spending — federal only spending — outside of the APF to incentivizing climate friendly practices in agriculture,” he said. “I think if the provinces get on board, they are going to find good federal support and money.”

The current APF program ends March 2023 with the next program expecting to run the following five years once program details are hammered out between the federal and provincial governments.