Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Canadian agriculture could lead the nation

Canadian agriculture could lead the nation to a better future by countering climate change, addressing Western alienation, helping to feed an increasingly-needy world population and providing jobs and assisting economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, says Al Mussell of Agri-Food Economic Systems at Guelph.

“This moment demands a more meaningful, mainstream, and holistic Canadian agri-food policy,” Al Mussell wrote in a new policy paper. 

“Agriculture is being treated primarily as a fossil fuel emitter under the federal government’s climate change policy- but agriculture fixes carbon, and emissions from agriculture are poorly understood”, he said.

Canada needs to pursue the lead set by other nations in showing that agriculture captures carbon dioxide and that livestock and poultry are merely recycling plant-captured greenhouse gases. That is quite different from fossil fuels that are pure emitters.

The dramatic advances in direct seeding technology and its widespread adoption, especially in western Canada, control emissions based on chemical fertilizers and from releases of COand other greenhouse gases associated with tillage and additional trips across the field avoided are examples of how Canada could claim carbon credits.

Nitrogen fertilizer treatments, such as urease inhibitors, protect against atmospheric losses of nutrients as gases associated with climate changes. 

“The contribution of livestock to greenhouse gases, particularly ruminants, is badly misconstrued,” he said.

Methane produced by ruminants does not accumulate long term in the atmosphere like CO2. It is also not a “new” source of carbon in the atmosphere; it is recycled COpreviously fixed by plants; this differs from methane emitted in the extraction and burning of fossil fuels released from being sequestered long, long ago, he wrote.

The West is becoming more alienated as its fossil fuels industry is declining. The Prairie provinces are reluctant to sign on to AgriStability reform and Alberta is striking out on its own to reduce crop insurance premiums and to pursue its own margin-based program as an alternative to AgriStability.

Canada’s national farm policy could splinter and collapse.

Yet the Prairies’ agriculture could be a solution to three challenges – climate change, increasing exports to a hungry world and boosting economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Canada had net agri-food exports as a share of total production of 48 percent; only a handful of countries manage more than 30 percent net exports and the U.S. is at 22 per cent, Mussell wrote.

Some countries are already restricting exports as global grain stocks are being drawn down, despite record-high harvests.

Canada’s position as a net exporter could help the entire economy gain better trade terms.

Mussell condlcudes that “bold, new and innovative policy for agriculture and food can be enlisted to advance all of these issues critical to Canada, but this is unlikely if agri-food remains isolated as a remote priority of the overall policy agenda- and not intrinsically linked to the key strategic elements of the policy agenda.

“Moreover, it presents the prospect of sharp conflict with (and possibly within) the agri-food sector over the cost burden of carbon prices, in which agriculture as a carbon sink is not properly reflected. 

This moment demands a more meaningful, mainstream, and holistic Canadian agri-food policy.