Key item missing from farmers’ resumés

Food producers should also be positioning themselves as providers of climate change solutions

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Hard times on the farm are no doubt forcing some difficult conversations at the kitchen table this winter as families decide how to navigate their businesses through a perfect storm of weather, climate, market and trade disruptions.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/11/2019 (1101 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hard times on the farm are no doubt forcing some difficult conversations at the kitchen table this winter as families decide how to navigate their businesses through a perfect storm of weather, climate, market and trade disruptions.

The weather conditions this year threw curveball after curveball at farmers’ ability to plant, grow and harvest the 2019 crop and there is growing acknowledgment that the future holds more of the same.

Granted, it’s a question of degree. It’s not that weather has ever been predictable. The problem is the intensity of unpredictability has increased. People still debate the reasons, but this generation of farmers appears to be on the front lines of a changing climate.

Supplied ‘Efficient Agriculture as a Greenhouse Gas Solutions Provider’ offers perspective and badly needed optimism.

The same goes for trade. There are the short-term repercussions of China’s decision to withdraw from Canadian canola-seed purchases against a backdrop of fundamental shifts in how global markets are operating. And those shifts aren’t in the Canadian farmers’ favour.

So what are they supposed to do? Governments have little appetite or ability to step in to fill the void. There simply isn’t enough money to go around, but more importantly, propping up the status quo does little to help the sector adapt for the future.

Nope. Getting through this crisis will come down — for the most part — to the decisions farmers make on their farms.

That’s why every farmer and every farm-policy wonk should take a few minutes to read a discussion paper called “Efficient Agriculture as a Greenhouse Gas Solutions Provider” posted recently by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI).

While the paper, jointly written with Guelph-based Agri-Food Economic Systems, wasn’t meant to guide the sector through the current dark ages, it nevertheless injects some perspective and some badly needed optimism to the sector’s outlook.

Firstly, the paper points out Canadian agriculture as a whole doesn’t live up to the image as a villain in climate change. Canadian farmers have been punching above their weight globally when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering carbon. They are well-positioned to do even more.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada estimates crop and livestock production account for about 8.4 per cent of the country’s overall emissions, if you exclude on-farm energy use and the energy used to produce fertilizer.

The International Panel on Climate Change report released earlier this year blames agriculture for 23 per cent of global emissions. However, “this global estimate is an average and includes emissions resulting from land-use change (such as deforestation) and from on-farm energy use, as well as energy used in the production of farm machinery and fertilizer,” the paper says.

While the data show the sector’s overall emissions have remained at the 2005 peak of about 60 Mt CO2eq, productivity and efficiency has increased significantly during that time, which has reduced the emissions per unit of output.

Further analysis shows the contribution made by livestock to Canadian emissions is about four per cent, and the emissions from the Canadian beef sector are well below the global averages.

The discussion paper’s authors argue that when considering the environmental effect of a sector such as beef, you can’t just look at it through the lens of greenhouse gas emissions. Grazing systems support ecosystem diversity and soil health and they produce food from land that would not be able to support annual cropping.

The CAPI discussion paper cites the small but growing interest in “regenerative agriculture” a catch-all phrase that refers to practices designed to improve soil carbon such as planting cover crops, no-till farming, increased crop rotations, reducing chemicals and best-practice fertilization including incorporating livestock.

This is where taxpayers and consumers should step up with support. “Well-designed policy instruments can be very powerful in creating incentives and inducing change,” the paper says.

All this matters because it points to a path forward for Canadian farmers — a way for them to reduce their costs of operation, improve the resiliency of their farms and tap into the emerging green economy by positioning themselves as “climate change solutions providers” in addition to being food producers.

Try squeezing all that on to a business card.

Laura Rance is vice-president of content for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at lrance@farmmedia.com.

Laura Rance

Laura Rance
Columnist

Laura Rance is editorial director at Farm Business Communications.

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