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Fertilizer management: Our network is already on the cutting edge

I’ve always loved the warm, beautiful autumn light that colours our countryside. It’s one of those signs that certain work will soon come to an end. The last harvests will be reaped, and the machines stowed away for the winter. These moments often get me thinking. And one thing in particular that’s been on my mind is the Government of Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals.

Of course, I believe in this vision. I agree completely that we need to reduce our GHG emissions. The survival of our ecosystems and the health of our planet, which we all hope to pass on to future generations, are at stake. Every industry, agriculture included, must do its part to contain the warming of our dear old planet Earth. In its GHG-reduction policy, the government included the phrase, and I quote: “a strategy to reduce emissions and improve nutrient management in Canadian agriculture.”

Nitrogen fertilizers are central to this strategy, which, incidentally, has raised many discussions across the country, most notably in western Canada. The strategy has elicited questions, with good reason, as the federal government’s intention is to reduce GHG emissions from nitrogen fertilizers by 30% by 2030 compared to 2020 levels.

Now, this is the core of the issue. And the main questions raised are: How were these fertilizer emissions evaluated? How will they be measured? How should they be reported? And on what basis will the intended reductions be implemented? One thing is certain—all these processes should not further increase the burden on farmers. And much like with an issue we all know well—sedimentation—we need to stop adding layers of requirements from different levels of government without any sense of vision.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada held a consultation on this topic in the agricultural industry, a process that ended on August 31. Make no mistake, we took this opportunity to put forward the perspective of Sollio Cooperative Group.

We are in favour of practices that lead to reduced emissions and fertilizers being used more efficiently, but without targeting the quantity of these fertilizers or compromising farmers’ ability to produce the food that people need at home and abroad.

Climate change will disrupt agricultural production the world over. Some regions may become more vulnerable and even unsuitable for farming. The most recent report from Ouranos confirms this. Agriculture in Quebec and eastern Canada will look very different. Need I remind us that agriculture is both affected by global warming and capable of finding solutions to it?

As farmers, whether in Quebec or the rest of Canada, we are already optimizing our use of inputs to reach the best possible yields. The agronomists and technologists who support us are true agents of change, constantly displaying competence and professionalism in recommending ways that we can be even more efficient and environmentally friendly in our farming. I’m talking about precision agriculture, biostimulants, controlled-release fertilizers and new types of fertilizers produced from biomass. Of course, these new methods—and those of the future—have to be efficient for agricultural businesses.

Given the importance of food security, we believe that a distinction should be made in the way that GHG-reduction targets are set and implemented for agricultural and food operations, in relation to overall targets for Canada in general. 

The Canadian government wants to reduce its GHG emissions. Questions remain. And we need clear, specific answers. This is the only way to strike the delicate but necessary balance between our responsibilities and the profitability of our businesses and of our agriculture.

On that note, have a great autumn!

Ghislain Gervais - président