Original Published on Sep 07, 2022 at 14:50
By Lori Thompson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
As the current growing season winds down, farmers are already thinking about the next one. Soil health and crop yield are big concerns and both often involve the use of fertilizer and related best management practices. Two fertilizer issues currently facing farmers, around tariffs and emissions, are top of mind for many.
Tariffs imposed by the Canadian government earlier this year on fertilizer sourced from Russia won’t be coming off anytime soon as Russia’s war on Ukraine continues. While economic sanctions against Russia are working, the sky high cost of fertilizer and the pressures from inflation and rising interest rates are just a few examples of the financial struggles farmers have faced this growing season and will likely face in 2023 as well, said Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) President Peggy Brekveld. “We are unlikely to see the removal of the tariffs but we are at OFA continuing to advocate on the need for new federal funding to help farmers adjust to rising input costs and trying to find a way to bring the tariffs back to the industry which they have put in through tariffs.”
Markets adjust to the current situation, Ms. Brekveld explained. The world market has risen with the cost of the tariff and even if sourced from other places, the cost in eastern Canada remains very high. “Farmers and the OFA have been working very hard to advocate for those needs,” she said. “We are very aware of the challenges. There have been some loan programs offered so far but we know that those pressures are going to continue even when the time comes to pay for the loan.”
Some of the higher cost will be passed down to consumers but not all. Fruit and vegetable growers struggle with the additional input costs, as do beef, pork and some other farmers, but don’t have the ability to pass down those costs.
“There are many ways to support agriculture,” said Ms. Brekveld. “Some of it is about buying local food, insuring shorter value chain lines by buying at the farm gate or the farmers market. Those are great places and ways to support your local economy and to support farmers.”
Food prices will go up and while it costs more to fertilize the crops, it’s not all because of fertilizer. Some of the increase will be due to the higher costs of transporting food to stores and operating stores. Much of it is due to inflation, she said.
Emissions reduction targets set by the federal government are another concern facing farmers. Canada has set a nitrous oxide emission reduction target of 30 percent below 2020 levels by 2030, which many equate with reducing fertilizer use. Canada’s Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau clarified the plan did not target fertilizer use but rather the emissions associated with fertilizer use.
“A nitrous oxide emission reduction is not the same as a fertilizer reduction,” Ms. Brekveld said. “Nitrous oxide emissions come from several sources, but one source can be when plants don’t take up all of the fertilizer and utilize it all it can evaporate into the air.”
Farmers work very hard to ensure they use the right product at the right rate at the right time and in the right place, she said. “It’s called the 4Rs. We also work to do other best management practices, as much no till as possible, using cover crops, etc. All of those things help reduce nitrous oxide emissions and help us on the farm to continue with soil health and plant health.”
The Government launched this round of consultations in May, with August 31 as the last day for comments. In its announcement, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada said it is “focused on meeting this emissions reduction target through a range of policy measures and approaches, such as working with farmers to encourage broader adoption of new products and implementation of beneficial management practices, resulting in both economic benefits for farmers and environmental benefits for society. An important aspect of Canada’s path toward reaching the target while not compromising crop yields will require ongoing support from industry stakeholders.”
AAFC indicated its support of industry-led initiatives like Fertilizer Canada’s 4R Nutrient Stewardship program as playing an important role in promoting the sustainable use of fertilizer in crop production and for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The government has issued assurances the 30 percent reduction target is voluntary and the government will not be adopting a regulatory approach.
“We at OFA are lobbying them to measure the best management practices that we are doing, as in how many are we doing on our farms,” said Ms. Brekveld. “The challenge is that government is talking about measuring the emissions or calculating the emission reduction by how much fertilizer we use. We say that’s probably not the best way to measure how much emissions have dropped because you could use the same amount of fertilizer but see higher production sometime or you can use less fertilizer because you can’t afford fertilizer and you’ll see poorer soil health and poorer plant health.”
The OFA believes that measuring best management practices will be beneficial to the farmer and in reaching the government’s goal of reducing emissions because the fertilizer used will be used well. “Fertilizer is a very, very expensive input and so already farmers only use what they have to,” she pointed out.
“We’re doing a lot of great things and farmers are always looking for ways to improve their farms and their production so best management practices are the way forward,” said Ms. Brekveld. “You want to actually measure improvements.”
Ms. Brekveld and OFA are advocating for best management practices to be acknowledged and to be measured. “We can also then get the early adopters,” she said. “Then we can acknowledge those who have already started to do this kind of farming and there are many of them.”
The conversations continue, said Ms. Brekveld. “We at OFA continue to support farmers in this conversation with government and again, we’re pretty proud to farm. All of us are.”