Most Canadians have never been on a farm, let alone lived on a farm, resulting in over 98% of our population being agricultural illiterate. For many Canadians, agricultural production is an unfamiliar concept. For this reason, it is relatively easy to use fear to influence public opinion on any food issue involving agriculture. Activists know this well. Our great rural-urban divide has always fueled our food politics, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. But now, agrifood policies are increasingly urbanized by an agenda that is pushing the entire western world toward the precipice of food security catastrophe.
The Trudeau government wants a 30% reduction in emissions by 2030, which doesn’t necessarily include fertilizers, but growers say it’s impossible to reduce nitrous oxide emissions without reducing fertilizer use . Most commonly used fertilizers contain nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Nitrogen is the problem. Simply put, excess nitrogen in the atmosphere can produce pollutants such as ammonia and ozone. Too much nitrogen will contaminate soils, waterways and of course harm our own health. Policy makers have every right to worry.
But Ottawa wants an absolute reduction in emissions, regardless of the productivity or efficiency of fertilizer use. For many crops, our farmers’ ability to grow anything will be severely compromised unless they use more land.
The impact on food prices is unclear, but large-scale food production would likely become much less profitable.
Canada produces food for the world, not just for Canada. Aggressive emissions targets will likely lead to more, not fewer, people starving around the world, none of whom will be Canadian. Since we trade with the rest of the world, and especially with the United States, our cultures would probably become less competitive as well. With lower supplies, input costs for food manufacturers and grocers would likely increase significantly, driving up food prices.
This is all happening for a reason, beyond the focus on emissions targets. Ottawa already imposes a 35% tariff on Russian fertilizers, even if the tariffs do not really punish the Russian regime. This only affects our own farmers because our government wants to discourage the use of fertilizers, for its own convenience.
Canada’s plan to reduce fertilizer emissions also shows how agriculture is losing out to urban politics. Cities essentially want farmers to treat fields like urban lawns. But the stakes are much higher for agriculture.
This has come as activism has become institutionalized in recent years, meaning interest groups, even academics who have become advocates, will weaponize science to support a narrative that fits a biased view. of what farmers should and should not do. It is more than dangerous. This is an irresponsible way of dictating policy.
Ottawa wants to make agriculture greener and more sustainable. Nothing wrong with that, and the industry can always do better.
But what is underestimated is how agriculture has evolved over the past five years or so, adopting more sustainable practices. Crop rotation schedules, biodiversity considerations and the no-till approach have all made farming more sustainable and have already helped farmers reduce their emissions. Farming is a business and cost reduction is part of how farmers do business. Farmers do not want to spread expensive fertilizers because it will make their business less profitable. Most farmers hire soil scientists to ensure that they can rely on the reuse of natural resources to earn a living. Farmers are the world’s most responsible environmental stewards. Incentivizing farmers to use productivity-based measures tied to fertilizer use would be more appropriate and less silly, especially at this time.
Ottawa can look to other sectors to achieve its goals, but messing with our food system can be quite perilous.