Government emissions targets for fertilizer use are unrealistic, says industry report

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A new industry-led report suggests Canadian farmers will likely only be able to meet half of the federal government’s 30% fertilizer emissions reduction target by 2030.

The report, commissioned by Fertilizer Canada and the Canola Council of Canada, examines the effect that a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the use of nitrogen fertilizers on Canadian farms would have on yields of crops and the financial viability of farms.

The report concludes that it may be possible to achieve a 14% reduction in emissions from fertilizers by 2030, but that reaching 30% is not “realistically achievable without imposing significant costs on producers of Canada’s crops and potentially harm the financial health of Canada’s crops”. manufacturing sector.”

“I believe what (this report) is saying is that the 30% reduction target is not achievable without jeopardizing production and exports, and we have been saying that from the start,” said Tom Steve, General Manager of the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions.

“It was an arbitrary target that was set somewhere in government, with no way of knowing how it was going to be achieved.”

Emissions target too ambitious: farmers

Ottawa first set its goal of reducing fertilizer emissions by 30% by the end of 2020, as part of the federal government’s comprehensive climate change plan, and recently concluded a months-long consultation process to this subject.

According to the government, between 2005 and 2019, fertilizer use on Canadian farms increased by 71%. Over the same period, emissions of nitrous oxide from fertilizers (a greenhouse gas 365 times more potent in terms of global warming than carbon dioxide) in Canada increased by 54%. In 2019 alone, according to the government, the application of nitrogen-based fertilizers resulted in 12.75 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to those produced by 3.9 million passenger vehicles.

A farmer works a potato field in North Tryon, Prince Edward Island. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The government said its 30% target was a target and not a mandatory, enforceable target. He also said he believes the target is achievable because many of the technologies and practices required to reduce emissions from fertilizer use already exist.

Still, farmers warned the target was too ambitious, especially at a time when Canada’s agriculture industry is being asked to produce more to help address fears over global food security.

“It’s really made us lose sight of what our industry needs, which is to become more efficient, more productive and more competitive,” Steve said.

“Most farmers are already doing everything they can to reduce their use of fertilizer – it’s their most expensive input.”

Best Practices

Karen Proud, president and CEO of Fertilizer Canada, said there are already a number of industry-accepted best practices for fertilizer management.

These include using the right fertilizer for the soil, as well as applying it at the right time of year and in the right amounts.

By helping more farmers become aware of these practices and encouraging them to adopt them, Proud said, the industry could potentially achieve a 14% reduction in emissions by 2030.

While this is an ambitious goal, she said, it would balance the needs of the environment with the need for continued increases in food production in the future.

Proud said going beyond a 14% reduction by 2030 wouldn’t be economically viable because many of the changes needed — like working with a certified crop advisor or doing soil testing – are costly for the farmer.

“We need to be able to allow farmers to increase their productivity to offset the costs of implementing these best practices,” she said.

“The only way to do that is to allow them to increase yields, otherwise the math doesn’t work. You can’t ask farmers to invest in loss-making practices.”

Canada announces funding

In February of this year, the federal government announced funding of up to $182.7 million for 12 recipient organizations to implement the On-Farm Climate Action Fund across Canada.

Through the fund, Canadian farmers will be able to receive direct support for best environmental practices, including nitrogen fertilizer management, soil sampling and testing, and equipment modifications for fertilizer application in fields.

Canada has set a goal of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

According to the federal government, the agricultural sector has generated approximately 10% of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions each year since 1990.

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