Synthetic fertilizer is blamed for many environmental ills, such as algae blooms in waterways and contributing to greenhouse gas.
Some people want farmers to simply stop using it and switch to more natural fertilizer, like manure.
And given the record prices farmers are paying for fertilizer, along with its threatened supplies owing to transportation and supply chain problems, I suspect farmers would be glad to get rid of synthetic fertilizer if they could.
However, the reality is that they don’t get the same production out of their crops without it. Farmers want to be help curb emissions. But realistically, synthetic fertilizer is likely to stay ingrained in modern, commercial agriculture for the foreseeable future.
However, that reality hasn’t stopped governments from forging ahead with ambitious climate change programs, that include significantly reduced fertilizer use.
In Canada, almost two years ago the federal Liberals said that by 2030 they want emissions from agriculture fertilizer cut by 30 per cent from 2020 levels. At the time, they and other countries were trying to position themselves as clean, green global citizens committed to reducing greenhouse gas and trying to save the planet.
Of course, we all want to address climate problems. But the Canadian government plans involved little consultation with farmers, the very people who will have to make changes, in ways that bureaucrats can’t fathom.
The proposed cuts hit farmers right between the eyes. They’ve always maintained that Ottawa has some responsibility for the nation’s historic full-speed-ahead agricultural production culture. Federal officials have long encouraged farmers to be as productive as possible, to feed the world and bring export market dollars back to Canada. Much of the Canadian economy hinges on this culture.
Farmers abided. And now, famers say, if Ottawa wants to put the brakes on such a huge and long-accepted aspect of on-farm production, it should ante up.
Ottawa got the ball rolling last week. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada says it won’t order farmers to use less fertilizer; instead, it believes there are new technologies available, as well as existing on-farm practices in place, that can get the job done.
It’s opened a survey to hear from farmers with their ideas about how to help cut back emissions.
This is a positive step forward. I can’t help feeling a little optimistic about this grassroots approach. In the past, Ottawa has held round table discussions and summits to get farmer input on some matters. Often, that input was channelled through farm group representatives. Now, it could hardly be wider.
I expect to see ideas that fully funded, others that are cost-shared and still some that are maybe free, obtainable with just a management change. In any event, the suggestions are bound to be practical, economical and imaginative…much like farmers themselves.
This effort should ultimately give Ottawa confidence moving forward – provided, of course, it accepts some of the ideas it’s seeking, and acknowledges them.
If it does, this could be the start of an improved approach to climate change for the federal government and for farmers.