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Farmers look to capture carbon as warnings of climate shocks grow louder


6 minute read


Canadian farmers are cultivating some sustainable farming techniques that the United Nations’ latest climate change report identified as particularly useful for an industry it concluded must make drastic changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report last week warning that global food supplies are at risk from climate change and land degradation.

One major conclusion was that the agricultural sector needs to rethink traditional practices, including producing less meat and more plants —which require less room to grow and produce fewer emissions — otherwise Canada will not be spared from the global impacts of food shortages and price shocks if temperatures continue to rise.

Along with setting out the potentially dire consequences of inaction, the report also outlined some of the techniques that could both reduce emissions and reverse the trend.

One of the most decisively helpful options was to increase the organic content in soil, by using the land to capture carbon — a practice an increasing number of Canadian farmers employ using a variety of techniques.

Crop farmers have been working to capture carbon, which helps not just on the climate front but also for the sustainability and resilience of the soil, said David Burton, a professor in Dalhousie University’s department of plant, food and environmental sciences.

“It’s a rare example of one of the mitigation options that has really, really big positive advantages beyond greenhouse gas mitigation.”

Decades of intensity farming have started to push down the organic matter in soil that helps keep it healthy and fertile and prevents erosion, he noted.

“We’re realizing we can’t just push this thing to the max all the time, we’re going to have to start thinking about the condition of the soil.”

A key technique for farmers is to no longer till the soil, so the organic matter isn’t disturbed and can properly break down.

“That’s how soil organic matter forms, by leaving it alone,” said Burton.

No-tillage seeding has grown significantly in the past two decades, from use in less than seven per cent of cropland in 1991 to 56 per cent in 2011.

Manitoba farmer Wes Pankratz started using no-till many years ago and hasn’t looked back, though he said at the time there was a lot of skepticism about it.

He’s now trying to adopt some regenerative techniques that capture more carbon in the soil, such as growing a non-cash crop simply to add organic matter to the soil.

Farmers using the technique often plant the non-cash crop after the fall harvest, but Pankratz said that a shorter growing season has led him to plant his in the spring, in amongst his wheat crop, hoping it will continue to grow after the harvest.

“If you can build up the soil organic matter, your soil will be healthier, you can maybe grow a reasonable crop with a lot less inputs, which is good for the bank account as well as the environment.”

Pankratz said it’s still early days for him, but hopes he can make it work.

“When zero-till first came in, it just almost seemed impossible, and now we’re getting into regenerative agriculture and hopefully we’ll get that figured out too.”

The UN report and others have targeted cattle production for its methane emissions, but Canadian farmers are finding ways to use regenerative practices to help the grazing grounds capture more carbon to help offset greenhouse gas emissions from that sector.

Blain Hjertaas, a livestock farmer in southeastern Saskatchewan, was an early adopter after he decided conventional farming techniques weren’t sustainable.

“Agriculture is basically destroying our planet the way we’re approaching the system,” he said.

Hjertaas uses a practice that involves letting the cattle forage in a controlled area, then moving the herd to another area every day. It allows the cattle to spread fertilizer and stimulate growth in the prairie grasses, which are then left to re-grow for two to three months until they approach waist height.

“The principle is: keep it green as long as possible, so we always want tall grass,” said Hjertaas.

The scientific community is still debating the benefits of regenerative cattle farming. But Hjertaas said his techniques have him capturing more carbon than the animals produce.

“It’s not the cattle, it’s our management that’s the problem. To concentrate them all into a huge feedlot, that’s an ecological disaster.”

Hjertaas said farmers tend to be traditional and slow to change, but financial incentives could go a long way to making the switch and overcome cost and uptake challenges.

“I’m all for a carbon tax, we need to tax bad behaviour. But what’s missing is we need to reward the good behaviour.”


Ian Bickis, The Canadian Press


Is the Meat Industry Equipped to Handle a Pandemic?

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Is the Meat Industry Equipped to Handle a Pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted industries across the world. One of the main sectors that’s concerning experts is the meat and agriculture industry. This concern intensifies in Western Canada since much of the land there is farmland. The imbalance of supply and demand is affecting present-day agricultural production. However, farmers and industry leaders are focused on what is still to come in the future.

From labour shortages to potential outbreaks during production, the future of the meat industry is unclear. The outcome will depend on several factors: government aid, the spread of the virus and COVID-19’s behaviour — which is often unpredictable. Ultimately, the present handling of the meat industry may impact its future and relationship with consumers.

Current Standing

The Government of Canada recently decided to assist farms across the country with federal funding. These farms rely on the production and exportation of meats like beef, pork and chicken to reach supply and demand needs. However, as the virus continues spreading, farmworkers need to maintain physical distance and increase sanitation practices. The government’s funding will compensate workers during this time.

For Canada, part of the stress on the industry comes from the exportation needs. While farmers need to meet country-wide demands, Canada is also an international exporter, especially for the United States.

While the industry is currently suffering from labour shortages, production remains relatively stable. Farmers are adapting to meet new supply and demand requirements. For instance, since restaurants are closing, demands for certain foods, like cheese, will decrease. As workers fall ill and farms need to enforce social distancing, though, production is slowing down.

The funding from Canada’s federal government is supposed to help workers, especially those who are newly arriving. Migrants from Mexico and the Caribbean make up a large portion of Canada’s agricultural workforce. However, whether this funding will be enough is yet to come to light. Additionally, ensuring the even distribution of that money to migrant workers is another issue.

The Industry’s Future

Many experts are focusing on the road ahead. While the current path is fluctuating, the future may hold a more dangerous outcome for the industry. If the virus continues spreading at its current rate, farms may see more issues than ever before.

One of the main factors is the labour shortage. Currently, Canada’s farming labour force is lacking. Production is slow, and workers don’t have the resources and help they need to meet demands. In the future, this could worsen as fewer employees are available. For instance, the poultry sector faces significant demands every day. Part of the process of raising chickens includes weeks of tending to them. If there aren’t enough people to do this job, consumers will see the availability of chicken drop.

The issue of perishables will also present itself. As meat processing must be quick, slower production means more goods will go to waste. Meeting supply and demand requires healthy workers to keep the chain going.

The other major factor that will affect the industry is the spread of the virus. That depends on how the Canadian government handles COVID-19 and how efficiently people practice social distancing. Federal funding will aid production, but if the virus remains present, it will continue spreading. If it reaches processing plants, contamination will become a more serious issue than it already is.

Next Steps

To increase resources and support for farmers and migrant workers, the government will need to provide more emergency funding. This step allows the agriculture industry to invest in more tools, sanitation products, financial support and benefits for all workers. Monitoring the spread of the virus is also crucial. If the government can properly track and isolate cases, COVID-19 will dwindle in its effects. Then, meat industry workers will not have to worry about contracting or spreading the coronavirus.

Canadian Federal Government Taking Measures to Reduce Impact of COVID-19 on Agriculture



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Calgary English Stirrup Manufacturer Launches Fundraising Campaign to Help Alberta SPCA

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Calgary English Stirrup Manufacturer Launches Fundraising Campaign to Help Alberta SPCA

April 18, 2020, Calgary, AB

PEAK Equestrian is a Calgary-based manufacturer and seller of angled English stirrup irons. They’ve joined forces with the Alberta SPCA to help horse and other animal owners keep their animals safe, healthy and fed during this difficult time.

From every pair of Peak Stirrups sold through Peak Equestrian’s website, by phone, email or direct message, $10.00 will be donated to the Alberta SPCA. Email: [email protected] or call 403.230.0113 to get involved.

The donated funds will go towards helping horse and domestic pet owners who are struggling to pay for hay or other feed as a direct or indirect result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company’s hope is to raise a minimum of $10,000 for this important cause.

“We are passionate about animals,” said Claire Goddard, sales and marketing director with Peak Equestrian. “We want to help horse owners and pet owners keep their animals at home instead of having to surrender them to the Alberta SPCA or worry about not being able to feed them because they can’t afford to.”

“Rather than seeing horse and other animal owners worry about feeding their animals when they are struggling financially and feeling like they have no other choice but to surrender their animals, the Alberta SPCA wants to work with animal owners to make sure owners have enough food for their pets and livestock,” said Dan Kobe, Communications Manager with Alberta SPCA.

“If horse owners or pet owners are having trouble sourcing and paying for feed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, they can contact us at, and we will donate dog and cat food as needed, and will even source and donate hay and other livestock feed until the grass begins to grow,” he added. “Donating part of the sales from our stirrups feels like the right thing to do,” said Craig Goddard, president and design specialist at Peak Equestrian. “We are horse owners ourselves and we know how hard it can be to take care of animals during this difficult time, especially livestock, so we are happy to donate to such a great cause.”

Peak Equestrian is a new start-up company under Corma Industries, a Calgary-based manufacturer. Learn more here.

The Alberta SPCA is a registered charity dedicated to the welfare of animals. The organization encourages the humane treatment of animals through enforcement of animal protection legislation and through education programs throughout Alberta. The society works closely with other agencies in animal welfare, agriculture, education, violence prevention and other areas to provide the best level of protection for animals.

Alberta SPCA Offers “Help For Animals”

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