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Agriculture

Global food shortage? So what! Governments want to reduce the use of fertilizer anyway

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16 minute read

Once we acknowledge that over 80% of Canadians live in cities (and an even larger percentage seemingly don’t care much about poor people) it’s much easier to understand why the average Canadian isn’t far more upset with the government’s plan to coerce farmers to cut back on nitrogen fertilizer (otherwise known as plant food).

As complex as the formulas are for estimating the amount of pollution caused by fertilizer use, there’s actually a very simple way to understand this initiative. So let’s simplify. In order to help reduce Canada’s share (about 1%) of global emissions (which a ton of scientists swear is making the world hotter.. Sorry not hotter.. but more climate changy…which actually somehow means worse for everyone everywhere) the government is strongly urging farmers to use less fertilizer and thereby produce less food. The federal government estimates farming is responsible for about 10% of Canada’s emissions. Now that’s all aspects of farming including everything from using nitrogen fertilizer, to driving tractors, to presumably the horrible practice farmers share of breathing out every couple of seconds (more when they’re working hard). They estimate nitrogen fertilizer is responsible for about 18% of the emissions from farming (see below).  In other words, this has to stop!  I mean 18% of 10% of 1%.. how did we let this get so far away on us?

But here’s a question. Why would a farmer (who is a business operator) want to produce less food (which is the product farmers make and sell to feed the world)? Until now, farmers have always taken pride in producing the best possible crops using the lowest possible inputs (all the expenses from gas to seed to fertilizer, etc).  Who wouldn’t?  It’s how they make their money. Sounds like a tough sell. Perhaps that’s why governments are coming out with programs that will pay farmers not to farm quite so much. Right here in Alberta there’s a program that could pay an individual farmer up to $75,000.00 to cut back and be a better producer (government talk for producing less food) for people (not poor people who may starve in the coming months) fortunate enough to live 100 years from now.

Sure.  That may sound a little offside when you consider global food shortages (another term for starving people) are expected to increase drastically in the coming months.  You see the world is always somewhere between a little short of food and desperately short of food (depending on where you live you might feel more ‘desperate’ than inconvenienced). A simple minded person like myself might say “Why would we mess with this system that is feeding more people successfully than at any other time in world history?”  Silly me.  These guys are way beyond that simple thinking.  That’s why the government isn’t asking farmers to consider what’s happening in the world right now (8 billion people need to eat).  The government is asking farmers to consider what ‘might’ happen sometime in the future (it may sound a bit wacky when we say it out loud, but we’re pretty sure we can stop the climate from changing).

Apparently in order to get the climate under our control, we should be OK if we have to sacrifice a few million (or multiple hundred million) eaters (another word for people) in the next few years (could be starting in the next few months).

Relax Canadians. We can continue to fly across the country to go surfing in honour of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (I saw you there on the beach didn’t I?). We’re almost surely not going to miss a meal.  Yah, we might have to double or triple down at the grocery store, but just think of that perfect summer day in the future!  You’ll be so happy when your child gleefully watches your grandchild in their paper swim suit splash away in the wooden baby pool that’s in the driveway where the car used to be out front of the rental (now that we won’t be allowed to own cars anymore there’s going to be so much more room in our driveways!)  Too bad you can’t travel to be there in person because you’re still getting that ESG score back up after that trip to see the kids a couple years back. Too bad you can’t use that cool social media app to see what they posted because you accidentally typed Turdo instead of Trudeau six months ago (stupid spellcheck).

Here’s to a bright future without the constant worry of oil and gas and nitrogen fertilizer! Just think. No more storms. No more pesky record high or low temperatures.  And water levels remain constant year in and year out.  It’s going to be awesome (for all the descendants of the people who get to eat in the next couple of years). Maybe we’ll build a statue to honour today’s fearless leaders who are so smart they have realized that it’s NOT THEIR JOB TO PROTECT THE PEOPLE WHO VOTE FOR THEM TODAY, but to CREATE A BETTER FUTURE FOR THE DESCENDANTS OF THOSE WHO CAN AFFORD TO SURVIVE in the future! We’ll certainly inscribe it with something like “These guys weren’t afraid to crack a few eggs to make this omelette. Hope you enjoy omelettes!”  I think the perfect location to put that statue will be Davos. I hear it’s beautiful. Speaking of omelettes I hope there are still chickens in the future.  I understand those little runts like farting as much as cows do and don’t kid yourself, it adds up!

I digress. This isn’t all about my wandering thoughts. As a journalistic endeavour I’d like to present both sides of thinking on this initiative. This should help teach those simple farmers and their university educated consultants how to farm better with less fertilizer and more crop rotation, etc. (I’m still amazed farmers didn’t already figure this out for themselves, but I bow to those worldly thinkers who make these plans on “our” behalf.) Anyway, a few thoughts from Agriculture Canada, followed by an informative (and entertaining) video presentation from a very well known Saskatchewan farmer.

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These statements have been pulled from the “Discussion Document: Reducing emissions arising from the application of fertilizer in Canada’s agriculture sector” on the federal government’s website.  You can read it all here but I’ve pulled a couple of statements to help explain the brilliant future forward thinking that goes into plans like this.  So please read about why our governments are telling farmers to grow less food to feed fewer people at a time of food shortages.

” In December 2020, the Government of Canada announced its Strengthened Climate Plan, “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy.” It includes a number of measures affecting the agriculture sector, with a goal to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and increase carbon sequestration. This discussion paper addresses one of these measures: a national target to reduce absolute levels of GHG emissions arising from fertilizer application by 30% below 2020 levels by 2030.

Background

Agriculture was responsible for approximately 10% of Canada’s GHG emissions in 2019, or 73 Mt CO2, which come from three main sources: enteric fermentation (24Mt), crop production (24Mt) , and on-farm fuel use (14Mt) (National Inventory Report, 2021.) Based on current data for 2019, emissions from synthetic fertilizers accounted for 12.75 Mt. While many players in the agriculture sector are already working to improve nutrient management and reduce emissions associated with crop production, fertilizers are responsible for a growing share of overall agricultural emissions.

Since the release of Canada’s Strengthened Climate Plan, the Government of Canada has moved swiftly to implement its key aspects in order to create jobs, grow the economy and protect the planet. In April 2021, in line with its obligations under the Paris Agreement, the Government of Canada announced a new GHG emissions reduction target of 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030. This target, along with other developments such as the passage of the Canadian Net Zero Emissions Accountability Act, which enshrines in legislation Canada’s commitment to achieve net-zero emissions across the Canadian economy by 2050, highlights the need to reduce absolute GHG emissions across all economic sectors, including agriculture.

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This part is really interesting because it shows how fertilizer use is far more intense in Quebec and the Maritime provinces, though the bulk of the reductions will have to take place in Western Canada anyway.  You know, because.. even though western farmers use less, there are more of them so they actually use more, plus they’re farther away from Ottawa and have less representation per capita.. what was I saying?

Regional Variations

Fertilizer induced emissions are not spatially or temporally uniform across Canadian agricultural landscapes. The seasonal pattern of N2O emissions reflects the interaction between soil temperature, soil water and nitrate availability. Drier regions of the Prairies have much lower N2O losses than the moister regions of Eastern Canada. N2O emissions per hectare are greater in Eastern Canada as a result of the wetter climate and greater N application rates. However, the much larger land area in the Prairies vs. Eastern Canada results in greater total N fertilizer application in the Prairies and thus the total emissions are much higher in this region.

It is important to note that the strategies required to achieve the 30% N2O emission reduction objective will vary across the country as the emissions reduction potential is impacted by biophysical factors (soil type, soil humidity, climate), crop types, and climate change impacts.Footnote3  (OH DEAR GOD CLIMATE CHANGE IS CAUSING MORE CLIMATE CHANGE!)  

Figure 3 illustrates the differences between the fertilizer induced emissions patterns across the country, showing N2O emissions per hectare in 2018. The intensity of fertilizer emissions (emissions per ha) is higher east of Saskatchewan, indicating that more fertilizer is applied per hectare, resulting in more direct emissions on a per-acre basis. In addition, wetter conditions in the East result in more direct and indirect emissions.

Figure 3: Nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions per hectare (2018)

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This part clearly explains how regions that use less fertilizer may be asked to cut back even more than regions using a lot more per capita, because.. because. Also it encourages farmers to stop the nasty habit of pouring fertilizer out randomly all over the place and then grabing a pinch and throwing it over their shoulder.  For some reason it still hasn’t addressed when farmers (and their family members) exhale, which is also more intense in heavily populated urban areas in the east (likely because it’s not N2O, but CO2).

Objectives of the National Target for Fertilizer Emissions

In order to achieve a concrete reduction in overall emissions, the target is established relative to absolute emissions rather than emissions intensity. The Government of Canada has been clear that the objective of the national target for fertilizers is to reduce emissions, and that the primary method to achieve this is not to establish a mandatory reduction in fertilizer use that isn’t linked to improved efficiency and maintaining or improving yields. Rather, the goal is to maximize efficiency, optimize fertilizer use, encourage innovation, and to work collaboratively with the agriculture sector, partners and stakeholders in identifying opportunities that will allow us to successfully reach this target.

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OK. I don’t expect you were able to understand most of that. But they did their best to explain to those of us who aren’t as good as planning future world scenarios as they are. Now that you see the way our fearless leaders think. But what about the rest of us? In the interest of journalistic integrity we’ll show you what one simple farmer thinks of being urged to use less fertilizer.  If you haven’t seen QDM before, please note he sometimes uses very descriptive adjectives (sometimes he turns them into verbs and nouns too) which might be a tad harsh for the younger folk. Please enjoy with a grain of salt and a malted beverage.  When he’s finished you can decide for yourself whether you think it’s a great idea to cut back on food production by using less fertilizer.

 

After 15 years as a TV reporter with Global and CBC and as news director of RDTV in Red Deer, Duane set out on his own 2008 as a visual storyteller. During this period, he became fascinated with a burgeoning online world and how it could better serve local communities. This fascination led to Todayville, launched in 2016.

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Agriculture

USAID head urges crisis-hit Sri Lanka to tackle corruption

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By Krishan Francis in Colombo

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A visiting U.S. diplomat on Sunday urged Sri Lankan authorities to tackle corruption and introduce governance reforms alongside efforts to uplift the country’s economy as a way out of its worst crisis in recent memory.

USAID Administrator Samantha Power told reporters that such moves will increase international and local trust in the government’s intentions.

“Assistance alone would not put an end to this country’s woes,” Power said. “I stressed to the Sri Lankan president in my meeting earlier today that political reforms and political accountability must go hand in hand with economic reforms and economic accountability.”

She said that international investor confidence will increase as the government tackles corruption and proceeds with long sought governance reforms. “As citizens see the government visibly following through on the commitment to bring about meaningful change, that in turn increases societal support for the tough economic reforms ahead,” she said.

During her two-day visit, Power announced a total of $60 million in aid to Sri Lanka. After meetings with farmers’ representatives at a rice field in Ja-Ela, outside of the capital Colombo on Saturday, she announced $40 million to buy agrochemicals in time for the next cultivation season.

Agricultural yields dropped by more than half for the past two cultivation seasons because authorities had banned the imports of chemical fertilizers ostensibly to promote organic farming. She said that according to the World Food Program, more than 6 million people — nearly 30% of Sri Lanka’s population — are currently facing food insecurity and require humanitarian assistance.

On Sunday, she said an additional $20 million will be given to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to vulnerable families.

Sri Lanka has faced its worst crisis after it defaulted on foreign loans, causing shortages of essentials like fuel, medicines and some food items.

It has reached a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a $2.9 billion package to be disbursed over four years. However, the program hinges on Sri Lanka’s international creditors giving assurances on loan restructuring. Sri Lanka’s total foreign debt is more than $51 billion of which $28 billion must be repaid by 2027.

Power said that the U.S. stands ready to assist with debt restructuring and reiterated that it is imperative that China, one of the island nation’s bigger creditors, cooperate in this endeavor.

Infrastructure like a seaport, airport and a network of highways built with Chinese funding did not earn revenue and are partly blamed for the country’s woes.

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Agriculture

Saskatchewan warns that federal employees testing farmers’ dugouts for nitrogen levels could be arrested for trespassing

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An escalating battle between Western Premiers and the federal government over restricting the use of nitrogen fertilizer has reached a new level of tension.
Premier Scott Moe is demanding to know why federal employees of Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault are “trespassing” on private land in Saskatchewan.  Moe signed a strongly worded letter (below) from Jeremy Cockrill, the Minister in charge of Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency.
The letter dated Sunday, August 21st states farmers from at least 3 different communities in southern Saskatchewan have reported Government of Canada employees in marked vehicles have been trespassing on their private land.  When confronted, the agents have admitted to testing dugouts for nitrogen levels.
On his official Facebook page Moe says “We are demanding an explanation from federal Minister Guilbeault on why his department is trespassing on private land without the owners’ permission to take water samples from dugouts.”
We are demanding an explanation from federal Minister Steven Guilbeault on why his department is trespassing on private land without the owners’ permission to take water samples from dugouts. We have received reports of this occurring in several places throughout our province.
We have advised the federal government that this should cease immediately and if it does not, it will be considered a violation of the province’s Trespass Act.
Violating this Act is serious, including a maximum penalty of $25,000 for repeat offenders, up to six months imprisonment following a conviction for a first or subsequent trespass offence, and a $200,000 maximum penalty for any corporation that counsels and/or aids in the commission of that offence.
Anyone wishing to report an incident of trespassing on private land can call 1-855-559-5502
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has already flatly said no thanks to a federal initiative to restrict the use of fertilizer by up to 30%.
Premier Moe is not alone in this battle with Ottawa.  Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney has already weighed in on the nitrogen restrictions in this strongly worded video shared two weeks ago.

The letter from Saskatchewan comes on the heals of another strongly worded letter from Manitoba’s Agriculture Minister Heather Stefanson. In Stephanson’s letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, she says this is no time to cut food supply and raise the price of groceries.
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