Federal fertilizer plan full of risks


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It’s the latest political football in the fight against climate change, and Brandon is caught in the crosshairs.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/07/2022 (239 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s the latest political football in the fight against climate change, and Brandon is caught in the crosshairs.

On Wednesday, Bloomberg.com reporter Jen Skerrit wrote that “Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s push to accelerate the fight against climate change is sparking a showdown with the nation’s farmers, who say it’s threatening food supplies — and their profits.

“The government is proposing to cut emissions from fertilizer 30% by 2030 as part of a plan to get to net zero in the next three decades. But growers are saying that to achieve that, they may have to shrink grain output significantly at a time when the world is scrambling for more supplies. Also at stake is the estimated C$10.4 billion ($8.08 billion) that farmers could lose this decade from the reduced output.

“The tension comes as efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions related to energy are lagging, so policymakers are increasingly looking to other sectors, including agriculture … Cattle and fertilizer are key sources of nitrogen emissions.”

The dispute appears to originate from a “Discussion Document” issued by the federal agriculture department (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) entitled “Reducing emissions arising from the application of fertilizer in Canada’s agriculture sector.” A copy can easily be found online through a Google search of that document title.

The document points out that Canada’s agriculture sector is responsible for approximately 10 per cent of the country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, and discusses the link between the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers and nitrous oxide emissions.

It calls for “a national target to reduce absolute levels of GHG emissions arising from fertilizer application by 30 per cent below 2020 levels by 2030” and suggests the goal can be reached — without reducing crop yields — through more efficient farming practices and new technology.

In fact, the document optimistically claims that “Depending on the crop, the farm location, local weather, soil type, and other farm specific characteristics, more targeted fertilizer use and other practices have the potential to both reduce costs and increase yields.”

That’s a lot of variables that might combine to result in higher yields at lower costs. Or they might not.

That’s a problem. At a time of rising food costs in Canada and genuine fear of food shortages throughout other regions of the world, any scheme that could potentially reduce supplies from a reliable, large-volume exporter such as Canada should cause great concern.

That explains why governments and agriculture lobby groups have been so quick to condemn such a poorly-timed plan.

Immediately after the proposal was announced, the governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan issued a joint release, “expressing profound disappointment in the federal government’s fertilizer emissions reduction target … Western Canadian farmers already produce the most sustainable agri-food products in the world, and they’re continually being asked to do more with less. We cannot feed the growing world population with a reduction in fertilizer.”

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson responded that “This senseless policy shift to reduce nutrient use will harm crop output, put a disadvantage on our hard working farmers, and make groceries bills even more expensive. This is the exact opposite of what Manitoba’s families need.”

According to Skerrit, Fertilizer Canada (an industry group that represents major manufacturers and retailers, including Brandon’s Koch Fertilizer) claims that “Canada could lose over 160 million metric tons of canola, corn and spring wheat between 2023 and 2030 due to the plan, according to the report. That’s nearly double Canada’s expected grain production this season.”

That may be a worst-case scenario, but that is a staggering potential decrease in yields and income. The implications for Brandon should be obvious.

Koch Fertilizer is a major employer and taxpayer in our city. Any federal policy that threatens the production and use of fertilizer produced at the Brandon plant impacts the viability of the facility. It jeopardizes Brandon jobs and the substantial property and other taxes that Koch pays each year.

We can’t afford to lose those jobs, nor that tax revenue.

Beyond that, we can’t ignore the impact that reduced crop yields would have on the economic viability of communities through southwestern Manitoba. Lower production numbers would mean lower farm incomes, which would translate into lower retail activity in Brandon, Souris, Virden, Hamiota, Deloraine, Melita, Killarney, Carberry, Minnedosa, Neepawa and every other Westman community.

In other words, we would all feel the pain.

Despite the significant risks that the plan poses for our city and region, it is surprising that not one of our elected officials — not even the chamber of commerce — has spoken out. The silence is deafening, and it needs to change.

Climate change is real, but so is hunger, food cost inflation and the economic viability of communities. Governments must keep that in mind as they map out their plan to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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