ONTARIO – Few outside the farming community realize that many farmers begin planning for next season before the current one is done. Thoughts are already turning to next year’s crop questions, including how we will feed the crop with nutrients and promote soil health. This means planning for fertilizer purchases and best management practices around its use.
In fact, fertilizer is heavy on the minds of many farmers these days, but for two very different reasons. One is tariffs imposed by the federal government earlier this year on fertilizer sourced from Russia, a response to its war in Ukraine; and the other is the government’s 30 per cent nitrous oxide emissions reductions target for agriculture—very different issues.
The topic was a large part of discussions at the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA)’s recent Policy Advisory Council meeting in Orangeville, and we share the concerns of both our membership and our farm organization partners.
The OFA has been actively working on fertilizer issues throughout the summer. From London and Sudbury to Ottawa and Niagara, recent OFA meetings have included federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau, MP Francis Drouin (who serves as Parliamentary Secretary to Minister Bibeau), MP Kody Blois (who chairs the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food), Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Lisa Thompson, and political staff and bureaucrats.
At each of these events, we raised farmers’ concerns with fertilizer issues, engaging in discussions toward possible solutions.
What we know so far
The government’s tariff on fertilizer coming from Russia has placed an added financial burden on farmers who were already facing sky-high fertilizer prices and pressures from inflation and rising interest rates—and uncertainty remains as we look ahead to the 2023 growing season.
The financial impact on the industry has been significant; many already felt it this spring. However, for a variety of reasons, as the crisis in Ukraine is ongoing, we are unlikely to see a removal of the tariff on fertilizer imports and this will likely continue to affect the global price of this important input. And while a direct reimbursement of funds already collected is not on the table, OFA continues to advocate for the need for new federal funding to help farmers adjust to rising input costs.
The federal government has also stirred deep concerns in our sector with its nitrous oxide emission reduction target of 30 per cent below 2020 levels by 2030. Many equate this with reducing fertilizer use, but fertilizer use is not the same as nitrous oxide emissions. One source of nitrous oxide emissions is poor utilization of fertilizer by crops after application for a variety for reasons – things like weather, the type of fertilizer used or even when or how it was applied.
Minister Bibeau has been very clear in her meetings with us and others in the industry that the target is aspirational, it’s not about a mandatory reduction in use, and that all efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fertilizer are voluntary.
This is also clearly spelled out in Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC) newly released discussion paper, which is part of a public consultation process on the reduction target which closed on Aug. 31.
The discussion paper recognizes the importance of fertilizer in modern farming and places the focus on improving nitrogen management and fertilizer use through more and better use of on-farm of best management practices that are known to reduce emissions.
These are things that many farmers are already doing, like using the 4Rs (right type of fertilizer in the right amount to the right place at the right time), reducing tillage and adopting precision technologies. One of the big things the government is interested in is how to increase adoption of these types of practices by farmers, which actually have many other environmental and economic benefits beyond emissions reduction too.
What will be important is determining the best way to measure progress on nitrous oxide emissions reduction. We believe strongly that measuring best practices adoption rates is a much more accurate approach than simply tracking fertilizer purchases.
There will also be a need for support from government to help farmers achieve these targets. Considering many farmers are already using some or all of these practices, we hope to see some acknowledgement of early adopters and the work they’ve already voluntarily put into improving environmental health.
The OFA has submitted a response to the fertilizer emissions reduction consultation which can be viewed by visiting: ofa.on.ca.
These are important issues facing our farms and our businesses, so it’s important that we have engaged conversations with each other and with government as we continue to work towards finding solutions.
Peggy Brekveld is president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, a farm organization representing 38,000 farm family members across Ontario.