FERGUS – With the Senate of Canada not sitting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Rob Black was unable to deliver a statement on National Soil Conservation Week in the Senate Chamber. However, Black, who has been discussing the need for a soil health study in the senate for over 14 months shared his statement and highlight the importance of Canadian soils through the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario:
“This week, April 19 to 25 is National Soil Conservation Week, an opportunity for us to recognize the importance of Canadian soil and think about actions we can take to protect it. Soil is the foundation of all the food we eat and, quite frankly, we could not survive without it.
Unfortunately, Canadian soil has been severely degraded in recent decades. Currently, only about seven per cent of Canada’s land is suitable for agriculture. According to the Soil Conservation Council of Canada, the country lost 3.9 million hectares of farm land between 1972 and 2011. This loss comes with an economic cost of $3.1 billion annually.
A major aspect of soil degradation is the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the soil and the increase of CO2 in the air, contributing to the greenhouse gas effect. Agricultural producers are effective managers of natural carbon cycles and the sector provides for carbon sequestration, a process that has become better understood in recent years and can be a major part of climate action. There are various practices that farmers use to sequester CO2 in the soil, reducing the emissions and helping to make the soil healthier and more productive. These soil-friendly practices include zero-till or minimum-till farming, using crop rotation, planting cover crops, inter-cropping, adding manure to the soil, and the careful application of fertilizer.
These are extremely important efforts that should be commended, but ultimately a nation-wide strategy is needed to truly get to the root of the issue. The situation requires a consolidated effort across agriculture, forestry, and government to identify trends and problems, find solutions, and begin to reverse course.
Over the past several months, I have been advocating for a study on soil health at the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. Originally, I had hoped to propose the study in early 2020, but plans are now on hold due to the COVID-19 crisis, which is – and should be – our priority right now. However, soil health remains a pressing issue. This crisis is highlighting the importance and precariousness of food security, which also depends on having healthy, viable soil for planting crops.
If our soil continues to decline, it will be bad news for Canadian agriculture, the economy, and national (and international) food security. We can’t afford to go backwards.”