ANALYSIS: Fertilizer-emissions reduction won’t work, isn’t scientific and farmers don’t like it


by John Schwartzentruber
Courtesy of Farmers Forum

“I would like to be clear, there is no mandatory reduction in fertilizer use on Canadian farms. Instead, we want to support measures that producers can take voluntarily to reduce their emissions…” Thus spoke the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, concerning the Trudeau Liberals’ intention to reduce fertilizer emissions. But that well-worn cliché “let me be clear” leaves farmers, agribusiness and even federal government insiders unconvinced. Is her statement the Napoleonic velvet glove on an iron fist?

House of Commons Science Committee interviews support those concerns, as well as recently released Agriculture and Agrifoods Canada (AAFC) internal emails, thanks to True North (TNC) news and its Access to Information requests. Documents posted by TNC reveal the unsettling fact that the Liberal government fails to consider the impact on food production when reducing fertilizer usage, despite strong cautions raised by numerous ag-producer groups. Nor were some key federal senior scientists consulted in the policy-making process, as noted in the minutes of House of Commons Standing Committee on Science and Research meetings.

For example, chief scientist advisor Dr. Mona Nemer has a mandate to provide the federal government with relevant science when creating public policy. Yet, as reported by Farmers Forum, when Manitoba MP Dan Mazier (CON – Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa) questioned Dr. Nemer in committee as to whether she had seen any studies on how reducing fertilizer would affect food production, Dr. Nemer replied “The short answer is ‘no’.”  She added that the focus was the reduction targets, and that agriculture presented “huge opportunities” to reach those lower emissions targets. Should agriculture be happy to hold this ominous distinction? Nemer then concluded that line of questioning with an inference to “natural” farming as the goal. 

In yet another standing committee session, MP Ben Lobb (CON – Huron-Bruce) elicited a surprising response from Dr. Shawn Marshall, a science advisor with Environment and Climate Change Canada. Lobb asked Dr. Marshall how much consultation was held with citizen scientists, or ground-level scientific observation, during the process of forming policy.

Dr. Marshall responded: “This really gets into the policy realm, which is beyond the purview of the science, the scientists, the science managers and the science advisers here”, stating that the focus of the policy was on environmental impact. Dr. Marshall further affirmed that the 30% figure was more of a policy decision rather than being directed by scientists.

The question that springs from Dr. Marshall’s reply is that if science was not a factor in developing the Liberal’s fertilizer emissions reduction policy, what provides the basis for a 30% reduction target? When the fundamental issues of food security and economic impact are disregarded, does this justify the Western Canadian wheat growers in accusing the federal government of ideological capture?

There is a mixed response from the private sector. Agribusiness shows tepid backing for the effort to stave off the climate catastrophe predicted by government and climate alarmists. Fertilizer Canada CEO Karen Proud states, “We support the federal government’s strong push to reduce Canada’s GHG emissions, but we cannot sacrifice food productivity.”

But as far as reducing climate impact, one study found that a complete elimination of Canadian fertilizer usage would result in a .007% reduction in global nitrate emissions, statistically less than a rounding error.

For the most part, the farm organizations have seemingly resigned themselves to reluctant acceptance of the Liberal government’s strong-arm tactics even though they might not agree with the methodology or the ideology driving it. 

Only one Ontario farm organization — the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario — flatly stated that net zero is unachievable. Another expressed frustration that farmers get no recognition for their very significant achievements through constantly-improving technology, especially considering the strides made toward healthier environments over the past decades while still increasing productivity. Canadian Federation of Agriculture President Keith Currie says that he welcomes further producer involvement in advancing the voluntary approach. Considering the threat that the Liberal’s policy presents to agriculture, producers should pay attention.

Opinions gathered from farmers at the February London Farm Show were undivided in one aspect: human activity and specifically, farming, are not responsible for any significant impact on climate. New Glasgow berry farmer Johan Wecker related how, during his 60 years in farming, cooler temperatures sometimes forced adjustments to his cropping plans. Climate, he said, is naturally driven and is historically variable. Wecker offered a common view: “Scientists are motivated by funding.”

All those interviewed were well-informed, thoughtful and articulate. St. Mary’s dairy farmer Lia DeVries stated that “Farmers are not part of the problem” and that natural sources are the greatest contributors to emissions. Another milk producer, who expressed hope that producer groups are actually representing their farmers, shared her frustration with the hypocritical actions of highflying, self-serving politicians. Belgrave-area farmer and seed grower Doug Walker raised the question of “whose information is reliable?”

Walker’s query appears justified by the exposure of internal communications between Agriculture Canada officials. Anticipating some backlash as the likely-unpopular policy was released, a department email from an Agriculture Canada director stated the need to control the messaging and “develop responsive media lines once we become aware of the content.”

Along a darker note, while the government is proclaiming their policy as voluntary, one AAFC insider said that there has been behind-closed-doors discussion on regulating compliance should farmers fail to meet the targets voluntarily.

The broad implications of the Liberal government’s fertilizer emissions reduction policy deserve thorough scrutiny. Twentieth century history serves as a stark reminder of what can happen when ideological tyranny replaces rational, responsible government.

For a comprehensive investigation on this issue, readers can search and read “The Fertilizer Files.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here