Potential Impact of the Effects of Climate Change on the Agriculture, Agri-food and Forestry Sectors and the Actions Undertaken to Increase Adaptation and Emissions Reduction Strategies


On behalf of Cereals Canada I want to thank the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry for the invitation to appear before you today.

My name is Cam Dahl and I am the President of Cereals Canada. Cereals Canada brings together a broad and diverse collaboration of partners from all sectors of the cereals value chain to enhance the domestic and international competitiveness of Canadian cereals, promote innovation in the sector and support policy initiatives to ensure long-term sustainability, which includes economic sustainability, of this valuable industry. Our members include farmers, grain handling firms and processing along with seed and crop development companies and our Board of Directors is comprised of representatives of each of these sectors.

Our Board of Directors is comprised of 39% farmers, 39% exporters / processors and 22% crop development and seed companies. The budget, derived from membership dues, is split between the membership pillars in the same proportion as board representation.

Climate change policies have become a focus for both provincial and federal governments. The Industry (including producer organizations) has carried out a large body of work to showcase what modern agriculture has already contributed to mitigating climate change and where there is potential to do more.

Continuous improvements over decades in land management practices including conservation tillage, reduction in summer fallow, increase in soil sampling, adoption of precision agriculture, enhanced crop rotation, increased nitrogen use efficiency, and improvements in diesel engine combustion coupled with a strong commitment by farmers to address soil degradation, have increased the amount of CO2 that is effectively removed from the atmosphere and sequestered in the soil. Since 1886 crop production in Canada has increased soil organic matter with every crop cycle. In 2000, for the first time in Canada’s history, agricultural soil sequestered more carbon than was emitted through agricultural cropping practices.

The changes to agricultural practice have been adopted by farmers in the absence of any regulations requiring them to do. Farmers have, and will continue to, contribute to Canada’s climate change objectives. Canada’s cropping sector is part of the climate change solution and not a source of problems.

Further governments must consider the implications of climate change policies on the international competitiveness of the Canadian agricultural sector. Agriculture and Agri-Food is a leading contributor to the growth of Canadian exports and GDP and has been identified by the Finance Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Economy as one of the Canadian sectors that has the potential to lead Canadian economic growth and development. This is why it is imperative for our government to consider the impact of climate change on the Canadian agricultural sector. If Canadian farmers are put at a competitive disadvantage to other leading exporters, such as the Black Sea region, United States and Australia, we won’t realize that growth potential.

Agriculture’s Large Contribution to Environmental Sustainability

Modern Canadian agriculture has a strong sustainability story to tell. This is not well understood by those outside of the sector, but it is critically important for policy makers to grasp before new climate changes policies are brought forward.

Some examples of the grains sectors strong sustainability record:

  • Energy use in production of spring wheat decreased by 6% between 1981 and 2011, on a per hectare basis. I need to emphasize “on a per hectare basis”. At the same time production per hectare has been increasing so that the energy use per tonne of wheat produced in this same time period has fallen by 39%.

    Energy Use per Harvested Hectare
  • Soil organic matter on the prairies is significantly increasing over time. In 1981, soil organic matter was being depleted with every cropping cycle. Today soil organic matter in prairie soils is increasing every year.

    What does this mean? First, this means that soils are healthier today than in 1981. Soil is more productive and it is less susceptible to wind and soil erosion.

    The rise in soil organic matter also represented a significant increase in sequestered carbon – a policy objective of the Government of Canada.

    How much C02 has Canada’s crop sector actually taken out of the atmosphere and sequestered in the soil? Canadian farmers have sequestered the equivalent of 61.4 million tonnes of C02 since 1986. If we value this at $15 per tonne this represents just under $1 billion.

  • Modern agriculture practices such as minimum as zero tillage and continuous cropping are also contributing to a reduction in soil erosion, both by wind and by water.

    Soil Organic Carbon Change per Hectare of Agricultural Land, Prairies

International Competitiveness and Potential for Unintended Consequences

Canadian grain farmers and exporters face fierce competition around the world. In 1980 the Soviet Union was the single largest customer for Canadian wheat. Now the regions around the Black Sea are the largest exporters of wheat in the world.

Climate change policies can harm our competitive position if the impacts on industry, such as increased costs, are not taken into account. This may result in unintended consequences of policy change, which in the long run could actually have the opposite of the intended effect and decrease Canadian sustainability.

Canadian farmers already face costs that are not borne by our competitors. For example, grain from the middle of Saskatchewan faces at least a 1,700 km journey by train just to get to ocean-going vessels. No other major exporter faces this kind of transportation and logistics costs.

Canada has a brand reputation for quality, which helps gain market access. We are and should be proud of that. But the overwhelming driving factor in international sales of cereal crops today is price. If climate mitigation policies increase the cost of producing Canadian cereal crops – by increasing the cost of fertilizer and fuel for example – Canadian farmers will be less competitive in international markets.

A significant increase in the cost of Canadian production will lower the incomes for farmers across the country, making it an unsustainable business for many. Modern agriculture is advancing sustainability in grain farming in a variety of ways that enables precision agriculture, optimal fertilization, modern crop input and variety.

It costs money to invest in and participate in these modern agricultural practices. With increased costs and lower income, producers will be forced to consider business and cropping alternatives that may not have the same level of contribution to environmental sustainability as modern cereal grain production. In this case policies designed to lower greenhouse gas emissions may actually have the opposite effect.

An understanding by policy makers of modern agriculture practices and why farmers use these practices is required; an understanding that can only be gained through close cooperation and consultation with the industry.

Key Cereals Canada Policy Positions

Cereals Canada has six fundamental policy planks that will build a successful climate change policy. The most basic foundational pieces of the policy platform are "science" and "outcome-focused".

What do I mean by "outcome-focused?" Policy makers should be focused on the outcome - such as the supporting and enhancing current sustainability contributions of modern grains and oilseed production - and not on developing a policy approach that attempts to force all parts of the Canadian economy into a single box. For example, policies that encourage the further development of precision agriculture are more likely to have a greater positive impact on the grains sector versus policies that impose additional costs.

With support from both the federal and provincial governments, individual farmers and companies along with industry associations, are well positioned to contribute to both research and policy development on climate change issues. This includes the considerable efforts being carried out through the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops (Cereals Canada is an active participant).

Working together, we can develop policy for a strong future that is:

  1. outcome-focused and based on sound science;
  2. market driven;
  3. economically sustainable;
  4. recognizing the significant contribution already made by the cropping sector to greenhouse gas reduction and sustainability efforts through modern agricultural practices;
  5. national in scope; and
  6. supportive of communication efforts aimed at the general public helping to inform the discussion about the very strong sustainability record of modern agriculture.

What Can Governments Do?

The agriculture sector’s ongoing commitment to climate change mitigation must be recognized by governments as new policies are designed and implemented. Governments can play an active role in helping the sector achieve its potential through the provision of education, extension and financial incentives aimed at decreasing the barriers to uptake of farming practices that demonstrate the greatest potential. A few examples (this is not an exhaustive list) include:

  • investments to overcome barriers to the continuous uptake of the world-renowned 4R nutrient stewardship program. The total reduction potential of N2O emissions by the target date of 2020 is predicted to be between 15-25% and could show a result benefit of up to $87/acre;
  • encourage the adoption of DEF (diesel exhaust fuel systems);
  • facilitate the greater adoption of sectional control on seeding and planting units, which will result in a reduction in seeding overlap, reduced fertilizer use and improved fertilizer efficiency;
  • investments in soil water probes to help improve irrigation efficiency and reduce energy use while improving water use efficiency and conserving water.

The one thing that all of these policy suggestions have in common is that they are aimed at improving the competitiveness of Canadian agriculture while reducing costs and increasing the crop sector’s contribution to Canadian sustainability. Governments should be considering policy options for agriculture that fit this mould, rather than polices that are punitive because they increase the sector’s costs.

Going forward, collaboration between governments and Canada’s cropping sector is critical in areas of research, education and extension. In many instances, reducing greenhouse gas emission intensity goes hand-in-hand with improved economic viability. Production practice changes where this is the case are a win – win: helping to achieve the Government’s intended objectives and improving the competitiveness of producers.

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Cereals Canada is a national, not-for-profit organization that brings a broad and diverse collaboration of partners from all sectors of the cereals value chain.