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Like most farmers, summer is a busy time for Ottawa-area farmer and climate advocate Stuart Oke, with both weeds and his crops growing at a relentless pace. Yet recent weeks have been particularly busy talking with politicians and like-minded farmers ahead of a major meeting where Canada's federal, provincial and territorial agriculture ministers will craft a five-year plan to spend billions of dollars in farm subsidies.

The plan — technically called the Agricultural Policy Framework or AFP — is the main document guiding how the government supports farmers. As a result, the meeting next week could give Oke and other climate-conscious farmers a window of opportunity to push the government to better support more sustainable farming practices.

These include helping farmers manage nitrogen fertilizers, manure, livestock, soil health and wetlands in ways that reduce emissions and can, in some cases, sequester carbon. A June report by Farmers for Climate Solutions, the coalition of farmers with whom Oke works, estimates that the widespread adoption of these practices could curb Canada's farm-based GHG emissions by roughly 14 per cent by 2028.

"(The AFP) is the major mechanism by which farming and the agricultural sector is supported by the government," he explained. "It has a very real effect on our agricultural systems and how they look and develop."

Managed both by the provinces and the federal government, Canada's existing $3 billion in farm subsidies help farmers with everything from crop insurance to marketing and export costs. While they have in the past supported environmental programs, past APFs were never designed with the fight against climate change in mind.

That is likely set to change. In November, Canada's agriculture ministers formally stated that "tackling climate change and environmental protection" was a top priority in the 2023-28 APF. The past two federal budgets have also reflected this goal.

Still, curbing Canada's farm-based emissions enough to meet our climate goals will take a more co-ordinated effort than currently exists, explained Abra Brynne, a policy adviser with the Vancouver-based environmental group Farm Folk City Folk, who works alongside Oke.

"What we've been really advocating for is that this next ag policy framework really centre climate action and programming that will drive down emissions and (encourage) more climate-friendly practices on farms."

Brynne noted that with only seven growing seasons before 2030 — the deadline set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for significant emission reductions — it's key the government relies on technologies and practices proven to reduce emissions on farms.

A meeting of Canada's agriculture ministers later this month could be pivotal in the fight against climate change, according to a national coalition of farmers.

In its June report, Farmers for Climate Solutions listed 19 of these measures, like supporting cover cropping and rotational grazing or providing more funds for farmers to hire independent agricultural advisers who can help them use less synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Together, these practices could reduce emissions from Canada's farms by about 14 per cent by 2028, costing the government about $40 per tonne of CO2 kept out of the atmosphere — about $2.1 billion over five years.

Some of the programs would also have other benefits, Brynne said. For instance, programs that paid farmers to plant trees or protect wetlands on their land — both major carbon sinks — also bolster biodiversity. And helping farmers use regenerative farming practices such as cover cropping or rotational grazing could help mitigate the impacts of extreme weather like droughts or floods.

The key is ensuring the program is wide-ranging enough that it can support everything from large farms on the Prairies to mountain ranches to smaller-scale produce growers. Solutions that might work in one region or farm, might not work somewhere else, Oke explained.

"Obviously, the greatest emissions reduction potential we have is when farmers integrate multiple (sustainable) management practices into a whole farm approach," he said.

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
July 13, 2022, 11:10 am

Editor's Note: This article was amended on July 13, 2022 to correct the estimated cost of climate-friendly initiatives in the next APF. The estimated cost is $2.1 billion, not $2.1 million as previously stated.

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Marc , have you been paying attention to the massive farmer's protests going on in Netherlands right now ? They say that small farmers are being driven out by the environmental rules and only large feed lots will remain. Is that another transfer of wealth ? Will the same happen here? Covering that would be a good story. It's funny how the wealthy and powerful translate words differently than regular folk.