APF Moves on Climate but Needs to be Broadly Transformative
An Open Letter from the NFU
Two weeks ago, federal, provincial, and territorial (FPT) Ministers of Agriculture met in Saskatoon and reached an agreement in principle to commit to a 5-year Agricultural Policy Framework (APF). The stated goal of the APF—rebranded as the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership—is to provide policy direction to ensure Canada is a leader in “environmentally, economically and socially sustainable agriculture.”
The latest APF only partially meets these worthy and urgent goals. The National Farmers Union (NFU) is concerned that the overall framework is not ambitious enough to address the increasing economic and climate risks that Canadian farmers are facing. Also, the new APF remains tied to an unsustainable growth model and lacks concrete actions to address the overlapping issues of inclusion and inequity, the climate crisis, and farmer resiliency.
Nonetheless, the NFU is encouraged by promising developments within the APF, including:
A 25% increase in cost share funding ($500 million in “new money”) to $2.5 billion over the next 5 years.
The NFU welcomes this increase in funding, and the promise for improved data gathering and sharing. We hope that the scientific knowledge generated will ensure the effectiveness of programs so they benefit farmers, food sovereignty, and the environment. We are pleased that the cost-share funding will be evaluated against success in achieving a 3–5 million tonne (MT) reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and by achieving greater diversity in agriculture (see below). However, we are concerned that the cost share funding is also being evaluated against an unsustainable increase of 46% in agricultural and agri-food revenues (from $134.9 billion in 2021 to $250 billion by 2028) and a 13.5% increase in sector export revenues (from $82.2 billion in 2021 to $95 billion in 2028). The NFU believes we need to prioritize growing food and agricultural products equitably and sustainably. The extraction of wealth from Canadian soils is not limitless. It is time to abandon the fixation on constant growth to address the economic, social, and environmental problems facing the agricultural sector.
A commitment to reduce GHG emissions by 3 to 5 MT by 2028
This is a start but it is nowhere near enough. The NFU, as a founding member of Farmers for Climate Solutions, has provided concrete proposals to reduce emissions by almost three times this amount in the same period of time, based on proper commitments and supports from the federal government. The current level of commitment puts Canada behind in reducing agricultural GHG emissions.
The introduction of the $250 million Resilient Agricultural Landscape Program (RALP) to fund farming practices that lead to carbon sequestration, adaptation, and other environmental co-benefits
The NFU is encouraged by the prospect of the new Resilient Agricultural Landscape Program and its partnership with jurisdictions with existing environmental and resiliency programming. We look forward to working with government to ensure that marginal farmland and wetlands are maintained and protected while farmers’ need to make a sustainable living is respected. However, we are concerned about the lack of clarity on qualification guidelines and that instead of having adequate federal program to reduce GHG emissions in agriculture, the government is relying too heavily on RALP to meet its GHG emission reduction targets.
Business Risk Management (BRM) Program Changes
The NFU is eager to see the details around proposed changes to BRM programs, including the increase in the compensation rate from 70% to 80% and the increase to the overall funding envelope, although we note that this still does not return AgriStability to previous, more farmer-supporting levels. BRM programs need to be inclusive of human-scale, diversified farms that are proven leaders in environmentally-sustainable farming practices. The NFU supports incentives tying environmental practices to AgriInvest, but the time frame proposed is too long and the revenue cap proposed around the requirement for an Environmental Farm Plan for matching government funds should be lower.
An increase in funded recipients who identify as Indigenous, women, and youth
The NFU is pleased to see that there will be extra efforts made to address and focus on the important role of women, Indigenous peoples, and youth in agriculture, and look forward to seeing programs designed to address this priority by publicizing measurable improvements. The NFU has long prioritized representation of women and youth in agriculture, and, having recently enshrined representation for BIPOC farmers in our constitution, we plan to engage with government to ensure that equity-deserving groups have a seat at the table in designing programs affecting their communities. The APF is vague on how it will support BIPOC and youth agriculturalists. The NFU believes we need to move beyond mere “sector participation” and provide meaningful support for BIPOC and youth to become full farm owners and operators who are given the tools and resources to grow culturally-appropriate foods and agricultural products for their communities.
A commitment to ensuring a skilled and reliable workforce in the agricultural sector.
We remain concerned about the crisis in agricultural labour, and as an organization that recently created a farm worker membership category alongside our traditional farmer membership, we recognize the challenges inherent in a conversation between farmers who need to maintain a stable financial future for their farms and farm workers who deserve a fair wage for their time and efforts. The NFU is adamant that migrant farmworkers are people that deserve all of the rights and privileges that come with Permanent Residency in Canada including mobility rights. We remain concerned about the status of migrant workers in food production industries as well, given that our sustainability as a sector depends in large part on their wellbeing.
A reiteration of the commitment to reduce emissions from nitrogen fertilizer by 30%
The Canadian government already committed to a national nitrogen emission reduction target of 30% in the agricultural sector by 2030. Both Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and Farmers for Climate Solutions (FCS) have detailed how a 30% reduction can be achieved without a major reduction in crop yields. The NFU supports this incremental and near-term goal but is concerned that the message around fertilizer emissions reductions does not match the emergency level of the climate crisis we’re facing, given that agriculture is the fourth highest GHG-emitting industry category in the country. Profiteering by the fertilizer industry increasingly cuts into farmers’ net income. Government should launch an investigation into the practices of the fertilizer industry that not only gouges farmers financially but also encourages over-use of fossil fuel-based fertilizer that drives such a large portion of our GHG emissions,
Retail Fees, Regulatory Priorities/Interprovincial Trade, Animal Health & Trade and Market Access
A grocery code of conduct cannot be left to industry to self-regulate. We need all levels of government to work together to investigate price collusion and profiteering by the grocery oligopoly. We are in favour of measures to prevent African swine fever (ASF) and for protecting animal health. We look forward to learning details of any regulatory, and interprovincial and international trade priorities and will advocate that they focus on GHG emission reductions, protect farmers, and avoid further entrenching concentration in the agricultural sector.
Farmers are assuming increasing risks in a changing environmental and economic climate. The Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership made some initial steps to address these risks, but has yet to make the bold steps needed to ensure the prosperity of Canada’s farmers and the future for our grandchildren on the farm. The NFU hopes future planning within AAFC and negotiations between the federal government and individual provincial and territorial governments will move us from incremental to transformative solutions. It’s time to chart a brave new course. The future of agricultural production and the health, safety, and wellbeing of all Canadians depends on it.