FUREY: Here’s why we might soon see more farmer protests across Canada

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Last week, Canadian news reports told of farm-related protests erupting across the country — including one that saw a slow roll convoy head through downtown Ottawa.

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These reports described this activism as a show of support for Dutch farmers. Tensions have run high in the Netherlands as farmers have used equipment to block roads and supermarkets in response to climate change regulations targeting livestock emissions. They say the regulations will force the closure of farms across the country and send food prices soaring.

But this isn’t just about what’s happening in another country. The alarm is now sounding in Canada on how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is planning the same sorts of policies here that could cause a crisis in our own agricultural sector.

In Dec. 2020, the federal Liberals announced plans for “a national target to reduce absolute levels of GHG emissions arising from fertilizer application by 30% below 2020 levels by 2030.” It’s yet another climate change law from a government that seems to come up with a new one every second day. And farmers here warn that, like in Netherlands, these regulations will lead to farm closures and increased consumer costs — at a time when inflation is already soaring.

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The industry association Fertilizer Canada commissioned a report from accounting firm MNP that says these fertilizer reductions will lead to a $48 billion loss in farm incomes over the eight years leading to 2030.

The association says that: “Because Canadian farmers are already among the most sustainable growers in the world, they have less room to lower fertilizer emissions without compromising their food production than those in other countries.”

What they prefer over firm regulations is for the industry to go “all-in” on what’s called 4R Nutrient Stewardship — a technical method that ensures only the minimum amount of appropriate fertilizer is used.

Industry experts point to how Canada is already a leader in such farming techniques.

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“Canada is situated probably at the top of sustainable production,” says Michael Keegan, an agri-food consultant who has served as chief of staff to agriculture ministers in the previous Ontario Liberal government, in an interview with the Sun. “In fact there’s kind of a growing movement in Canada to elevate Canadian production and production know-how so that the more people around the world eat Canadian product and grow like Canadian producers do, the better off we’ll all be.”

Keegan says a big challenge is the disconnect between the federal government and farmers, who currently view each other with distrust and aren’t really speaking the same language.

This becomes all too clear when farmers complain that they haven’t been consulted about the fertilizer regulations, which Saskatchewan Minister of Agriculture David Marit describes as an “arbitrary goal.” And while the feds just launched what they’re describing as additional consultations on the regulations, it’s pretty clear this is mostly a PR exercise and they’re not going to back down on their targets. (Although an extension of the timeline beyond 2030 is considered one possible olive branch.)

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It’s unclear just how bad things will get once the new regs are in place. “Are we going to starve in Canada? No. But this will have impacts; it will change the business climate,” adds Keegan, who heads up Michael Keegan & Associates. “Some people will go out of business. But the land is productive and will continue to be.”

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One thing that’s clear though is that, taken too far, these policies can be a disaster. When Sri Lanka imposed a full ban on the use of synthetic fertilizers in the name of going green, “the result was brutal and swift”, according to Foreign Policy magazine, leading to “angry protests, soaring inflation, and the collapse of Sri Lanka’s currency.”

The country is now in economic free fall, the president and prime minister have fled and human rights groups are begging the military to not enact violence against their own people.

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The fertilizer ban is far from the only cause of Sri Lanka’s destabilization. But another leading contributor is all of the economic and societal turbulence of the past two years caused by COVID-19 and government responses to it. Canada is experiencing its fair share of that turbulence as well. So why add more with these new regulations?

The government’s discussion paper notes that synthetic fertilizers accounted for 12.75 Mt of emissions in 2019 — less than 2% of our national total. Why invite increased food prices, farm closures and more convoy protests over such an inconsequential figure?

Only Justin Trudeau can answer that question. And let’s hope more people put the question to him.

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