OFA: Agriculture is big player in climate change mitigation

By Drew Spoelstra, executive member, Ontario Federation of Agriculture

OPINION – Ontario’s farmers are leaders in innovation and adaptation. This is evidenced not only in the way we embrace technology, but also the farm practices we use to ensure that we are competitive, sustainable and profitable – not just for 2020, but for the future generations that farm after us.

Drew Spoelstra, Executive Member, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Drew Spoelstra, Executive Member, Ontario Federation of Agriculture

Many Ontario farmers have invested significantly in environmental stewardship initiatives to mitigate the impact of climate change, that also provide positive long-term benefits to our water, soil and air quality. Conservation tillage, using cover crops in rotations and planting wind breaks are activities that the farming community has largely embraced. These actions demonstrate our ongoing commitment to not only improving soil health but also to sequester carbon to help address climate change concerns.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is working to ensure farmers and the agri-food industry are recognized, and fairly compensated for their work to mitigate the effects of climate change. On-farm stewardship activities have been generating carbon offsets for many years. OFA is particularly focused on raising awareness throughout the industry and all levels of government about the positive contributions agriculture makes in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Current carbon pricing policies are intended to provide economic disincentives to carbon emitters to encourage a reduction in their emissions, but little is being done to compensate those who already follow practices to sequester carbon and reduce emissions. Because there are currently no replacements for fossil fuels for agricultural production, the current carbon tax system cannot drive conservation efforts on farms, it serves only to reduce already thin farm margins. OFA along with our provincial counterparts will continue to advocate with provincial and federal governments to ensure farmers are fairly compensated and incentivized for driving necessary environmental enhancements to address climate change. 

Adoption of precision agriculture tools across the industry have helped to manage water resources in cropping systems, and result in the most accurate, efficient use of fertilizers and crop inputs in our history. While Ontario farmers have embraced the adoption of farm practices to improve the environment and reduce the impact of climate change, there are areas where we can do more. Precision agriculture tools offer some of the latest, most advanced technology for field crops and livestock management systems, but we shouldn’t let the adoption rate be limited by the availability and reliability of broadband and cellular coverage in rural Ontario. Reliable, affordable broadband access to rural and remote areas of Ontario, is critical to enable more farmers to incorporate these environmental benefits to their everyday practices.

Tree planting, planting wind breaks and proper woodlot management are also environmental practices farmers use to improve our environment, air, water and soil conditions. Many Ontario farms have woodlots that, when managed properly, can offer significant environmental benefits. These benefits include carbon sequestration, reduced soil erosion and watershed and wildlife habitat protection. As part of our pre-budget submission, OFA has asked the provincial government to expand the current Farm Forestry Exemption provisions within the Assessment Act to incentivize more farmers to retain and manage their on-farm woodlots.

OFA continues to advocate for the positive role agriculture has in addressing climate change and recognition of the contribution farmers are making to mitigate environmental impacts. We’re fortunate to have a leading voice at the decision table with government. OFA President Keith Currie was appointed to the Ontario Advisory Panel on Climate Change in November 2019 and is one of 10 members of the group. Keith’s role on the panel will ensure agriculture is part of every conversation and decision, and most importantly, acknowledged for our ongoing role in managing climate change.