I call the meeting to order. Welcome to meeting number 36 of the House of Commons Standing Committee and Agriculture and Agri-Food.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Thursday, February 4, the committee is resuming its study on the environmental contribution of agriculture.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format pursuant to the House order of January 25. Therefore, members are attending in person in the room, and remotely using the Zoom application. The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website.
Just so that you are aware, the webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entire committee. I will take this opportunity to remind all participants in this meeting that screenshots or taking a photo of your screen is not permitted.
To ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few points to follow.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. If you are attending the meeting by videoconference, please click on the microphone icon to unmute yourself. For those in the room, your microphone will be controlled as normal by the proceedings and verification officer.
I remind everyone that all comments by members and witnesses should be addressed through the chair.
When you are not speaking, your mic should be on mute.
I will now welcome our witnesses for today's meeting.
For the first panel, we have from the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Mr. Warren Goodlet, director general, research and analysis directorate, strategic policy branch; Matt Parry, director general, policy development and analysis directorate, strategic policy branch; Mr. Marco Valicenti, director general, innovation programs directorate; and Dr. Javier Gracia-Garza, special adviser, agriculture and climate change.
Also, from the Department of the Environment, we have Mr. John Moffet, assistant deputy minister, environmental protection branch; and Tara Shannon, assistant deputy minister, Canadian Wildlife Services.
Welcome, all of you, to our committee.
We'll have opening statements of seven and a half minutes by the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food. Whoever wants to lead can start. You have seven and a half minutes.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
As mentioned, I'm Matt Parry. I'm the director general of the policy development and analysis directorate at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
It is a pleasure to see you all again. Thank you for the opportunity to talk about the agriculture sector's contribution as it relates to the environment.
Over the last 20 years, Canada's agriculture sector has taken important steps to reduce its environmental impacts. Efforts to date have improved production efficiency and carbon sequestration, allowing the sector to increase productivity without significant increases in emissions.
Since 2005, total greenhouse gas emissions from Canada's agriculture sector have been relatively stable. According to Canada's national inventory report, greenhouse gas emissions for this sector were roughly 73 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2019, compared with 72 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2005.
However, total emissions are only part of the picture. Over the past two decades, agriculture soils have become an important source of carbon sequestration, removing as much as 11 million tonnes in 2005.
Notwithstanding this progress, further action is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to continue to sequester carbon in agricultural lands and soils.
As highlighted in the Speech from the Throne, climate action is a cornerstone of the government's plan to support and create a million jobs across the country, and farmers and ranchers are key partners in the fight against climate change. Supporting their efforts to reduce emissions and build resilience is a key priority of the government.
Canada's agriculture sector holds the potential to play an important role in reducing Canada's net greenhouse gas emissions while achieving environmental, social, and economic co-benefits. To this end, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is working with the provinces and territories, farmers, and other Canadian agriculture and food stakeholders to develop and implement innovative solutions that protect the environment while supporting farmers and growing the economy.
Under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, up to $438 million in FPT cost-shared funding is available to farmers for the adoption of beneficial management practices that protect and build resilience in soil, water, air and biodiversity, enhance resilience, and mitigate the impacts of climate change. This funding also helps to build producer awareness of environmental risks through the use of environmental farm plans.
Agriculture and Agri‑Food Canada also has a long history in conducting research on practices and technologies to reduce agriculture's impact on the environment, and transferring this knowledge to producers. This work involves identifying innovative practices that can protect soils from erosion and increase soil carbon, reduce risks to water quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve biodiversity on agricultural lands.
This work has contributed to improvements in the quality, yield, safety, and sustainability of the food produced by Canadian farmers.
A number of new measures have been announced over the last six months in Canada's strengthened climate plan and in budget 2021 to expand collaboration with farmers and ranchers and to accelerate progress in the fight against climate change.
First, the government is investing $165.7 million over seven years in an enhanced agricultural clean technology program to support the industry in developing and adopting transformative clean technologies.
Budget 2021 committed $50 million of this program towards supporting farmers in purchasing more efficient grain dryers, and $10 million towards powering farms with clean energy and moving away from diesel fuel. The balance of the funding under this program will support investments in sustainable technologies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Second, in March of this year the government announced a $185-million agricultural climate solutions program. This program will support the development of on-farm implementation of farming practices to tackle climate change through increased carbon sequestration and lower emissions. Projects implemented through this program will also contribute to other environmental co-benefits such as protecting fresh water and biodiversity resources. For example, practices such as use the of shelterbelts or cover crops can store carbon in soils and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The program aims to establish a Canada-wide network of regional collaboration hubs made up of producers, scientists and other stakeholders that we call living laboratories.
Third, in addition to the $185 million previously announced for the agricultural climate solutions program, budget 2021 provided an additional $200 million over two years to support on-farm climate action to reduce emissions through improved nitrogen management, increased adoption of cover cropping and normalizing rotational grazing. Work is currently under way to develop and launch this program as soon as possible.
Finally, the government is consulting the sector in relation to the announced target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fertilizer application to 30% below 2020 levels by 2030.
The department also continues to collaborate with Environment and Climate Change Canada and other partners on initiatives to enhance environmental sustainability, including, for example, through the creation of a Canada water agency to keep Canada's water safe, clean and well managed.
The department is also developing an agriculture sector species-at-risk action plan as part of the pan-Canadian approach to transforming species-at-risk conservation in Canada that aims to identify and prioritize opportunities for the sector to align with positive outcomes for species at risk and biodiversity conservation.
In closing, I would like to reiterate that the agriculture sector has a critical role in the fight against climate change and the transition to a clean economy. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is working to support farmers in this goal to ensure that the sector's environmental impact continues to shrink while its economic output continues to grow.
Thank you for your time, and my colleagues and I would be pleased to respond to any questions.
That will be me, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, everybody. My name is John Moffet and I'm the assistant deputy minister of the environmental protection branch, which is the regulatory branch for environmental protection measures. I'm here this afternoon with my colleague Tara Shannon, who's my counterpart as the ADM of the Canadian Wildlife Service.
As Mr. Parry explained, Canadian farms have an important role to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the implementation of conservation activities or by adopting new management practices or technologies. I'm going to discuss one additional way in which Environment and Climate Change Canada is creating incentives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and that is through the development of greenhouse gas offsets.
As we indicated in our strengthened climate plan that was published in December, the government is developing a federal greenhouse gas offset system. This system will encourage cost-effective reductions of greenhouse gas emissions from activities that are not covered by the federal carbon pollution pricing system, including many potential activities in the agricultural sector. Offsets can provide a financial incentive for an activity in the form of a credit that can be sold to offset an equivalent amount of greenhouse gas emissions from another source.
We published draft regulations to establish the offset system in March, a couple of months ago, and we aim to publish the final regulations this fall.
In addition to being used as a form of compliance under the federal pricing system, we expect there will be additional demand for federal offset systems from other sources, including, for example, in helping companies reach carbon-neutral or net-zero commitments, of which we are seeing an increasing number. Because offset credits substitute for a reduction in a regulated sector, we need to establish rules to ensure that offset projects achieve real, additional, verified, quantified and permanent reductions in greenhouse gases. This means that in order for any conservation activity or land management practice to generate credits, it must essentially be above and beyond business-as-usual practices. It can't be for something that is already required by law, it can't be for something that is covered by current pricing, and it can't be for something that is a business-as-usual practice.
In order for a project to generate offset credits, the way we determine that a project is eligible is to ensure that it follows an approved offset protocol. These protocols set out a consistent approach for quantifying emission reductions and removals for eligible activities. By going above and beyond business-as-usual practices on their farms, agricultural land managers will not only benefit from the opportunity to generate offset credits, they will also benefit from enhancements in soil health and productivity.
The specific farming practices that will be able to generate offset credits will be established through the protocol development process. In other words, the activities that will be eligible to generate credits will depend on activities for which we have developed protocols. We've started to work on the first set of protocols, and among the first four is a protocol to support enhanced soil organic carbon. This protocol will create opportunities for farmers to generate offset credits through the adoption of sustainable agricultural land management practices that increase soil organic carbon levels.
As you would expect, this protocol is complex and requires further research and consultation with stakeholders. We've engaged an expert committee to advise us, and we expect to develop the protocol at some point in 2022.
We are also looking at other possible offset protocols relevant to the agricultural sector. These include activities such as livestock feed management, avoided conversion of grasslands, reduced nitrogen oxide emissions from fertilizers, anaerobic digestion and livestock manure management.
That's a quick overview of our federal greenhouse gas offset system and the way in which it might create opportunities for the agricultural sector. I would be happy to answer any further questions you have about this initiative, and my colleague will be happy to describe some of the activities that are under way in support of wildlife and biodiversity protection.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, for the question.
I'll just follow up my colleague, Matt Parry's, comment. Yes, absolutely, I think that one of the elements we are looking at in engaging with stakeholders, industry associations, and other stakeholders on the on-farm side is to look at those agronomic practices and whether there are opportunities to share “best practices”, I will call them, or knowledge transfer. It's looking at it from various perspectives and whether we're thinking, for example, about cover cropping or nutrient management.
There are opportunities to build some of those practices, including best management practices, in the context of the living labs—which is a collaboration between farmers and academia—to look at those practices and use those BMPs to transfer the knowledge through training or agronomic services, etc.
Yes, we are looking at those elements as part of our programming package suite.
Thank you very much, Chair. I would make two comments.
On the grain drying, again, I would remind the committee that in budget 2021 as part of the $165 million agriculture clean-tech program, $50 million was carved out for this as well as $10 million for fuel switching, which was another component that was deemed to be part of the $165 million.
We are pretty active with Canadian companies as well in looking at those new technologies. This is a fund will exist for a number of years, seven years, and we know that there is a need now. We are looking at new technologies, as I mentioned, such as biomass. But it does allow for companies to think about building some of those newer prototypes whereby we can fund the research and the innovation component of green efficiency, or grain drying or barn heating, as well. The program will allow both immediate...as well as thinking about new prototypes in this area.
With regard to academia, I wanted to mention again, on the agriculture climate solutions, that it's a $185 million, 10-year program, the living labs component. Within these groups of individuals, we will have producers, academia, and NGOs as well developing within their landscape, within their project proposal, new BMPs that will support more efficiency in the greenhouse gas reduction components. That's going to be an element where academia will play a part of that.
I'd like to turn to Mr. Moffet now. I will proceed quickly and, if necessary, I will come back to him in the second round.
Mr. Moffet, you mentioned in your remarks that we need to move beyond the status quo, that is, excluding what was already being done. At previous meetings, we've seen people who have been farming organically for over 20 years. They are pioneers who have developed techniques.
Do you have a plan for including those individuals in your offset system to recognize what they are doing?
Even though it's not new, what they are doing is still very positive in terms of environmental protection. It's pretty hard not to recognize that. Encouraging a producer who is an extremely big polluter to pollute less is fine, but is there no way to include those who have already done a lot of the work in your process?
Yes. Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the question.
Indeed, the information that is available right now, as you pointed out, is dated. It was collected in the census back from 2011. This census is done every five years, so we are in the process of updating that with information up to 2016.
That said, we do have information, and it's a system that records that...between the census and internal modelling that we do for each of the difference practices—the crops, etc.—that are developed throughout the country. The figures will be updated soon, and we're working to actually change this scheduling to be more frequently reporting on the soil carbon that is in our soils.
The methodologies that we follow are pretty much standardized around the world, using the kinds of models or systems that are approved through international standards.
Now, on your last question about the diversity of different soils that we have in the country and the different geographic sorts of conditions, we have different coefficients and models for each of the different areas. We are in the process of establishing, through some of that activity, the differences of what different soils in different regions of the country are capable of storing.
That being said, the carbon cycle is a very dynamic system, and what is possible biologically is something that needs, I would say, continuity in maintaining practices. It is not something that I can define as a very stable thing, but it's a dynamic system.
I'll stop there.
I'd like to switch to the Department of the Environment, please, and Mr. Moffet.
Our briefing note from the Library of Parliament talks about the nitrogen and phosphorus balances for agriculture, and it's a fairly good news story with their improvement over time, particularly when we are compared with our fellow OECD members.
You mentioned earlier with respect to our environmental targets that we can't go back. We're not going to get credit for back.... We need to move forward.
Can you put that into perspective, particularly in the case of phosphorus, agriculture is phosphorous loading compared to...? We hear about municipal sewage discharges. Are those also improving?
What is agriculture's share of this problem that we need to focus on and improve compared with other areas?
Mr. John Moffet: We are looking at it. That's the short answer.
Mr. Kody Blois: I don't mean to interrupt you. I have only so much time for questions, and this could be a long one.
I would be interested in knowing, to the extent that you could share with the committee, some of the work that's going on to try to find that harmonization. I would be interested in knowing that, if possible, speaking as a member of Parliament. I'll leave that with you.
I have about 55 seconds left in my time, so I'll go quickly to you, Mr. Valicenti. As it relates to the clean fuel standard, these are opportunities that exist for our sector. You talked about wood pellets, for example. As it relates to using wood pellets for grain drying, is it the idea that it would be an end-use fuel switch or that we'd be using wood pellets to blend in with the types of fuels that are already being used?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Moffet, I'd like to pick up where we left off earlier.
You mentioned that it was a challenge to recognize the good environmental practices used in the past.
In your discussions with my colleagues, one thing you mentioned was no till agriculture, a practice that could be encouraged. However, if I understood your answers correctly, someone who has practised no till agriculture for the past five years would be left with nothing. Objectively, I feel it would not be a good idea to do that.
Wouldn't there be a way to average greenhouse gas emissions or pollution per farm or per area? I don't pretend to be a scientist or a departmental policymaker, but I'd like to propose an idea. An average could be set, and those who fall below that could get offsets and transfer them to other producers. That could be a major incentive to follow the pioneer model, rather than penalizing the pioneers.
I'd like to hear what you think about it.
If you want to reply, give a quick answer.
A voice: No. I think we're good.
The Chair: Thank you.
I know we're out of time, but I'm just curious. I think Mr. Valicenti has said that carbon in the soil is not static, so it can be released at any time through different practices. How are we going to regulate if another person owns a farm and starts plowing instead of doing direct seeding and stuff like that? Are there going to be regulations? How would you regulate that?
Does anyone want to answer? Maybe there's no one. We'll leave it at that.
I thank the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Mr. Goodlet, Mr. Parry, Mr. Valicenti and Dr. Gracia-Garza; and from the Department of Environment, John Moffet and Tara Shannon. Thank you all for this very interesting conversation.
With that, we'll suspend the meeting for now. We'll be back soon and go to our next panel. Thank you, all.
I want to welcome today the following panellists.
We are scheduled to have Pierre Lampron, the president of Dairy Farmers of Canada, but we're still waiting for him.
We're also having David Wiens, vice-president of Dairy Farmers of Canada.
I should say that with today being World Milk Day, the timing is good to have you on our committee. Also, from the National Farmers Union, we have Mr. Darrin Qualman.
He is director of climate crisis policy and action at the National Farmers Union.
Welcome, Mr. Qualman.
If you want to start, Mr Qualman, you have seven and a half minutes for your opening statement. You have the floor now.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members.
I'm pleased to appear before you today.
When I received your invitation, I was very happy to see that you want to investigate ways to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, promote soil health, reduce the agriculture sector's dependence on fossil fuels and encourage farmers to adopt environmentally friendly practices. These are precisely the right questions and the right aims. Thank you for pursuing this work.
In the seven minutes I have left, I will share with you seven points that can contribute to the foundations of your work.
First, your work is important, timely and will build upon and, most importantly, will advance the work that is under way in parallel. Work to develop on-farm measures and government policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is advancing, but it can benefit from your support and assistance. I'll mention three pieces of work under way, as examples.
In 2019, the National Farmers Union produced the report, “Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis”. That report contains a detailed plan to reduce agricultural emissions by 30% by the mid-2030s to improve soils and to provide other environmental co-benefits.
In 2020, more than a dozen organizations came together to form Farmers for Climate Solutions. The Farmers for Climate Solutions task force has provided recommendations to the Government of Canada, and some of those recommended programs were included in budget 2021. Thank you for that.
In 2021, the NFU published its report, “Imagine If.... A Vision of a Near-Zero-Emission Farm and Food System for Canada”. That very positive and very readable report provides details on how farmers and policy-makers can co-operate to achieve ambitious and rapid emissions reductions in the coming decades. Your study will build upon work already under way. I mention the NFU's report so that you might have a sense of some of the research and resources that are available and that we are happy to share.
My second point is that in terms of reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, the most important thing you can know is that agriculture does not produce greenhouse gas emissions. Agricultural inputs produce greenhouse gas emissions. We know this for sure because we have 10,000 years of data. For 10,000 years, farmers farmed and they did not affect the atmosphere or the climate. That remained true until the early 20th century. Then, as farmers adopted a growing array of farm inputs, emissions soared. It follows inescapably that any low-emission farmer food system will be a low-input system.
My third point is that measures to reduce emissions can increase net farm income. Farmers' margins have decreased steeply. Another way of putting this is that for every dollar that farmers earn, a larger and larger share goes to pay for inputs. Farmers' increasing over-dependence on purchased inputs is driving emissions up and driving margins down. Thus, reducing dependence on purchased inputs can have the double benefit of reducing emissions and increasing incomes.
My fourth point is that nitrogen fertilizer is a huge environmental problem. Nitrogen fertilizer is unique among all human products and processes in that it is a major source of all three of the main greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. In its manufacture, nitrogen fertilizer is a major source of carbon dioxide. For example, the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in Manitoba is the Koch brothers' fertilizer plant in Brandon.
In its use in farm fields, nitrogen creates emissions of nitrous oxide, and nitrogen fertilizer produces significant sources of methane from its natural gas feedstock. In Saskatchewan, where I am from and where I farmed for many years, nitrogen fertilizer tonnage has quadrupled since 1991. There is a wide range of damaging environmental impacts from nitrogen overuse, including ocean dead zones, acidification and nitrate pollution of groundwater. We must soon decrease our use of nitrogen fertilizer.
Again, agriculture does not create environmental problems. Overuse of agricultural inputs creates environmental problems. Thus, low-input approaches are a key to environmental solutions.
My fifth point is a request that you not support the wrong solutions. Under the guise of fighting climate change, there is a struggle for control of Canadian farms. We have a climate crisis. As is often the case in a crisis, some are looking for ways to profit.
Agribusiness corporations have come forward with technologies they say can reduce emissions, technologies such as data platforms, artificial intelligence, precision agriculture, sensors, drones, bots, driverless tractors, etc. However, these technologies threaten to entangle farmers in a vast web of data flows, patents, software licences and technology platforms. This web of technology will reduce farmers' control and their margins. There is an alternative, namely, measures that focus on soil health, biodiversity, resilience, farm-supplied solutions and working with nature.
As you undertake your study, please remember that there are two competing solution frameworks: in one, farmers are made ever more dependent on industry; in the other, farmers get more of what they need from biology.
My sixth point is to please advance justice, diversity, equity and inclusion. In thinking about ways to make our farms less environmentally damaging, please also ensure that the programs and policies you advocate benefit all farms, of all scales and all production methods. Please look for ways to support small and medium-sized farms, young farmers, new farmers, BIPOC farmers and the full diversity of Canadians who want to produce food for our tables.
Finally, point number seven is that we must pursue emission reduction with near wartime levels of intensity, effectiveness and speed. Climate change is the most serious crisis ever to face humanity. Despite this, we're moving too slowly to counter its intensifying effects. I ask you to proceed as if faced with a massive emergency, because we are. Please be ambitious and courageous.
Thank you. The National Farmers Union, the Farmers for Climate Solutions coalition, and others have prepared plans to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, increase resilience and reduce environmental impacts. I look forward to sharing those with your committee as you move forward in developing your report.
Thank you very much.
I can get started. I'll cover off some of the comments that Pierre was going to begin with. I know that you're all very familiar with Pierre Lampron, the president of DFC. I am the vice-president of DFC and I farm in southern Manitoba, and this is a good opportunity here to speak on some of the ongoing sustainability efforts of Canadian dairy farmers.
Of course, I don't want to miss out on talking a little bit about the pleasure of speaking with you on World Milk Day, as you mentioned earlier. It's a day established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to recognize the importance of milk as a global food. This year's theme is sustainability, and that's an area where our sector has made some tremendous strides, and farmers across the nation are embracing technology to help us create that low-carbon future for dairy. We'll talk a little bit about that.
We are proud to say that the Canadian dairy sector already has one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world. Producing one litre of milk in Canada emits less than half the greenhouse gas emissions of the global average, and that's a statistic that comes with great pride to us. In addition, from 1990 to 2016, the carbon footprint of a litre of milk produced in Canada has decreased by 23% according to government data.
Over the years, dairy farming has made great strides in cutting emissions and the land and water required to produce each litre of milk. A life-cycle analysis conducted by independent experts showed that from 2011 to 2016 the Canadian dairy sector reduced its carbon footprint by 7% , water consumption by 6% and land use by 11%. There are few sectors in Canada or around the world that can match this kind of progress.
In 2019, the Dairy Farmers of Canada received international recognition from Unilever for its commitment towards sustainable milk production practices. In that context, our presentation today focuses on how our sector is moving the needle, and the role that government can play.
For me, like many dairy farmers who grew up on multi-generational farms, sustainability is really a part of my DNA. On my own farm, my mother started the practice of planting shelterbelts some 50 years ago, which greatly reduces soil erosion by wind. I've continued this practice to this day and sought to build on this with other sustainable practices, and if we had time I could talk about some of those.
That said, our sector continues to make extraordinary progress, and at the heart of it is really our proAction initiative. This is a program that is mandatory for all dairy farms in Canada and it provides an efficient and coordinated national framework for dairy farmers to demonstrate and document best practices and how to show responsible stewardship of the land and, of course, the animals that are under our care.
This fall, our sector will reach another significant milestone on the path to a more sustainable future when the environment module of our proAction initiative is fully implemented. This module's foundational requirement is the environmental farm plan or equivalent. This requirement enables farmers to develop and implement individual action plans evaluating areas of strength while addressing areas of opportunity. Of course, that's really important because we are so diverse across the country and across the regions, which is something that the environmental farm plan really acknowledges and addresses in recognizing the unique situations on farm.
As part of our environment module, farmers are also required to safeguard soil, groundwater and surface water through responsible management of waste water and manure. Another key factor in our progress has been our continued investments in research. Canadian dairy farmers allocate more than $2 million annually to dairy nutrition and production research projects.
In addition, many farmers work with a ruminant animal nutritionist to develop tailored diets for their herds to reduce methane that is emitted naturally through the process of digestion. Indeed, among agricultural sectors, dairy farms host the largest number of biodigesters. This technology can both reduce methane emissions from manure storage by up to 60%, and also produce renewable energy, which can be used on farm and sold back into the local power grids.
The key obstacle preventing the wider use of biodigesters is the associated cost, which can be in the millions. While farmers currently absorb the majority of these costs, government funding for biodigesters, as well as other forms of renewable energy, would certainly be welcomed by our industry.
Furthermore, as new feed and additives are being developed, with a goal of reducing enteric emissions, funding for research and prompt approval processes to bring them to market would really be of a great benefit to us.
Dairy farmers are also working to improve biodiversity. In a 2017 DFC survey, 55% of producers had increased conservation tillage practices, 11% had decreased summer fallow and 16% had begun planting perennial crops in the preceding five years.
Furthermore, in 2020, DFC worked with Ducks Unlimited Canada and researchers at the University of Guelph to better understand biodiversity practices on Canadian dairy farms.
On average, the farmers surveyed were implementing five to six practices on their farms, such as crop rotations, reduced tillage, reduced use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers and also the restoration of wetlands. Thanks to these innovations, the industry has become more efficient, making for a smaller environmental footprint for every litre of milk that we produce.
Canadian dairy farmers are increasingly adopting new practices in soil health and carbon sequestration, and have been building soil and capturing carbon on their farms for decades.
It'll be critical for our work to be recognized as the Government of Canada seeks to develop a federal greenhouse gas credit system. However, in the current proposed regulations, carbon offset activities that began on January 1, 2017, will not be recognized as they will be considered business as usual. However, best management practices that reduce emissions and sequester carbon involve a deliberate choice by the farmer each year at planting and harvest.
Thank you. I could certainly start on that.
One thing they're finding is that by having high-quality forages...corn silage, for example, is a feed that helps to reduce it—and also just by increasing the production. Our quotas are based on butter fat, for example, so we feed the cows in such a way that we can get the right balance between butter fat and protein so that it takes less milk to fill our quotas.
There are some really interesting things that are happening out there. It's really more in the developmental stages, but there are certain kinds of seaweed, for example, that are known to considerably reduce methane emissions in cattle. I think there are opportunities. Obviously, we don't all live by the sea, so we don't have access to it, but certainly we feed additives, right? So we'll feed things.... We have the basic diets, but what really boosts our production are things like wheat distillers, grain distillers, canola meal and all of these good things that create more efficiency.
Also, through research, I think it's really important to continue to look for those various kinds of plants and feed additives that would help us to further reduce our methane emissions. In a sense, we've begun that, and I think there's a lot more potential out there.
Thank you very much, Chair; and thank you to our witnesses.
I'll wish the Dairy Farmers of Canada a Happy World Milk Day. It seems appropriate to do that right off the bat.
Mr. Qualman, I'll start with you. I thought it was quite illuminating that you made the comment that agriculture is not the problem; it's our inputs. That struck me.
We have had previous testimony in May from Danone, which has invested some of its own money in helping farmers change their practices into regenerative agricultural methods. They have reported that those farmers have enjoyed the benefits of better soil health, lower input costs and higher yields. There seems to be a holy trinity right there.
It seems from your perspective, and I've read a lot of the literature from the NFU, that what is needed is a paradigm shift. As this committee is going to be writing its report and making its recommendations to the federal government, could you expand on some of the ways that the federal government can best serve in helping with that paradigm shift?
I know farmers already have a lot of base knowledge. They are quite independent and we don't want an Ottawa-knows-best approach, but we do want to identify those particular methods out there that are working in those three specific areas.
If you can expand on that concept, I think that would be quite helpful. Thank you.
Thank you for the question.
Indeed we do need a paradigm shift. We need a real transformation in agriculture and in just about every sector to make them less dependent on fossil fuels and to lower emissions. Agroecology is a key part of that, a focus on working with nature, getting more of what we need from biology and less from industry, on fewer petroindustrial inputs and more of what we need from biodiversity, soil organisms, and so on.
As for some of the ways the government can support that and really take an ambitious run at this idea of transformation, we've proposed a new agency, called the Canadian farm resilience agency, or CFRA. It's patterned on the PFRA.
The last time we had a massive environmental disaster in agriculture was the 1930s and the dust bowl. Coming out of that, the government created the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration to work with farmers to really change how things were done, to work on water supply, tillage, everything around the farm, putting in trees, and so on.
We think that was a very good model. Here we are in the 21st century and we have another climate crisis. We think CFRA could provide free soil testing, as well as independent extension agrologists—that is, agrologists who aren't focused on just selling more inputs, but instead, helping farmers to transition to a low-input, low-emission model. They could run demonstration farms where low-input, low-emission practices were refined and showcased, and so on.
The CFRA is an example of how government could lead that kind of transformation and how it could engage in what we talk about in terms of near wartime levels of work and effort on this front.
Thank you, Mr. Steinley.
Unfortunately, we have a hard stop at 5:30 today. We're going to have to cut it off here. I see that people would have another hour of questions for these witnesses.
Mr. Lampron, president of Dairy Farmers of Canada, thank you for being with us today.
Mr. Wiens, vice-president, thanks for being here with us.
Mr. Qualman, from the the National Farmers Union, you have a very interesting way of looking at this.
Perhaps we can invite all of you a second time.
Thanks everyone. We shall see you all on Thursday.
The meeting is adjourned.