On July 20, federal, provincial and territorial ministers of agriculture gathered in Saskatoon to finalize a five-year multilateral agricultural policy framework (APF) that promises to have a significant impact on Ontario farmers in the future.
This multi-billion-dollar framework includes several distinct programs, and when they are combined, they represent the main funding mechanism by which all orders of government financially support Canada’s agricultural sector. It has significant and far-reaching implications for farmers in Ontario and across the country.
Over the past year, farmers have been meeting with government officials and attending consultation sessions to ensure this next APF includes unprecedented financial commitments to help Canada’s farmers continue to adapt to the climate crisis and allow them to more readily adopt practices and technologies that can help reduce on-farm emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change.
In fact, given the worsening effects of the climate crisis on farmers and the clear evidence that immediate change is needed to avoid the direst consequences of climate change, some have dubbed this next five-year framework as ‘the last best chance for effective climate mitigation in agriculture’.
Now is the time for ambitious funding initiatives that will allow Ontario’s farmers to build more resilient farms and ensure that our food and farming systems can continue to be competitive amid a changing climate.
Following the meeting, ministers released news that they had agreed in principle to the next framework, set to run between 2023 and 2028. The Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership (SCAP) included an additional $500 million, representing a 25 per cent increase in cost-share funding from the previous five-year agreement.
For those farmers and farm organizations who were hoping for unprecedented action on climate change within this next APF, there was certainly some positive news in the announcement. Some highlights include:
- A commitment to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by three to five megatonnes over the lifespan of the framework.
- A commitment to increase funding for Indigenous farmers and food providers, women farmers and youth farmers.
- $250 million for the Resilient Agricultural Landscape Program (RALP) to fund farming practices that support carbon sequestration, adaptation and other environmental co-benefits.
- A one-year review period of current Business Risk Management programs to better integrate climate risk.
- The requirement for large farms to perform an agri-environmental risk assessment or Environmental Farm Plan by 2025 to participate in AgriInvest.
- A reiteration of the commitment to reduce emissions from nitrogen fertilizer by 30 per cent.
While the above announcements are a step in the right direction, they aren’t nearly as ambitious as is required to meet the severity of the moment. Increasingly severe and frequent weather events will continue to raise the amount of risk within our farming systems.
Urgent, ambitious action is sorely needed to support farmers in adapting our farms and adopting practices that can reduce on-farm emissions.
For instance, the national farmer coalition that the NFU helped create, Farmers for Climate Solutions, released a report earlier this year detailing recommendations that would have allowed for more than double the amount of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions over the lifespan of the framework.
While $500 million more in cost share funding is certainly a win for farmers, it remains unclear how many of these federal-provincial cost-share program dollars will go toward environmental and emissions reduction programming.
Now that the meeting has concluded and the new SCAP enters its final phase, this is probably the most relatable and crucial step for Ontario farmers. The next several months will involve bi-lateral negotiations between the federal government and its individual provincial partners.
With other provinces and territories, Ontario will develop its own made-in-Ontario programs that seek to address the needs and realities of Ontario farmers. When it comes to the existential threat that the climate crisis brings to our food and farming systems, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. We need programs that meet farmers where they are and don’t prescribe solutions that will never work within an Ontario context.
As a farming community, we need unbiased information and support to help us balance maintaining profitability with decreasing on-farm emissions. Only through sustainability can we maintain long term competitiveness within the market.
These next few months will see the Ontario and federal governments go back and forth concerning what Ontario’s programs and priorities will be, and the message must be clear and resounding from the farm community. Farmers need help dealing with the climate crisis and if we are given the financial support we need, we can be a big part of the solution.
– Stuart Oke is a farmer with the NFU and an Ontario representative with Farmers for Climate Solutions.