Science research needs to be integrated with industry practices for national and international progress.
Ottawa—The farm community needs a network of experts and practitioners to work together in tackling the obstacles to achieving clean growth in future food production, says the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI).
In a report full of ideas and information gathered during three think-tank conversations it conducted across the country during 2017-18, CAPI said the network could “link many of the challenges in adopting clean growth, like aligning private and public benefits to boost awareness and the adoption of new technologies, and then presenting suggestions to existing national and international policies and initiatives with sufficient incentives for them to be adopted.
“Essentially this network would integrate science and policy research with industry and business practices and provide policy, innovation, and technology suggestions that would be applicable at the micro-level while also creating a real impact on a national and international scale,” the report said.
Clean growth is needed to increase food production to meet growing world demand while enabling agriculture to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, cope with climate change and protect its soil and water resources.
The report said there is a three-step process for achieving clean growth in food production. First there is the science, innovation and technology needed to deal with production issues, then comes crafting beneficial management practices followed by their implementation through widespread adoption. The network “can engage in initiatives that focus on a holistic approach to clean growth, awareness and education, and put knowledge gained into practice to encourage sustainable agriculture and growth.
“The focus should be based on optimizing land use in Canada, while maintaining the sector’s competitiveness, by bringing a transdisciplinary group of experts together to both help prioritize goals to clean growth in agriculture, as well as identify the investments needed to achieve them,” it said. “In this way, collaboration between public and private stakeholders, industry, community and voluntary organizations can work towards ensuring the sector can optimize growth for a sustainable future.”
In terms of productivity gains and GHG reductions, Canadian farms are doing relatively well, the report said. Production has more “than doubled since 2007, while GHG emissions from agricultural activity remained relatively stable resulting in a decline in GHG emissions per unit of output.
“These changes are due to the introduction of various Beneficial Management Practices (BMPs), new technologies and innovations and policies to encourage them,” the report said. However, results vary across Canada because of varying agronomic conditions, product mixes, and the relative size of the sector in each province.
Collaboration by governments, industry and academia helped enable the steady decrease in GHG emissions in agriculture and that shows “the right combination of programs, incentives and policies could accelerate this transition towards becoming a net sink and providing solutions for the rest of the economy,” the report said.
A joint approach to science and technology, practices and implementation could also produce solutions to the other hurdles to clean growth, the report said. Experience has shown a number of approaches that aren’t productive. “The high cost of implementing and enforcing environmental regulations for agricultural producers often makes the effectiveness and desirability of these measures questionable.” Taxes and subsidies cannot always guarantee outcomes.
“Agricultural producers know that in order to ensure the long-term sustainability and profitability of their land, they need to be good stewards. By adopting BMPs to increase soil organic matter, optimize nitrogen and pesticide use, minimize GHG emissions, reduce manure, pesticide and fertilizer run-off and prevent soil erosion, producers can do their part. However, this requires knowledge and awareness, and investments in innovations and new technologies.”
While producers can benefit from these actions, so does society, the report said. “In addition to government policy interventions, voluntary actions and industry-led
initiatives will be needed to mitigate the environmental impacts of agriculture while ensuring long term growth and prosperity to ensure clean growth.” At the same time, farmers need access to widely available information on changes they should make.
New technologies could also help farmers ensure clean growth in agriculture. The emerging technologies include precision agriculture, robotics, artificial intelligence, drones as well as new developments in soil microbiomes. In addition, research on high yielding plant breeds with carbon deposition and storage characteristics, and grass and grazing systems that improve efficiencies hold significant promise. “They may however, need to be appropriately incentivized, which will require investments, new programs and other mechanisms.”