CAPI has ambitious plans for 2020 but not quite finished with 2019

Sustainability needs a lot of work.Ottawa—The Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute produced several forward-looking research-based reports so far in 2019 and has plans for several more next year, says President and CEO Don Buckingham.In the coming weeks, it will release a report on the food producing sector, he said. Combined with the recommendations in the Senate agriculture report on the value-added sector released back in the spring, there will be plenty for the re-elected Liberals to chew on.Buckingham said CAPI is working to ensure the federal government hears the voice of the entire agrifood sector and bases its research and national dialogue work on the sector's needs in four key areas—enhancing natural capital, optimizing growth, facilitating trade and securing public trust. “We don't want to lose the momentum of operating growth that we have achieved in recent years.”In 2019, CAPI launched national dialogues involving experts from the agriculture, processing, government, academic and NGO sectors on important policy issues. Buckingham said it also wants to promote on the different expectations of the food system among the different generations of Canadians. “There is a great deal of interest in how our food is produced and we need tap into that.”Much of the work CAPI undertook this year had its roots in the 2016 report by Dominic Barton, now the ambassador the China, and looks at how to get governments and Canadians to understand that agrifood is one of the drivers of the national economy. The upcoming processing sector report will focus on that issue as well.Like many in agrifood, CAPI is also wrestling with “the disorder in the trading world,” Buckingham said. That ranges from understanding trade relationships to how countries can utilize quite different but sustainable agriculture systems.Sustainability is crucial for the future of food production but the term has come to have much widely different meanings, he said. The result is that developing a sustainability policy can become the proverbial can of worms.To deal with that uncertainty, CAPI and the U.S. Farm Foundation convened a conference earlier this year on sustainable food production in North America and the links between sustainability and trade are interconnected, he said.Among the many conclusions were that “The North American agri-food system has been successful at reducing system inputs and curbing negative externalities over the past three decades. But this has not been enough to prevent environmental degradation.”While the Canadian Agriculture Partnership has several years to run, talks on renewing it should begin soon and must include measures to make sustainability a clear goal, he said. Other vital topics are climate change's impact on sustainability and maintaining farmers financial ability to meet environmental obligations and remain in business, he said.Soil health is also an important topic and government needs to introduce policies that makes that clear to all farmers. At the same time, Canada has vastly different soils especially between the eastern and western halves of the country and that has to be included in any national policy.“Agriculture can be a solution provider on climate change and that's a good news story we need to get to urban Canadians,” he said.Among the topics covered in CAPI's research reports this year was clean growth in agriculture, which looked at the sector's contribution to combatting climate change. It suggested a number of areas where additional research would be beneficial.It also looked at optimizing land use for sustainable growth, the need to develop ways to back up claims that Canadian agriculture protects the environment and how to protect water resources used in farming.Work is ongoing on trade issues and how they impact Canadian agriculture as well as how a National Food Policy could affect the food production system. Another topic under study is the advent of food products produced through new laboratory technologies.Alex Binkley is a freelance journalist and writes for domestic and international publications about agriculture, food and transportation issues. He's also the author of two science fiction novels with more in the works.