Examining Canadian Agriculture’s Environmental Contribution

AGRI Committee’s Stewards of the Land: Examining Canadian Agriculture’s Environmental Contribution Overview.

Agriculture and the Environment – Role of Soil:

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada create a framework to encourage Canadian farmers who use nature-based solutions to climate change on their farms, in recognition of the good work already being done by farmers to reduce farm emissions, including no-till, low-till, cover cropping and intercropping agroecological farming methods, for example, by considering paying them for the ecosystem services they provide.

According to committee witnesses, the challenge with implementing this recommendation is that some nature-based practices aren’t accessible. Primarily, the need for heavy-machinery in the context of labour shortages degrades soil health and generates nitrous oxide emissions. Secondly, nature-based solutions are not easily applicable everywhere in Canada depending on the soil.

To look out for: Government support to balance between nature-based solutions, soil quality, and applicability.

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada work to encourage best practices by which farms in eastern Canada can sequester more carbon per hectare, such as reducing soil compaction.

Witnesses representing the livestock and forage sectors said they were alarmed by the loss of growth in these lands. Additionally, representatives of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association said that land use changes are also because cattle producers have less access to risk management tools, like crop insurance, than crop producers.

To look out for: Government initiatives that encourage holistic growth of land, taking into account soil health and carbon emission reduction.

Topics of interest: Soil Health

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada, in collaboration with provinces and territories:

  • invest in research and technology to help cattle producers build upon conservation practices already in use;
  • develop a comprehensive plan to protect and restore native grasslands, to better understand land conservation and reduction of industry emissions, while increasing carbon sequestration; and
  • consider ways to continue to enhance and incorporate the role of livestock animals in regenerating grasslands.

Witnesses had recommended a Canada-wide inventory and emphasized preservation for grasslands and wetlands, along with a comprehensive land use strategy by all levels of government to balance urban expansion, agricultural production, and environmental protection.

To look out for: This latter point was recommended to be integrated into Bill C-203, An Act respecting soil conservation and soil health. Recommendation 4 follows a similar logic.

Topics of interest: Federal Provincial Territory Commitments/Advancements.

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada, in partnership with stakeholders as well as with provincial, territorial, and municipal governments:

  • collect information on grasslands, pasturelands, and wetlands, to balance urban expansion, agricultural production, and environmental protection, in respect of their respective jurisdictions;
  • investigate methods by which to reclaim unused federal land for the purpose of converting it into productive farmland, blended with native ecosystems; and
  • promote regenerative agriculture in urban and suburban areas.


Topics of interest: Federal Provincial Territory Commitments/Advancements.

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada develop a national soil strategy action plan to improve soil monitoring, data-sharing and promote best practices to improve and protect soil health, in collaboration with researchers, land holders, industry, provincial and territorial governments, respecting their jurisdictions, as well as First Nations, and academics, in a manner similar to the analysis and evaluation of the strategy introduced by the government of Australia in 2022.


To look out for: National soil strategy action plan.

 Topics of interest: Communication of Science-based decisions and agriculture, Soil health, Federal Provincial Territory Commitments/Advancements.

Agriculture and the Environment in Canada — Biodiversity:

To look out for: Without specific recommendations, the committee has highlighted the importance of cattle pastures in maintaining biodiversity; regenerative agriculture techniques to achieve biodiversity benefits; and diversified crop rotation to maintain biodiversity.

Agriculture and the Environment in Canada — Fertilizer and Precision Agriculture:

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada recognize the importance of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program as a sustainable fertilizer management tool and encourage the adoption of other “smart” fertilizer application methods.

The committee cautioned the overuse of fertilizer due to its excess nutrients, particularly nitrogen. When applied optimally, it is possible to both minimize the environmental impact of fertilizers and maximize yields. That is the purpose of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program, which “emphasizes applying the right source of fertilizer at the right rate at the right time and in the right place.”

To look out for: Precision agriculture in combination with the 4R program for fertilizer management in order to minimize GHG emissions.


Agriculture and the Environment in Canada — Recycling Farm Residue and the Fight Against Food Waste:

No recommendations were made. However, while using crop residue for energy can have drawbacks by reducing soil carbon, some technologies like thermal conversion can transform residuals into biocarbon, which acts as a fertilizer, retaining nutrients and carbon in the soil.

Recycling food waste is essential to reduce environmental impact, as substantial food waste leads to methane emissions in landfills. Initiatives like AAFC’s Food Waste Reduction Challenge are steps in the right direction.

The livestock sector plays a crucial role in commercializing agricultural and food waste, upcycling products not suitable for human consumption.

Insect farming, particularly black soldier flies, offers an environmentally friendly solution. They accumulate high levels of calcium and can be used as feed for livestock, poultry, and aquaculture, promoting animal health and productivity. Government support for research and regulatory flexibility is needed in this industry.

To look out for: Thermal conversion, food waste reduction initiatives, and insect farming.

Government Initiatives — Carbon Pollution Pricing:

Without making recommendations, the committee highlighted the government’s carbon pollution pricing system to reduce GHG.

While witnesses appreciate such initiatives, they express concerns about potentially placing early adopters of green practices at a disadvantage. Some suggest using an earlier baseline year to account for early adoption of beneficial practices. Private offset systems, like Nori in the U.S., use alternative baseline years when necessary due to data availability.

To look out for: Rewarding previous efforts and encouraging ongoing adoption of best practices to maintain carbon sequestration and emission reductions.

Government Initiatives — Regulation of New Technologies:

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada support the livestock sector in reducing methane emissions and its impact on climate change by creating a new environmentally-driven and science-based regulatory pathway for agricultural and veterinary products with environmental benefits, such as 3-NOP feed additives.

Witnesses emphasized the importance of regulatory flexibility and a science-based approach to encourage the adoption of technologies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in agriculture.

Regulatory agencies were urged to adopt a science-based approach that fosters innovation in areas like plant breeding and pesticide licensing. A $50 million investment in the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) was noted, with a call to focus on the timely delivery of innovations to farmers and program delivery.

Gene editing technology, which enables targeted changes to plant DNA, requires regulatory modernization. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) held consultations on the treatment of gene-edited products, and new guidelines for gene-edited plants and plants with novel traits have been published. The technology is seen as important, especially in the context of climate change, to develop drought-tolerant seeds.

To look out for: New environmentally-driven and science-based regulatory pathway for agricultural and veterinary products with environmental benefits; call for Science-Based Regulatory Innovation in Plant Breeding and Pesticide Licensing; regulatory modernization of gene editing technology.

Government Initiatives — Support for Research, Innovation and Data Access and Collection:

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada further its support for Indigenous-led research to promote Reconciliation and the use of Indigenous knowledge systems in sustainable farming and agriculture.

To look out for: Collaboration between farmers, scientists and other collaborators to develop practices and technology; Potential federal funding for research and innovation programs.

Government Initiatives — Other:

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada recognize environmentally positive measures by:

  • Working with industry and researchers to approve a method for assessing the environmental contribution of an innovation that provides fair value to farmers implementing these innovations;
  • Supporting growth and investments in the plant-based proteins agriculture and agri-food sectors;
  • Giving farmers access to funding using a decentralized approach, not necessarily as part of a set government program, since entrepreneurs are in a better position to decide the right time to invest; and
  • Providing recognition and compensation for environmentally positive measures introduced in the past.


To look out for: Flexible and decentralized funding that targets sustainable practices implemented by new and old adopters.

Bee Mortality — Federal Actions to Strengthen Canadian Honey Bee Colonies (Import Controls):

The Committee recommends that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), as part of its new risk assessment of United States bee imports, assess the possibility of allowing imports from smaller entities (e.g., states, municipalities and individual businesses), within the United States, notably those located in safe zones in northern climates that meet Canadian requirements, while also addressing Canadian beekeeper concerns over bees with so-called “Africanized” genetics. If the CFIA chooses not to allow additional imports from the United States, it should explain its reasons for this decision and make clear the corrective actions United States beekeepers would have to take to reduce the risk associated with their imports.

 In addition, in 2022 the CFIA requested stakeholders to submit new scientific evidence regarding honey bee health in the United States, and a new risk assessment is expected to be completed in early 2024. Witnesses suggested that Canada and the United States should collaborate on bee health issues, aiming to develop a common approach to bee pests and parasites through a North American bee strategy.

To look out for: CFIA study into US-Canada collaboration on bee imports between states, municipalities and businesses.

Bee Mortality — Federal Actions to Strengthen Canadian Honey Bee Colonies (Domestic Bee Production):

At the same time, some witnesses also encouraged efforts to improve Canada’s self-sufficiency in honey bee supply and to reduce its reliance on imports.

Bee Mortality — Federal Actions to Strengthen Canadian Honey Bee Colonies (Disease Monitoring and Surveillance):

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada in partnership with the beekeeping sector and the provinces and territories:

  • Invest more in apiculture research with the goal of making Canada self-sufficient in producing and selecting queens and bees;
  • Investigate the existence and extent of possible causal relationships between soil degradation, climate change, and increased concentrations of parasites of desired species like honeybees, including but not limited to varroa mites, hive beetles, and wax moths;
  • Employ advanced technology to protect and facilitate breeding of pollinators; and
  • Support greater networking among government, academia and industry research and development centres on all causes of insect pollinator mortality.

To look out for: Enhanced role of technology, like the Nectar app, in aiding beekeepers in monitoring hive health and identifying the causes of overwinter mortality. Calls for government-led “tech transfer” teams to educate smaller beekeepers about innovative tools and practices.

Bee Mortality — Federal Actions to Strengthen Canadian Honey Bee Colonies (Habitat Conservation and Biodiversity):

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada support the research and development of new biopesticides.

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada ensure the Pest Management Regulatory Authority has the necessary resources to fulfill its mandate and that it conduct a comprehensive study on pesticides, including neonicotinoids, that examines their impact and cumulative effect on humans, bees, and native pollinators as well as their economic impact on the agricultural industry.

While neonic pesticides are banned in Quebec, they are still widely used in treated seeds in other parts of Canada, unless recommended by an agronomist. The impact of pesticides on the health of native and wild pollinators was also discussed, emphasizing the decline in these populations and the need for greater monitoring and protection.

To look out for: R&D of new biopesticides, neonic pesticide study by Pest Management Regulatory Authority.

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada work with the provinces and territories to develop a strategy to utilize and diversify natural infrastructure, including wild forages, to protect native pollinators on agricultural land.

To look out for: A Biodiversity initiative, similar to the EU’s, that provides financial incentives to farmers to preserve habitats of forage for wild pollinators.

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