Farmers for Climate Solutions is calling for the federal government to back financial incentives for climate-friendly farming practices as part of its COVID-19 response.
“We think that new investments through this economic recovery plan must also prioritize climate resilience so it’s lasting,” said the coalition’s director, Karen Ross.
This year, she added, farmers have faced the “double whammy” of unpredictable weather and the pandemic.
Quebec has faced drought and heat waves, and southern Alberta was pummelled by hail, Ross noted. Parts of Manitoba saw heavy flooding this summer, while other parts have been too dry.
“The ‘hashtag harvest from hell’ last year isn’t so far in the distance, either,” Ross added.
In a report released this August, Farmers for Climate Solutions argued that extreme weather is only set to increase and that lasting recovery must prioritize building climate resilience in agriculture to avoid having that recovery wiped out by weather events down the road.
The report contained five recommendations, including farmer incentives for farmers to transition to improved practices and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, transitions that take time and can cost money in the interim.
Manitou farmer Karen Klassen said canola has been most profitable for farmers in her area lately, and many are tempted to only sow canola and a few other crops.
“That’s a problem for the long term, but it’s actually financially fantastic for the short term,” she said.
Klassen, who farms with her father George Klassen, has diversified their crop rotation to nine crops to make their farm more ecologically resilient. Short term, however, cutting back canola will be a financial hit, she said.
She’s also transitioning part of the farm to organic production. This year, though, that section is planted with a green manure and won’t make the farm any money until next year.
Klassen argued that financial incentives would get them, and others in a similar situation, through to a place where they would need less fertilizer and other inputs and be better able to absorb the impact of weather events.
Anastasia Fyke, who farms near Garland, Man., pointed to a lack of agronomic support and structure for non-conventional farmers.
Fyke said she would like to see programs that reduce the risk of transitioning to regenerative methods.
“People aren’t willing to take a risk because they’re already taking so much risk that they can’t handle any more,” she said.
The report suggests adapting existing risk-management programs like AgriInsurance to deliver incentive benefits. The group cited an Iowa program in which farmers who plant a cover crop get their next year’s crop insurance premium trimmed by $5 per acre.
Prince Edward Island also uses crop insurance discounts to encourage changes for environmental reasons, according to the report.
The report also asks for investment in “agri-environmental” agrology services, especially through farmer-to-farmer training and mentorship.
“I would love a mentor,” said Fyke, who has centred her focus on soil health and regenerative practices. “I’m a young farmer and I do work with my dad and my uncle, but I’m definitely the one driving the regenerative tractor here.”
This year, Fyke is experimenting with a seed dressing made of worm castings. She then tests the plants from that field with a Brix refractometer, which shows the sugar levels in the plants compared to conventional fields.
So far the field with the worm castings is looking good, she said.
Fyke has previously delved into books on soil health and regenerative agriculture, but having an experienced regenerative farmer come alongside would be a boon.
“Farmers are some of farmers’ most trusted messengers,” Ross said, arguing that early adopters of these systems now have years of good results — results she feels should be showcased.
The group is also calling for supports to encourage on-farm use of renewable energy sources and for supports for young or newer farmers like Fyke and Klassen.
In the writing of the report, Farmers for Climate Solutions consulted with producers across Canada, agriculture organizations, and the offices of the federal ministers responsible for green recovery in Canada.
Ross said the federal government has asked them to quantify the greenhouse gas reduction potential and cost of implementing the five recommendations.