Sask. farmers, ag organizations question 'arbitrary target' to reduce fertilizer-related emissions by 30%

A group of farmers and agricultural organizations met with Conservative politicians in Regina to discuss the federal government's goal to reduce fertilizer-related emissions by 30 per cent. MPs say they will take concerns back to Ottawa.

Federal government soliciting ideas from farmers on how to reach target

Three men in blazers and collared shirts stand in front of a group of microphones while meeting with news reporters in a Regina hotel. The first looks into the camera with his hands clasped in front of him; the second speaks into the microphones with his hands open before him; the third stands in profile with a concerned expression. A hallway is seen on the left side of the frame.
Conservative MPs Andrew Scheer, John Barlow and Warren Steinley met with farmers and representatives from agricultural organizations in Regina this week. (Patrick Book/CBC)

Farmers and politicians gathered in Regina on Thursday to talk fertilizer.

A federal government proposal to reduce fertilizer-related greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent has been met with significant concern by farmers and politicians. Three Conservative MPs met with farmers and agricultural organizations at the Atlas Hotel to hear their concerns, many of which focus on what they call an "arbitrary target" and a lack of consultation.

Todd Lewis farms near Gray, Sask., and serves as second vice-president with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. He said farmers want clarity about what the government wants.

"Maybe under the current modelling, if we get the modelling right, we could be at 30 per cent overnight. Nobody really knows where it came from or what it means," Lewis said. 

"Thirty per cent of what, I think is the confusion part for producers. Is it 30 per cent of fertilizer? Thirty per cent of what emissions?"

Lewis insisted that farmers are constantly looking at ways to reduce costs and save money, and many are already upgrading equipment, testing soil, and refining where and how much fertilizer they use.

He admitted that some of the concern being raised has to do with the possibility of reduced fertilizer use leading to smaller yields and lower income for farmers, but he felt the conversation needs to be larger than that.

"This isn't a partisan issue. It's about our livelihood, and it's about what farmers want to do to continue to support not only their livelihood but really domestic production and international production as a huge part of what we do here in Saskatchewan."

Regina-area Conservative MPs Andrew Scheer and Warren Steinley met with the group, along with Alberta Conservative MP John Barlow. Barlow echoed the concern about the Liberal government's target.

"I don't think you'd talk to a single producer who doesn't want to use less fertilizer and use less fuel. They want to be as efficient as possible. The frustration with this is what is this arbitrary number — this 30 per cent that they've come up with. Where did it come from, why that number, and are you giving them any other wiggle room or discussion on how we can reach that?"

The federal government is soliciting ideas from farmers on how to reach the 30 per cent reduction this summer. The Conservative MPs say there should be more direct consultation, and they vowed to take the group's concerns back to Ottawa.

Not all producers take umbrage with the government's target, however. Bladworth, Sask.-area farmer Ian McCreary has done extensive work to minimize his use of nitrogen fertilizer and argued targets are less important than just getting to work.

Ian McCreary is a farmer in Saskatchewan. (Submitted by Ian McCreary)

"I really think it's irresponsible for people to fight with having a target to reduce emissions. It's not a question of whether or not we need to reduce the emissions from nitrogen fertilizer. It's a question of how do we do it efficiently and effectively."

McCreary, who was not at the meeting, lamented the reactionary stance being taken by many in the grain and oilseed sectors, noting that cattle producers stepped up when challenged to reduce emissions on that side of the industry. 

"We as farmers are on the front line of climate change," he said.


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