NFU paper lays out solutions for climate, farming challenges

MarketsFarm — The global climate crisis is interlinked with the financial crisis on Canadian farms, according to a new discussion paper from the National Farmers Union (NFU).

The paper proposes changes to agriculture practices that could help the sector become part of the solution to both major issues.

Compiled by Darrin Qualman in collaboration with the NFU, the 102-page document titled Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis: A Transformative Strategy for Canadian Farmers and Food Systems sets out a number of short- and long-term proposals for reducing emissions while also improving farm profitability.

“The farm crisis is real, as is the climate crisis,” said NFU national president Katie Ward in the foreword to the paper. “Left unchecked, the climate crisis will dramatically deepen the income crisis on Canada’s farms as farmers struggle to deal with continued warming, more intense storms, and increasingly unpredictable weather.

“It is clear that climate change represents a major challenge to agriculture, but it also represents an opportunity,” she added.

A focus on high agricultural inputs in order to maximize outputs was cited as a major cause of both rising global temperatures and falling farm profits, with the policies and actions recommended in the report generally moving the industry towards a lower input model.

“The solution to the farm crisis and the solution to the climate crisis are, to a large degree, the same: a decreased dependence on high-emission petro-industrial farm inputs and an increasing reliance on ecological cycles, biology, energy from the sun, and the knowledge, wisdom, and judgment of farm families on the land,” said the report.

The paper outlined numerous policies and practices that would lead to increased efficiencies, including a shift to electricity from fossil fuels.

With synthetic nitrogen fertilizer noted as a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, the paper advocated for a rather balanced minimum-impact no-till (MINT) cropping system.

Such a system, the paper said, would take the most promising organic agriculture practices (crop rotations, intercropping, reduced inputs) and combine those with more conventional no-till practices such as strategic chemical use to best reduce emissions while also improving the bottom line for farmers.

The paper also had a balanced view on livestock. While industrial cattle production has been linked to increased methane levels, cattle and other ruminant animals were also seen as an indispensable part of healthy ecosystems.

While many individual actions highlighted in the paper may help both the climate and farm crises, the paper noted widespread government-led mobilization will be needed if there is to be a transformation of the energy, food, transportation and manufacturing systems.

katie ward NFU
Chicago | Reuters -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed the discovery of unapproved, genetically modified (GM) wheat plants growing in an un-planted agricultural field in Washington state. There was no evidence the wheat had entered the food supply, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said in a statement on Friday. The wheat is resistant to glyphosate, a widely used herbicide commonly referred to as Roundup. "USDA is collaborating with our state, industry and trading partners, and we are committed to providing all our partners with timely and transparent information about our findings," the statement said. There are currently no commercially approved genetically modified wheat varieties, and incidences of rogue plants are rare. However, unapproved plants were found in 2018 in Alberta, in 2016 in Washington state, in 2014 in Montana and in 2013 in Oregon. A Bayer CropScience spokeswoman said the latest finding may have occurred on the site of a former field trial. Last year Bayer bought Monsanto, which in the late 1990s and early 2000s developed wheat genetically modified to withstand its Roundup glyphosate herbicide. Monsanto shelved the genetically engineered wheat in 2004 amid market concern about rejection from foreign buyers. The United States was the world's second-largest wheat exporter after Russia in the 2018-19 marketing year. "We have been informed by USDA of a possible detection of GM wheat in Washington State, possibly on the site of a former field trial," Bayer CropScience spokeswoman Charla Lord said. "We are co-operating with USDA to gather more information and facts as the agency reviews the situation," Lord said. Samples of the wheat plants from the field in Washington were sent to the USDA's Federal Grain Inspection Service lab in Kansas City, Missouri, as well as a USDA lab in Pullman, Washington, for testing and confirmation, according to a joint statement from the National Association of Wheat Growers and U.S. Wheat Associates, a trade group that promotes U.S. wheat sales. Bayer, which inherited litigation over Roundup with its US$63 billion acquisition of Monsanto last year, faces lawsuits by more than 13,400 plaintiffs in the United States, alleging the product causes cancer. A California jury last month awarded more than US$2 billion to a couple who claimed Roundup caused their non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. It was the largest U.S. jury verdict to date against the company in litigation over the chemical. -- Julie Ingwersen is a Reuters commodities correspondent in Chicago; additional reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago.

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