Trudeau Spars With Farmers on Climate Plan Risking Grain Output

Canada wants to cut fertilizer emissions, but farmers say it could result in less food


By Jen Skerritt, Bloomberg

July 27, 2022


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s push to accelerate the fight against climate change is sparking a showdown with the nation’s farmers, who say it’s threatening food supplies — and their profits.


The government is proposing to cut emissions from fertilizer 30% by 2030 as part of a plan to get to net zero in the next three decades. But growers are saying that to achieve that, they may have to shrink grain output significantly at a time when the world is scrambling for more supplies. Also at stake is the estimated C$10.4 billion ($8.08 billion) that farmers could lose this decade from the reduced output.


The tension comes as efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions related to energy are lagging, so policymakers are increasingly looking to other sectors, including agriculture. Climate targets on nitrogen in the Netherlands, for example, spurred protests from farmers worried they’d be forced out of business. Cattle and fertilizer are key sources of nitrogen emissions. Angry Dutch farmers brought cows to parliament, threatened to slaughter them and blockaded food distribution centers serving major supermarkets.


“If you push farmers against the wall with no wiggle room, I don’t know where this will end up,” said Gunter Jochum, president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, which represents growers who farm about 3 million acres. “Just look at what’s happening in Europe, in the Netherlands. They’ve had enough of it.”


Production losses could be significant, according to an analysis commissioned by Fertilizer Canada. Canada could lose over 160 million metric tons of canola, corn and spring wheat between 2023 and 2030 due to the plan, according to the report. That’s nearly double Canada’s expected grain production this season.


Agriculture emissions have soared in recent decades as farmers apply more fertilizer to increase output. Emissions from crop soils rose 87% to about 7.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide over three decades through 2020, according to the latest data from Environment and Climate Change Canada. By comparison, emissions from oil and gas extraction more than tripled by 69 metric tons of carbon dioxide in the same period.


Farm groups say the additional fertilizer is resulting in more food. Spring wheat yields rose more than 40% in the last decade through 2020, compared with the 1990s, Statistics Canada data show. Similarly, canola yields rose 56% over the same period...