A new report released from Fertilizer Canada and the Canola Council of Canada (CCC) shows Canada can continue to increase crop yields while significantly reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from fertilizer application using available tools and technology.

The report shows a 14 per cent reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 can be achieved without jeopardizing food security through the adoption of aggressive, but attainable levels of 4R best management practices (BMPs). 4R BMPs (Right Source @ Right Rate, Right Time, Right Place) help producers optimize fertilizer to reduce environmental impacts while maximizing economic outcomes.

“We support the federal government’s strong push to reduce Canada’s GHG emissions, but we cannot sacrifice food productivity,” says Karen Proud, President and CEO, Fertilizer Canada. “The approach to 2030 must be realistic, balance agricultural emission reductions with food production, and remain voluntary. Farmers are stewards of the land, and most Canadians believe they are best suited to understand the needs of their crops and their impact on the environment.”

The report looked at three scenarios for major Canadian cropping systems across Canada and built a path forward to 2030 based on broader implementation of 4R practices. The study looked at the impact of 4R BMPs on GHG emissions and the economic impact to growers.

By increasing crop yields and reducing fertilizer emissions through the adoption of an aggressive, but attainable level of 4R BMPs farm incomes would increase by $4.3 billion dollars by 2030. The cost to implement the necessary level of 4R BMPs would be $495 million per year.

“We are not starting at zero and many Canadian farmers have already adopted BMPs to reduce fertilizer emissions. Fertilizer Canada along with partners like CCC have championed the adoption of 4R BMPs for over 15 years,” added Proud. “With this report we now have a better picture of what is possible, and we look forward to working in partnership with the federal government towards an ambitious, but realistic emission reduction target.”

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to reducing fertilizer emissions, and it must be balanced with farm productivity and economic viability,” noted Jim Everson, President, CCC. “This report helps underscore the need to work collaboratively with farmers and industry across regions to ensure farmers have the flexibility and support to use the practices that are best suited to their farms and injects some new science-based data and economic analysis into this ongoing discussion.”

The groups note that for government programs to be effective, the data used to measure emissions reduction targets must be improved and focus on an intensity-based approach rather than an absolute reduction. Emissions intensity reduction focuses on reducing the emissions it takes to produce a bushel of crop whereas an absolute reduction would put a cap on the amount of fertilizer farmers are able to use and therefore limit the amount of food they are able to grow.

The Government of Canada announced their industry reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions in late 2020. These targets included a 30 per cent absolute reduction in the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide from field applications of nitrogen fertilizer by 2030.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau released the following statement:

“Agricultural producers are the first to be affected by climate change and are strongly committed to becoming more resilient and reducing their environmental impact. As part of our efforts to address what we consider to be the greatest threat to our food security: extreme weather events,  our Government has set a national voluntary target of a 30% reduction in GHG emissions arising from nitrogen fertilizer application by 2030.

I welcome the findings of the Fertilizer Canada report that nearly half of this target can be achieved without reducing yields with greater adoption of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship program - right source, right dose, right time, right place. This program saves money, produces more and reduces emissions all at the same time. While this industry report focuses on its own nutrient management initiative, there are several other ways to reduce emissions from fertilizer application.

We encourage fertilizer companies to keep developing new forms of fertilizers that emit less GHG into the atmosphere. Over the past 18 months, we have committed $1.5 billion to support research and innovation, in addition to helping farmers adopt more sustainable practices, such as 4R, and acquire clean technologies. We will continue to work with the agriculture sector and other partners to find ways to optimize nutrient management on the farm and establish a path forward to meeting this target.”