Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue No. 65 - Evidence - Meeting of May 2, 2019
OTTAWA, Thursday, May 2, 2019
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 8 a.m. to examine and report on issues relating to agriculture and forestry generally (topic: the matter of soil conditions in Canada, how soils are used and what steps are being taken to protect them).
Senator Diane F. Griffin (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: I’m Senator Diane Griffin from Prince Edward Island, chair of the committee. Today, the committee is going to examine the matter of soil conditions in Canada, how soils are used, and what steps are being taken to protect them.
Before we hear from the witnesses, I would like to start by asking the senators to introduce themselves.
Senator Mercer: Terry Mercer from Nova Scotia.
Senator R. Black: Rob Black from Ontario.
Senator Kutcher: Stan Kutcher, Nova Scotia.
Senator C. Deacon: Colin Deacon, also from Nova Scotia. We’re well represented.
Senator Dagenais: I am Jean-Guy Dagenais from Quebec.
The Chair: Yes, we are very well represented from Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
We have a panel of five experts from whom we are looking forward to hearing: Dr. David A. Lobb, Professor, Landscape Ecology, Department of Soil Science, Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the University of Manitoba; Dr. David Burton, Professor, Department of Plant, Food, and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Agriculture, Dalhousie University — you will note, another Nova Scotian; — Ms. Gabrielle Ferguson, Agronomist — thank you for being here; — Mr. Don Lobb, a farmer, a man who actually gets out there and uses the soil; and from the Canadian Forage and, Grassland Association, we have Mr. Cedric J. MacLeod, Executive Director.
Thank you very much for accepting our invitation to appear. As you know, you will make a presentation and then we’ll have questions after. We have two hours; it will go quickly. Normally, we have one hour for a panel, so this seems like a real pleasure in terms of having enough time to be able to grill you well.
Senator Moodie from Ontario has just joined us.
Mr. Don Lobb, please go ahead first. He will be followed by his son, David Lobb, and we will go from there. Mr. Don Lobb, the floor is yours.
Don Lobb, Farmer, as an individual: Honourable members of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, thank you for the opportunity to participate in this meeting.
The productivity of our soil continues to be a risk. Much has changed since the Senate of Canada’s Soil at Risk report of 1984. That report set the stage for important activities and programs to support soil care and awareness. We made good progress.
Then funding and focus disappeared. Programs ended. Soil research lost favour. Technology transfer programs like the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration in the West and provincial soil extension program in the East were diminished or withdrawn.
Recent high crop prices have resulted in a return to soil abuse, so soil suffers. Now, farm size has grown rapidly and with that rental arrangements have resulted in soil being treated as a commodity to be used and used up. Too many in the agricultural community accept soil degradation as a cost of doing business.
Crops grown for ethanol bring an unnecessary loss of carbon to the atmosphere and loss of finite resources like phosphorus to waterways. This is not renewable energy.
Increases in crop yield have come with improved crop-reduction technology. This technology temporarily masks the effect of declining organic matter. Data from actual soil tests in Ontario show dramatic loss of organic matter where most soybeans are grown and some organic matter loss in almost all areas. Organic matter is essential to soil life and productivity.
As crop types and systems change across Canada, who is monitoring impact?
We have widespread claims of great soil care achievement in Canada. My personal observation is that on the prairie direct-seeded land, soil under the crop residue was almost totally disturbed. This brings decline in soil organic matter, soil biota and soil aggregates, and results in tillage erosion. This is not conservation agriculture. Most Eastern no-till cropping is done intermittently. This does not provide optimal carbon storage or demonstrate commitment to soil care and improvement.
Misuse of the terms “direct seeding” and “no-till” adds further confusion to the story. Our soil care progress is overstated.
During the past decade, we have experienced a return to more tillage. Farm machinery companies have capitalized on recent high-crop returns with the flashy promotion of shallow high-speed tillage. This results in accelerated carbon loss to the atmosphere and creates soil instability, which puts water quality at risk. Long-term benefits to soil productivity have not been shown.
Statistics Canada records show that from 1971 to 2011, just 40 years, soil loss from agriculture claimed 3.9 million hectares, the equivalent of a swath of our very best soil, seven and a half kilometres wide, right across Canada. The loss rate is rapidly accelerating. This pushes food production onto more fragile lands.
We must do better. Food is the first requirement of life. Ninety-five per cent of our food comes from the soil; thus soil protection and care are not optional.
Is it time to recognize soil care and protection as a societal responsibility rather than an agricultural burden?
Is it time that any support to agriculture be conditional on the use of soil care practices that bring rewards or penalties?
Is it time that soil be treated as a critical, essential natural resource, with protection and care moved away from the federal and provincial ag ministries where they are trumped by commodity priorities?
Ultimately, these measures would provide benefit to both farmers and society.
Do we have the vision and the will to bring change? We have the means to move forward. For the first time in history, we have the technology and the tools to produce food and fibre in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way. We have some farmers who are successfully and profitably protecting and improving soil on every farm type across Canada. They care. They have set the bar.
Now we have a Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry that is taking the time to give honest consideration to the state of our soil today. It is time to take stock of our situation and opportunities. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Lobb.
Professor David A. Lobb will be our second speaker. Please go ahead, sir.
David A. Lobb, Professor, Landscape Ecology, Department of Soil Science, Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, University of Manitoba, as an individual: Thank you for the opportunity to address you today.
For my responses to the subjects you have asked to be addressed, I have drawn heavily from two documents, which I have provided to the committee. This pair of documents summarizes 30 years of my research on soil erosion and soil conservation across Canada. These documents have been prepared for presentation at the Global Symposium on Soil Erosion in May in Rome, a meeting organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Also for your information, I have provided a resume of my credentials pertaining to the subject.
Regarding the first point about the status of agricultural soils and the loss of crop productivity, the second point, in the early 1980s, the cost of soil degradation in Canada was assessed and it was estimated that soil erosion cost about half a billion dollars — about one billion dollars in today’s dollars — erosion being the most costly form of soil degradation.
These values were alarming at the time, and this alarm was the major impetus for the development and enhancement of soil conservation technologies and practices, and for increased awareness and adoption of these technologies and practices throughout the agricultural industry and across Canada.
No-till climbed to about 60 per cent of the cropped area across the country and summer fallow dropped from 14 per cent down to 3 per cent. No assessment of the cost of soil degradation has been carried out since.
In recent years there has been a steady decline in the interest in soil conservation. There is a pervasive belief amongst stakeholders that we know all there is to know about soil erosion and conservation, and that the job is done and we need to move on. I hear that on both sides of the border.
After almost 40 years I felt there was a need to improve upon and update cost estimates to assess status and progress.
Now that we have a more complete and accurate understanding of soil erosion processes, there are better models for assessment and prediction; there are more comprehensive and accurate databases to serve as better model inputs for assessment and prediction; and recent advances in computer technology, programming and data science have made it possible to assemble and analyze massive data sets. In response to this need, the study summarized in the attached was initiated. The major findings of this study are:
The cropland area subject to moderate to very high annual rates of soil erosion has decreased from 37 per cent to 10 per cent, between 1971 and 2011, which may seem good, but 10 per cent is still quite a considerable amount of area. This reduction in soil erosion is in response to the adoption of conservation tillage practices and the decline in the use of summer fallow.
Second point. Cumulative soil losses on these eroded areas has pushed yield losses into a state of deep decline. As soil organic carbon content decreases, a loss in soil organic carbon results in a disproportionately larger loss in crop yields. So increasing from a 17 per cent yield loss in 1971, those areas are now at a 60 per cent yield loss in 2011, when we did the last analysis.
Third point. Although the area experienced moderate to high annual rates of soil erosion — and you should think of rates as being a deficit — it has decreased substantially. The cumulative soil loss, which is like the debt, as indicated by soil carbon content, has decreased crop yields from 17 per cent on that 37 per cent of the land in 1971 down to 60 per cent loss on 10 per cent. This indicates little net improvement in soil productivity in response to adoption of less intensive tillage operations after all that effort.
The cost of soil erosion in terms of lost crop yield has increased from $1 billion per year back in 1971 to $3 billion in 2011. That’s a dramatic increase in absolute cost of soil erosion and it’s a slight increase in the relative cost. Both about 10 per cent.
More aggressive measures to increase soil organic matter levels and restore the productive capacity of eroded soils are needed, such as use of soil landscape restoration. Simply adopting less intensive tillage practices is only half the solution.
Second point. To expand on that, as demonstrated in the study referred to, the loss of soil through erosion has a strong direct impact on crop production and farm economics. In that study it does not capture indirect on-farm impacts, such as increased input use of fertilizer and pesticides, resulting from increased soil-landscape variability. It does not include any additional equipment and operational costs resulting from the use of degraded soils and variable soils. It does not capture the impact on quality of crops. And this study does not capture off-farm impacts, such as siltation of ditches and waterways, or the added eutrophication of surface waters and its impact on industrial and recreational use of these waters.
These economic and environmental impacts could be substantial, but they are very difficult to assess and therefore they are never done. It would be reasonable to assume these costs exceed the cost of that lost crop field which I referred to in my study.
My third point is the extent of loss of high quality cropland to non-agricultural development. I cannot speak to this subject with quantitative evidence, but having worked in land-use planning in Atlantic Canada, and having worked and lived across the country, it is obvious to me that urban and rural residential development consume some of this country’s best cropland. I have seen this firsthand around Grand Falls and Fredericton in New Brunswick, around Guelph and Toronto in Ontario, and around Winnipeg in Manitoba — all places where I have lived. This loss of cropland is very common across the country.
It is not clear to me that as an industry or a country we have reached a critical loss of high quality cropland to this non-agricultural development. However, this is an issue that should be very seriously looked at by this committee.
Fourth point. Actions necessary required to mitigate any negative impacts.
In terms of the potential contributions of new technologies, our understanding of soil erosion processes and soil conservation processes has changed quite a bit in the past 30 years. We know there is a great need to focus on soil movement, with our current understanding of tillage erosion, in addition to looking at crop residue cover to reduce soil erosion by wind and water. This knowledge has yet to make its way into the development of soil management equipment and practices or government policies and programs.
The role of the federal government, and this may be the key point of the whole presentation. The Government of Canada, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada more specifically, must regain its leadership role in collecting and coordinating soils data and related land resource information. This includes employing the national team of permanent staff in areas of soil survey terrain analysis, database management and GIS analysis. This is a role that only the federal government can play and it is one that has been completely neglected.
In 1983 there were 135 people involved in those areas. There are now seven. Next week, there will be six, and it won’t be much longer until there will be zero. It is something that desperately needs to be looked at.
I’ll just add one more point. As a member of the United Nations, Canada is subject to several sustainable development goals pertaining to soils and their sustainable management. There’s a list provided in my notes.
As well, Canada plays a significant role in the United Nations Global Soil Partnership and the Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils. In my opinion, these are extremely important international activities, but Canada is in a position to contribute much more than it can benefit from them with respect to soils and their management. With that I’ll yield.
The Chair: Thank you.
David Burton, Professor, Department of Plant, Food, and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Agriculture, Dalhousie University, as an individual: Thank you very much and thank you for the opportunity to present to this committee.
I have chosen to focus on the soils of Atlantic Canada in my submission. I believe these soils are in greatest peril and with the greatest potential to impact the rural economy and the environment. Much of what I will present is also relevant to other areas of Eastern Canada.
Soil organic matter, or soil carbon, is a critical indicator of soil health. The loss of soil carbon not only represents the transfer of CO2 into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change, but also a critical decline in the function of the soil resulting in a decline in productivity. As we look for technologies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, we should not forget plants. Plants are the ultimate system of carbon removal from the atmosphere and soil is the ultimate storehouse for that carbon.
The organic matter contained in soil is critical to the physical, chemical and biological function of soils.
Agriculture Canada’s Agri-Environmental Indicator Series documents the decline in soil carbon in Atlantic Canada and in many cases points to more than 1.2 tonnes per hectare of carbon lost over the last 30 years.
Direct measurement of soil carbon over an 18-year period, as part of the P.E.I. soil quality project, confirmed these findings, documenting that 56 per cent of the land area in P.E.I. has suffered a 1 per cent organic loss or greater, which translates into half a tonne of carbon per hectare per year.
This decline has resulted in a shift from forest to agriculture, from perennial crops to annual crops, and increasing intensity of tillage. These practices have decreased the length of time plants are actively growing in and on the soil, and greater disturbance of the root systems, the primary builders of soil organic matter. Not surprisingly, this has translated into a decrease in the productivity of our soils and increased impacts on the surrounding air and water.
The potato industry in Atlantic Canada provides an excellent example of the toll cropping systems can take on our soil and the sorts of innovative solutions we need to make to these systems more sustainable and more resilient to climate change.
One of the impacts of declining soil health in Atlantic Canada is that potato yields have stagnated over the past three decades, unlike other areas of the country where yields have been increasing. This has placed the Atlantic potato industry at an economic disadvantage.
Another symptom of the poor health of soils in Atlantic Canada is the accumulation of nutrients, particularly nitrogen. In Atlantic Canada, the majority of nitrogen losses occur during the non-growing period, from October to May. Nitrogen-management practices that limit the amount of nitrate that remains in the soil following the growing season, which is referred to residual soil nitrogen, will reduce both the overwinter nitrous oxide emissions, like greenhouse gas, as well as nitrate leaching to groundwater, a concern in the province of Prince Edward Island. Residual soil nitrogen has been increasing to high to very high levels throughout much of the Atlantic region and is of great concern.
Over the past several years, Dalhousie University has been surveying the health of soils in Atlantic Canada to determine their current state and to identify management practices that can improve soil health. Some of the cropping practices that can lead to increased soil organic matter include not leaving the soil bare; there should always be a plant growing, taking up nutrients, releasing root exudates, feeding microbial populations, slowing water runoff and holding soil aggregates together. These extended rotations with more frequent use of perennial crops improve soil health.
We need to also reduce the disturbance of our systems. Tillage disrupts soil aggregates and exposes organic matter to decay. Reducing the frequency or intensity of tillage will reduce the decay of existing organic matter and therefore reduce its rate of decline.
We also have to be mindful of organic matter additions. Soil organic matter can be increased by practices that return organic residues to the soil, such as crop-residue management, choice of crops with extensive root systems, and the application of animal manures, composts and other organic wastes.
Increasing nutrient use efficiency is also of great importance. It has both an agronomic and environmental importance. The fertilizer industry has shown a leadership role in this regard, developing their four-R nutrient stewardship program. This approach focuses on the selection of the right product, applied at the right rate, at the right time and the right place to increase nutrient-use efficiency.
Emissions of nitrous oxide from agriculture — again, a greenhouse gas — in Atlantic Canada are closely tied to the accumulation of nitrate in soil. Providing plant nitrogen requirements while limiting nitrate accumulation in soil requires an understanding and quantification of soil nitrogen supply. Over the past decade, we have been developing tools to measure soil nitrogen supply in the soils of Atlantic Canada and to predict the impact of climate change on soil nitrogen supply.
One of the reasons we find ourselves in this situation, as has been mentioned by others, is that we are no longer measuring and reporting on the state of our soil resource. A focus on commodities produced by agriculture resulted in a neglect to ensure that the resources producing those commodities are being sustained. The agriculture environmental indicators referred to here are largely the result of simulation models, based primarily on information gained from the agricultural census and not the result of direct measurement. We need to increase the direct measurement of the state of our soils so that information can inform our management of those soils. Information will be critical to identify areas of concern and document solutions.
As an example, we have developed a means of assessing the biological soil nitrogen supplying capacity of soils in Atlantic Canada. Our approach involves four elements: a soil nitrogen supply test that measures the ability of the soils to supply nitrogen; a nitrogen mineralization function that reflects the effects of climate on that nitrogen supply; measuring the risk of nitrogen loss, which is an effective way of assessing the synchrony between plant nitrogen demand and soil nitrogen supply; and, finally, residual soil nitrogen — how much nitrogen is remaining in the fall as a check to see how well we’ve done.
It is not enough to know what things we should be doing; we need to ensure the producers have the means to do them. The international market for agricultural commodities does not reflect the value of soil stewardship and thus it is difficult to pass the costs of soil conservation on to the consumer. Various food industry-led initiatives such as Field to Market have the potential to provide this mechanism, but it is not clear that primary producers have a strong voice in their development.
The cost of sustainable management of soils cannot be borne solely by the producer. Society at large and consumers in particular must embrace the true costs of sustaining our food-production system. There is a need for government policies to support producers in these efforts. Policy tools, such as the Nitrous Oxide Emission Reduction Protocol, create tradeable credits for the practices that reduce nitrous oxide emissions and are critical in encouraging the adoption of innovative approaches and they must be recognized in our carbon policy.
Thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you. We’ll now call upon Ms. Ferguson for her presentation.
Gabrielle Ferguson, Agronomist, as an individual: Honourable senators of the Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you as an independent agronomist on the matter of soil conditions in Canada. My opinions are mine alone and do not represent those of my present or past employers.
From 2000 to 2011, Canada lost 220,000 hectares of dependable agricultural land to settlement. Across Canada, 0.5 per cent of the land area is Class 1 farmland, which is the most productive. Of Canadian farmland that is being urbanized, 70 per cent to 85 per cent is Class 1.
With decreasing farmland, soil management is key to sustainable agriculture. Landowners have the ability to make a positive difference within their lifetime. In return, Canadians achieve food security and a healthy environment.
For good decision-making, existing soil management information could be used more effectively if it was aggregated, analyzed and shared. Also, agriculture can tap into skilled grassroot leaders to build adoption, competency and trust in beneficial soil practices through peer-to-peer mentorship. A targeted, prioritized soil-management strategy for Canada can help to ensure sustainable soil practices occur across varied agricultural production systems in different geographies.
Complex soil and economic factors mean that some farmers are failing to protect soils. For example, diverse crop rotation results in greater yield stability and resiliency under moisture extremes and also increases nutrient use efficiency for economic benefits. Despite this, farmers continue to use simple rotations, because they perceive these as more profitable.
Also, severely eroded knolls from tillage erosion can be remediated using soils from areas of deposition combined with no-till and cover crops. However, this is a rare occurrence, while some farmers continue to crop unproductive soil with increasingly adverse economic and environmental effects. Profitability maps created using precision agriculture data can isolate these unprofitable areas so they can be remediated, retired or repurposed to pollinate our habitat or for other beneficial uses. Motivating farmers to use these maps is difficult.
In the past, with the addition of winter water-quality monitoring, it was discovered that soil and nutrient loss from agricultural fields was greatest in the nongrowing season. Cover crops can protect soils during this time, but for some farmers, this can be a significant and potentially risky production system. Peer-to-peer coaching helps to prevent costly mistakes and is an effective way to sustain actions initiated by environmental programs.
To understand how agriculture can make a difference with good land management, we need to know what is happening where and when. A coordinated process to collect and synthesize accurate place-based data can help. Entering the site-specific information into predictive models can provide the foresight necessary to prioritize and target actions toward those with the greatest ability to reduce or reverse soil degradation and protect water quality.
Canadian farmers are no strangers to large quantities of field-scale information collected with precision agricultural tools. However, they often do not own this data. Private corporations, such as farm equipment suppliers, do. As such, there can be limited access to aggregated landscape-specific soil and management data for researchers, policy-makers and others to use.
The Canadian Soil Information Service exists, but it is in need of updating. It is also based upon provincial soil survey maps, some of which have not been updated since the mid-1900s. Some efforts are under way to update maps using predictive mapping modelling, machine learning and remotely sensed data, but large gaps remain, especially in agricultural areas.
Canadian capacity for soil expertise has been declining since the 1980s. Now, only the University of Saskatchewan has a program devoted specifically to soil science. In contrast, in the U.S.A., there are more than 400 soil scientists at work in the Natural Resources Conservation Service. A national resource inventory tracks the state of cropland and grazing land soils through regular tillage transacts and point assessments. This is the biophysical basis upon which production and economic surveys have been launched and modelled for the assessment of conservation program effects on a national scale.
At a much smaller scale, attempts to characterize agricultural production systems to determine their capacity to make soil improvement are being undertaken in Ontario by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. A comprehensive, nationwide system of key performance measures that tracks soil health could lead to increased return on soil management dollars invested and provide positive feedback to landowners that they’re making a tangible difference.
AAFC has developed national environmental indicators for soil cover, soil erosion, soil organic matter and soil salinization, all of which are important soil health characteristics. AAFC is also developing additional response measures, such as soil aggregation and methods to track changes in soil health with changes in soil management.
Reversing the degradation of Canadian soils will take action on most land. Less than 1 per cent of Canadians are farm operators; however, they control the majority of privately owned land, where there is the greatest ability to effect positive change. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you for your presentation. Now we will hear from Mr. MacLeod.
Cedric J. MacLeod, Executive Director, Canadian Forage and Grassland Association: Thanks very much, chair and honourable members, for the opportunity to be before you today. It is certainly an honour.
Before I start, I will say that I’ve been a soil conservationist at heart since I started university in 1995. You’ll note that I’m of a different generation of most folks here on the panel today, but most of these individuals, with the exception of Gabrielle, whom I am happy to meet, have had a profound impact on my world through teaching and mentorship. It’s certainly an honour to share the table with these folks.
I’m here to represent the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association. We’re a fairly new organization in Canada, about nine years young. We represent the interests of forage producers from coast to coast.
Typically, when you think about forage producers, these are grasses, legumes, alfalfa, timothy and such. We have dairy, beef, bison and sheep producers, but we also have a fairly well-established forage export industry in Canada. We ship dry hay around the world — to the Middle East, a lot into the Koreas and certainly into the Midwest U.S. That’s whom I’m representing today.
You might be asking yourselves: What do forages have to do with soil health and conservation? Let me give you a rundown of the importance of that.
Cultivated forages are the forages we would work into rotation. Each of the panellists has talked about the importance of crop rotation and maintaining residue in those systems. We have roughly 34 million acres of tame forages, which would be actively managed forages, in Canada. This represents 39 per cent of the total land base in Canadian agricultural production.
To position that, the next largest crop is wheat. Wheat occupies 20.4 million acres, only 23 per cent of the land base. Forages are 13 per cent larger than the wheat industry, which is substantial. Now, that’s half of the story.
The other half of the story is that 36 million acres of forages occupy what we call native or unimproved rangeland. That would be, typically, if you start at B.C. throughout those mountain range grazing lands, down through southern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan and sliding into a little bit of Manitoba. If you have heard of the Palliser Triangle, it fits closely into these unimproved rangelands. There are 36 million acres of forage land down there. All told, we are talking about 70 million acres, which is more than three times the size of the Canadian wheat industry. So we swing a pretty big stick in terms of our impact on soils.
If you look at what’s happened since the last Ice Age, grasslands in Western Canada created the soil carbon legacy that we are now trying to protect and maintain. As those grasses grew year over year, the bison and buffalo roamed the Prairies, ate the grass and put it out the back end. The soils pulled in that manure and residue. It created the soil organic matter that is at risk of loss. When we broke the Prairies, it was that organic matter created by the grasses that allowed us to settle those Prairies and develop the systems we have now. There is certainly an important legacy for grasslands, and that’s why I’m here.
Each member of the panel has talked about the loss of croplands. In terms of the forage industry, we’ve lost roughly 3 million acres of forage on the last census data set. Between 2011 and 2016, we lost 3 million acres of forages in our systems. That represents, depending on where you are in Canada, somewhere between 1 and 3 million tonnes of CO2, depending on the math you use.
What we do know is those grasslands store carbon long term and, when we turn them into annual cropping systems, in a lot of cases that carbon is released. We know why that’s happening. The beef and dairy herds are decreasing. We are getting better at our production systems. We’ve also seen a boom in commodity pricing, which has shifted the focus towards more annual crop productions — canola, soybeans, wheat and corn — and away from forages, but we are seeing a resurgence of interest in the forage industry and in the livestock sectors. That’s my first point.
My second point is that the ecological goods and services value that’s created by the forage industry is something that I wanted to highlight. A 2012 study that was commissioned by CFGA identified that, in Saskatchewan alone, the annual ecological goods and services value created by the forage sector was worth between just under $1 billion to just under $2 billion, so $1 billion to $2 billion in EG&S value created annually in Saskatchewan alone.
What are ecological goods and services? Water infiltration, which some of the other panel members have talked about; minimized soil erosion; creating habitat for species at risk and others, so habitat conservation; and certainly, as I mentioned before, carbon sequestration, which is a critical component of conversation these days as we move towards a low-carbon economy and trying to adapt and manage climate change.
Two years ago, the CFGA embarked on an ambitious project to create a protocol that would allow us to quantify the carbon that exists in Canadian grasslands coast to coast. We recognize there is a significant carbon stock there that has not been assessed or quantified and that therefore it cannot be monetized. Some of the other panellists talked about the importance of incentivizing good management. Our project is seeking to understand what that value is and to see if we can’t develop policies and programs that can incentivize producers to keep grasslands on the landscape and keep that carbon locked up securely for the benefit of all Canadians.
I am happy to note that one of the largest oil producers in the world has reached out to the CFGA. They are very interested in the work we’ve been doing. They are currently exploring how they can invest in Canadian grasslands and how they can use the tools we’ve produced to store that carbon in perpetuity. Why are they doing that? We all understand why they’re looking to do that. They are regulated final emitters. They need to create carbon offsets to offset their emissions. The grassland sector is looked at as an opportunity to do so.
We’re also looking at a fairly significant project with some folks in the federal government to maintain some of these critical habitats that exist in the Canadian forage system and to support the protection of species at risk. That’s an exciting project we’re going to see coming down the pipe.
One thing I will say is we’ve got provinces that have set carbon-reduction targets. What I’m hearing back from them is they’re very interested in looking at how we can use the soil carbon locked up under grasslands. However, similar to the other panellists, we don’t have accurate enough monitoring to allow us to understand that, without ground truth.
What we’re leaning towards here is how do we use a satellite image technology that we know is available? How do we use that and apply it to our conservation and quantification efforts so we can better understand how practice changes over time on the landscape? That’s a critical component.
The third point I want to make is that we’re seeing a renewed focus on reintegrating livestock and crop production systems. As the industry has evolved over time, we’ve become very specialized. We’re either corn, wheat, soybean or canola producers, or we’re livestock producers. We’ve largely broken those two components of the ag sector apart, which in the past, the not too distant past — and Don can attest to this and some of the stories David told us about spray bottles out in the corn back in the day on the farm, but I digress.
Those systems had manure, forages and annual crops, and they were all worked together. When we specialized, we broke those apart and we lost some synergies that went along with that.
Gabrielle talked about cover crop systems in our annual cropping systems. We were seeing real interest from livestock producers to ask, can I graze those cover crops? I know you don’t want to keep livestock on your annual crop operation, but I’ve got livestock and you have the feed, so can we work together? It’s a new model of a mixed farm where we don’t have to have all those enterprises on the farm at once. We can still specialize, but we’re coming back to a collaborative approach to managing the landscape.
One thing I want to mention, Dr. Brian McConkey from Agriculture and Agri-food Canada has identified that the degraded areas of the landscape that David mentioned have the greatest potential to store carbon, to reintroduce carbon back into the system. I think there is an opportunity to target those areas. With our yield monitoring systems we have the capability to identify the areas of greatest need of additional carbon and the greatest opportunity to store more carbon, but we need to work together and come together to use the technologies we have to pinpoint those areas of the landscape where we can have the greatest benefit. I think when we do that and we start to reintegrate those livestock manures through forages, grains and what have you, we’re going to bring that synergistic effect between the soil and the manure back to light to really drive some progress.
To summarize some challenges to turn the tide, we’ve had a fairly significant loss of extension services across Canada, both provincially and nationally. I’m kind of mid-career and I have seen this decline and I’ve been around long enough to see that.
The trend I’m seeing in the landscape with the producers is that without a constant reminder of the importance of soil quality and health and the adoption of new technologies, we tend to trend back to what we know and what we know tends to be what grampa taught us. That’s understandable. That’s what we grew up with. But if we don’t push advanced management of cropping systems and put them in front of producers on a plate so can pull them off and use them, we’ll continue to slide back from the successes that David talked about that happened several decades ago with the adoption of conservation cropping systems.
My last comment is to reiterate that I think we have the technologies available for monitoring and tracking. We’re not using them effectively. We talked about the monitoring that needs to happen through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and we talked about the monitoring that’s happening on farms. A renewed focus on soil health and site-specific management that marries those technologies is critical to drive us forward and start to track some progress. Thanks very much for your time and the invitation.
The Chair: Okay. Thank you. I’d like to thank all the panellists for their very thoughtful presentations.
Before we get to questions, what I’d like to draw the senators’ attention to another document in the package you’ve received, and that is a written submission from Christine Brown, who is with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. That is also in your package. Lots of good information for us here today.
Senator Mercer: Thank you for being here. This is the start of our discussion of soil health. I learned a long time ago to never try to limit the length of our studies because I proposed a two-month study on bee health and two years later we finished the study on bee health. We’re not quite sure where this is going to lead, but you’ve given us a good base.
I wanted to ask a simple question. We won’t see you again in this study for some time if we get to do a full study in the fall. There are the opportunities that might exist for us to replace that land that’s been taken out of production by the building of condos, et cetera, which is a concern in all urban centres across the country. Although in Atlantic Canada, we’re just taking rocks out of production because there is a lot of rock under our soil.
As to your comments on vertical farming facilities, of which we visited a number, and we visited in Montreal a large number of rooftop greenhouses. The rest of the building is used from something else, but on the roof they have a greenhouse that is producing quality food and, in the case of the greenhouse we visited, a very unique delivery system of fresh vegetables to people in the greater Montreal area replacing their need to go to the grocery store.
Is this part of the answer that we need to be creative in how we actually grow the crops? Because all that great land in Ontario, from Toronto down through Niagara towards Windsor, all that great agricultural land has a lot of condos on it these days. We’re not going to tear down the condos to plant crops. Is this an answer or a partial answer?
Mr. Burton: I actually am a Lufavore. I spend part of my time in Montreal. I’m a subscriber to one of the cropping systems you talked about and I think that they have an important place, but there are only certain types of crops and food products that they can rationally provide, lettuces and those sorts of things. I still think there is an essential role for soil-based agriculture for producing wheat, grains and these sorts of things. I do think there is a complementary opportunity and, in particular, to take advantage of those rooftops and those areas within the city where we can capture some carbon and convert it into food.
Mr. Don Lobb: I see real merit in that type of food production, because it helps people to better understand how their food is produced and where it comes from.
As far as replacing a significant part of our food production is concerned, I have some concerns there, because that type of production is certainly limited to a short season. We’re not going to supply food all year long doing that, and it would certainly limit the variety we have in our diet.
Further to that, it’s going to require nutrients that will have to be added. You’re not going to be able to recover nutrients out of the soil as you would in a normal field crop production system. That might be of some concern too.
Senator Mercer: It would seem to me that the technology that’s being developed — and we talked about a farm in Guelph whose technology was developed in Nova Scotia and it’s now being put into production in Ontario. This is all good stuff.
I would maintain that production of quality vegetables can be a year-round thing in a proper greenhouse situation. So we’re going to do more.
I’m the principal grocery shopper in my family. I have been for 47 years. The one thing I look for now that I didn’t look for before when I pick up a vegetable is the origin of it. Under the current political system, I’m not anxious to buy American food. He can do all kinds of things to my fellow Canadians, but I’m not helping him out by buying his agricultural products. I’ll buy Mexican if I have to. I’d rather buy Canadian greenhouse-grown products.
It seems to me that the technology that’s being built by this outfit in Guelph — can we use that as an export product to countries that cannot or have not been able to produce fresh vegetables for their population?
Mr. MacLeod: I’ll take a quick stab at that. I want to reiterate David’s point. There are only certain crops that can be grown in that type of cropping system. I was on the road to the airport this morning at 4, and there was a piece on CBC about that. They were talking specifically about the facilities you’re talking about. One of the things they talked about with Guelph is that the biosecurity systems they have in place allow them to sell those products without having to be washed.
So when you talk about exporting those to places like Abu Dhabi, where I was last February, I was really struck by this huge civilization in the middle of the desert that has no capability to produce food for themselves. I think that truly does represent an opportunity, possibly, to move some product out.
But the comment I wanted to make was back to the limited capacity for those types of systems to produce only specific crops. High-nutrition crops, yes. Local crops, yes. But when we talk about the base root crop vegetables that we’ve seen in Atlantic Canada that are really impacting soil health, those kinds of crops are not going to be able to be grown in those types of facilities. Those kinds of crops are really contributing to a lot of the issues that we’ve seen here.
While I think it’s part of the solution and an export opportunity, a strong focus on those base root crop vegetables that we have here in Canada are critical.
Mr. David Lobb: I appreciate your comments and sentiments about being the primary food-buyer, because I am, too, and around foods and their origins.
I do again agree with my colleagues that you’re talking about an extremely small percentage of the total food that’s being produced in agriculture — extremely small. It makes sense as a means to offset our reliance on other countries to bring food in, or bring in food to the North or remote areas. It’s a very niche market. There are few crops — a very small percentage.
In terms of being able to compete against places that can produce those kinds of crops without those facilities, it would be extremely difficult to justify it on that basis. You can justify it on offsetting your reliance on external production, but to be able to export seems a bit unrealistic.
Mr. Burton: I have one quick final comment. The opportunity may be in exporting the technology rather than the product. One of the advantages of these is that you’re getting fresh, local produce. When I get my lettuce, it’s still growing. The real niche there is the very few road miles between production and consumption, and very little time.
Ms. Ferguson: My comments are around whether it is an either/or situation. If it’s not an either/or situation, then I think it is an entrepreneurial opportunity and it has the ability to add variety to some diets.
The input mechanism is import. You import water, soil, fertilizer and whatever pest-control mechanisms you need. If it is an either/or situation, investing in soil remediation so that it is regenerative and in place would be the place I would put my dollars. It depends upon the situation.
Senator Mercer: Thank you. But I want to remind everyone, including you, chair, that it’s a great thing to be a Nova Scotian. We can’t have too many of them around this table.
The Chair: I agree. My mother was from Nova Scotia — a little place called Sheet Harbour.
Senator R. Black: Thank you, Gabe and gentlemen, for joining us here. I want to say it is unfortunate our sixth witness wasn’t able to attend. That was a decision, as we all know, of the provincial government of the home province in which I live. I would encourage my honourable senators to check out the written submission, though, as well. I consider Christin Brown to be an expert in this subject as well.
I also want to point out to my colleagues that we have with us as one of our witnesses an individual who spoke, I believe, during the last significant study of soils, which took place in the late 1970s or early 1980s. If I’m not mistaken, Mr. Lobb, you were a speaker here in front of Senator Sparrow and company. Is that correct?
Mr. Don Lobb: I had a written submission at that time, but then he invited me to sit on the founding board of directors for Soil Conservation Canada, which was an outcome of that report. So I did participate. My farm was used as a case study of the sorts of things we could do this that report.
Senator R. Black: I wanted to point out to my colleagues the type of witnesses we have in front of us today.
I have a number of questions, but I’ll limit it to a couple. Some of mine are data-oriented, so I’ll leave that to my colleague.
My first question centres around the fact that last week was National Soil Conservation Week and I saw a tweet that farmers are 10 per cent more likely to plant cover crops on owned land than on rented land, unless they expect to rent the land for greater than five years and unless their landlord is also a farmer.
How can we change this trend so that more folks consider using cover crops regardless of whether they rent, own or rent less than five years?
Mr. Don Lobb: Somehow we need to incentivize or create a commitment on the part of the landowners to require that their land be managed in a sustainable way.
Senator R. Black: A rod or a carrot — one or the other.
Mr. Don Lobb: I touched upon that in my witness statement. I used an example of something we could do in Ontario that precipitated a four-year study on soil health, and that was to have an incentive attached to the property taxation system. If a property was being managed using practices that we know improve soil health, they would have a reduced property tax rate. Otherwise, they would have a higher tax rate than they have now. Ontario farmland is taxed at 25 per cent of the commercial rate, if it’s used for crop production.
That would be an example of the sort of thing that would make a property owner think about how their land was going to be managed every year.
Mr. Burton: This is one of the reasons why I think we have to rely more on measurement. When we assess the value of a property, it’s usually simply by its location and its area. We don’t have real parameters around which we can denote its quality and the reason someone should pay a particular rent for it. I think a renter might be much more incentivized to do these things if they knew they could improve the quality and document that improvement and therefore return a value back to the landowner. So part of this is about being able to actually quantify the impacts of land management.
Mr. MacLeod: Just to add a little bit to what Don suggested, I know in P.E.I. they’re offering financial incentives for producers to establish winter-cover crops, so that’s a direct investment.
Because I work so much in climate change mitigation and adaptation, and have done so throughout my career, to me this is an opportunity for us to perhaps take a look at cover cropping and soil conservation as a long-term resource conservation directive. I think we are seeing our climate kind of forcing it; we are seeing more intense weather events.
One thing that Don mentioned over breakfast this morning was viewing our soils not as part of agriculture, not as a component, but as a resource in itself, the lifeblood of civilization as we know it. Is there an opportunity for us to refocus how we invest in these conservation measures to say, “Ladies and gentlemen, we need to keep the soils intact. We know the tough weather is coming. We know it is going to wetter, be dryer, it comes faster and harder. We need to keep these soils in place.” Is there an opportunity for us to use climate change mitigation and adaptation directives to make sure that we invest in that soil resource?
Senator R. Black: I proposed that this Senate committee do a broader, longer-term study on soils, which is most likely to take place in the next Parliament obviously. Part of the reason for this one committee meeting study is to act as a scoping exercise to see what we don’t know and what we might best know or learn more about.
From your perspective, if this was the only time we were able to talk about soils in the next four years, if we didn’t do another study, what would you think of that? I want to get your thoughts on record about the need for a soil study. Second, if this was the only time, what are one or two recommendations you would like us to take hold of and maybe pass along? I’d like to hear from everyone.
Mr. David Lobb: I’ll respond first. I strongly believe there is a need for it or I wouldn’t be here. I have seen what has progressed over the years of soil risk on our farm, as well as through my career. It’s astounding how little we know about some of the things that are truly important to managing the soil resource.
I included two photos in my document and I hope they illustrate truly what the nature of loss of soil looks like. It’s highly variable and that results in inefficiencies, economic problems, et cetera. If I look at those photos, our soils databases that we use to predict and do all of the monitoring and characterization we have spoken about doesn’t characterize that.
If we were going to move forward and advance the whole soils understanding to better deal with climate change and profit, et cetera, one thing we need to do is better understand soils at a landscape scale and arguably, from a water quality standpoint, and a watershed scale. We know very little about that. We have never spent a lot of money, time or effort looking at that.
If we want to advance that whole program of understanding soils, you have to look at those types of images and understand that you have to understand the landscape or the watershed.
Senator R. Black: Thank you.
Mr. MacLeod: I agree strongly. Let’s do that. This is an opportunity for us to take a look at the state of our soils both from a macro level and also from a micro level. As I mentioned before, with yield monitoring, we have got the technologies in place to start to pinpoint those pieces on the farm, on the specific landscape under our own management.
How do we marry those two data sets, both from a micro and a macro level? When you get to the micro level, now you are starting to talk about management practices that producers can implement. We can start to make change on the farm.
The other piece I would add is that it’s an opportunity to create a new baseline in terms of land coverage. A few provinces are looking at how we use our forage inventories to stack up against our climate change obligations. We need a way to assess those. This type of study would help us to understand how best to do that today and how to monitor that going forward.
Senator R. Black: Thank you very much.
Mr. Burton: I’m going to agree that there is a need for continued study. I think one of the things we need to remember is that you may be one of the few voices at the federal level for conservation, conservation in agriculture. Senator Sparrow’s report was an example of what those kinds of reports can do in terms of affecting what is done in the world. Your role is critical and it needs to be underscored.
One of the things that Dr. Lobb indicated was the need for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to take seriously the issue of measuring things related to the state of soils. They developed an excellent series called the Agri-Environmental Indicator Series, which has a very good way of reporting on the state of soil, and I would encourage you to have a look at that report, the most recent report being 2016. The problem is that it isn’t often based very much on measurement, so we need the tools where they can put people behind going out and providing real data to support those indices and those indicators.
I think they need to hear from on high that this is a priority, because too often the discussion becomes about the value of commodities and the relative weight of this commodity group versus that commodity group. There is not a commodity group for soil. You may be that only voice.
Mr. Don Lobb: Yes, the Senate really has an amazing track record in speaking for soil. The Soil at Risk report, as I understand, was the most widely circulated document ever to come out of Senate.
Senator R. Black: Wow.
Mr. Don Lobb: The Senate has had a big impact and changed a lot of what was happening through the late 1980s and early 1990s. I think it’s a wonderful challenge and wonderful opportunity for the Senate to act on this again, because much has changed since that original report was done. Agriculture is a very different entity now than it was then.
If I could change one thing in favour of protecting our soil resource as we move forward — and I would like the Senate to consider this, but I don’t know how much impact you could have — I would move soil out of our ag ministries into a resource ministry. Because over and over again, when government has to make a choice, they will choose in favour of commodity production — there are only so many dollars and that’s where it will go — rather than to soil protection. That is what I would change. If it was combined with water and forest, that’s a good thing because when we start looking at causes and effects as we manage one or the other, you can’t really separate them.
Senator R. Black: Thank you.
Ms. Ferguson: Senator Black, if we don’t do a longer-term study on soil, or if this was the only time to study soils, what is missing, I think I would put it in context of the continuum of soil study. If I look at the largest government publications on the study of soil health, if we look in the 1950s and 1960s, the focus was on economic performance of soils. Get into the 1980s, the focus was on the conservation of soils. Get into the 1990s, it was on the sustainable profit of soils. Get into 2018, it was on soil resiliency. And now, when we start heading into 2020 and 2030, I think the focus is on place-based soil information and the social context.
To expand on that, I often use the words “what, when, and where.” What is happening in soils? Where is it happening? And when is it happening? We need to have that data to be able to prioritize. Without studying this, without that continuum of the evolution of the health of soil, we fall backwards. If we don’t measure it, we can’t manage it. My colleagues have already said that.
The other piece that I would add, in addition to what they are saying, is this idea of social context. Succession planning on farms. Succession of soil. Social licence. Not just with farmers, but with industry and with government.
I think the combination of place-based data with a targeted, prioritized approach and social licence and social context is what we might be missing if we didn’t move forward with a more in-depth study.
Senator R. Black: Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you.
Senator Oh: Thank you, Madam chair. Thank you panel. Excellent presentation. We learned so much this morning.
My question to you is, when I travel overseas, especially back to Asia, and overpopulation, overfarming, overuse of land, and now they are all facing the problem we are talking about. Land has been overworked, badly managed, overfertilized, and has all kinds of problems. Their land has never rested. They farm 24 hours a day over years, over centuries. What can we learn from them?
Now we have overpopulation growth and whenever I travel they tell me their lands are so bad they have to import everything from overseas. Canada is the biggest source of food imports into Asia.
What do you think the government should do now? Are we still talking about how to restore carbon back into the good soy and soy cultivation? What are the most important things to do now to do for mankind, the next generation?
Mr. David Lobb: I have been to China and done research in China, so I have some familiarity with the degradation over there. I would agree it represents some of the most severe degradation you could imagine because of the long history of it.
One thing that struck me when I was over there working with people and selling water conservation at the state level, like the provincial level, and at the national level, was that they don’t talk to the farmers.
It was interesting. In one study we were doing — like the picture I showed here of the nice degraded landscape — the researchers were looking at tillage erosion and they were quite mystified by all of this. I explained it to the farmers and the farmers knew exactly what I was talking about and they had already come up with the solution, the one that I referred to in my presentation of moving the soil back to the hilltop. They knew exactly how to manage it. The problem there was that the state officials, the conservationists, the researchers, had no clue because they never speak to the farmers.
One thing I would take from that in terms of how to move forward for the future is that you have to engage the farming community in those discussions.
We see the same thing in Canada, maybe not as dramatic a case for me, but that happens across this country. There are farmers who are innovating all the time, but scientists and the bureaucrats are stuck in the 1970s when it comes to their understanding of the systems and technology that’s involved. You really have to engage with the frontline people and that’s the farmers. I think if that is done, you can move forward into the future and have hope for success.
Mr. MacLeod: Thank you for the question. Two thoughts here. When I really cut my teeth in the advisory world, I started working quite closely with the young farmers’ associations across Canada. I came out of an extension service that focused on mature producers, and that felt stagnant. When I started to work with young producers, that felt much more alive and the opportunity abounded there.
I have come to understand that is reasonable as we move through different phases in life. When we are in our thirties and forties, we are eager to change, learn, grow and modify our world for the long term. When you get into your forties, fifties and sixties, you become more recalcitrant, right? You are set. You have done your building and now you are going to ride it out and make it work.
I really think it’s key to tackle these opportunities for conservation agricultural training when they are young, and that’s for guys like this guy who came in at Dalhousie University. I know they have a strong focus at the university level on teaching these concepts, and we need to continue to support that and hammer this into the next generation, so when they come home to the farm they bring these new ideas that they can put on the table with data. Gabe mentioned the importance of the succession model. It’s very important to make sure that is coming.
The second piece, I’ll say, is a long-term focus. In another part of my world I work with my father-in-law, so we are going through some succession, and we sell seed. So I have got potato growers that call me saying, “I’d like to book some soybean seed today.” And I say, “Nick, you’re in a two-year rotation. You grow potatoes one year and something else the next, and then you’re going back to potatoes. So guess what I’m not going to do today? I’m not going to sell you soybean seed. I’m going to sell you a service crop that we can put in that dirt and feed the soil so when it comes back to potatoes the next year it’s ready for those potatoes.”
We talked about some of the long-term degradation that happens when we get in those cycles of trying to produce a commodity. Well, if your commodity is potatoes and that’s what your farm is sustained on, you need to focus on that potato crop. If the soil is the resource that allows you to do it, you need to focus on it.
In the past I think we have looked at that as an expense. What I try to impart on my clients is that this is an investment today for next year, and for the next decade, and for the next generation that you’re going to hope to bring on to this farm. So we need to focus on preserving that soil resource.
Mr. Burton: I had the good fortune to participate in a Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute conference in Guelph last year. It was interesting, because they were trying to assess what are the economic opportunities going forward for the Canadian agricultural industry.
One of the economic advantages they identified was “our natural capital.” That was the term they used. What they really meant was our soil land base, our resource land base.
I think one of the things we can use, we can look to other countries and we can appreciate exactly the opportunities we do have and ensure we are valuing that natural capital. Because, as a number of speakers have presented, currently that is not a large factor in the economic assessment of a farm, or in the discussion with the bank manager. What’s the value of that natural capital and how to sustain it, ensure that it’s there for tomorrow? We need to have a better way in which that natural capital is reflected and considered as an economic priority.
Mr. Don Lobb: Thank you. I think no matter where we live in the world we have to focus on maintaining organic matter, and we have 10,000 years of experience in organized agriculture in destroying that.
We have learned, particularly through the last three or four decades, the full impact that soil disturbance or tillage has on the destruction of organic matter and on how that impacts the soil biotic community and on soil aggregation.
When I talk about soil aggregation, I’m talking about the crumbly soil you find in undisturbed areas like a wood lot or a native prairie. With that crumbly soil the water can infiltrate and when we do tillage we break down those aggregates and then we don’t have water infiltration. That has a huge impact.
We have to focus on the practices that will maintain that organic matter and that involves a reduction in soil disturbance. It involves the use of crops that will replace organic matter during the noncrop season. If we are growing a crop like soybeans or wheat, for example, then we go in and plant another crop which won’t be harvested. It’s only planted to collect carbon from the atmosphere and deposit it in the soil. Over time, we can accumulate organic matter that way, if we don’t do soil disturbance, which causes organic matter release.
It’s that soil disturbance that is the Achilles heel of both organic and mainstream agriculture. Neither is sustainable. We have to get past that if we are going to produce food in a sustainable way. That’s my view on where we need to go.
Senator Oh: Ms. Ferguson?
Ms. Ferguson: Thank you for the question, and the focus on whether the land needs to rest and whether we are heading in a direction of some other areas in the world.
I have been to the agricultural land around the Three Gorges Dam, and it was part of a Canadian-Asian research summit in Windsor that was bringing the technology of Canada to Asia.
I would suggest, though, that we have something to offer other places around the world, but we also have something to learn from the experiences that they have. One of the things I have learned through my reading and research is this idea of resting the land can be tricky, because people’s perception of what it is to rest the land is different. This is what has been referred to in some of the other commentary today. Often, land that is resting is fallow and the problem with fallow becomes tillage to control weeds and things like that.
If we can get our minds around the idea that resting it means treating it properly, that goes back to some of the commentary today about making sure it’s covered so that protecting the land is a method of resting that land. That might mean less tillage and more cover, which my colleagues have mentioned.
There are some policies around the world, if you look at the European Union. In France, my understanding is that anything greater than 30 days without soil cover is not permitted and against the policy there.
The last part of my comments would be that, again, that culture of taking care of the land is important. I had an intern who was in their 20s and one of the greatest pieces of advice they gave me is they felt succession planning should happen very early on farms. It should be happening before people reach the age of 40, because if that happens, the legacy of what they have to do for the next generation is embedded there instead of waiting until their 60s or 70s to do that. I thought it was a great piece of advice and I think that might be another way to establish what we need to do to protect soil ahead of time.
Mr. David Lobb: There are lots of these types of photos around. In terms of the urgency of this, you should look at that picture closely, because that tells you what is going on in that landscape. The concern that has been raised by many of my colleagues is those severely eroded areas — those white hilltops — have now spread to the lower slope positions and the whole landscape is turning white as they have buried the topsoil with subsoil. We see this in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Anywhere we look, we see this starting to happen.
So 20 or 30 years from now, in this legacy of what the future holds, if we don’t do something, these areas that are farming with conventional practices from the 1970s and 1980s are going to put the whole resource at risk to a point where it’s not going to be restorable. If you look at some of the soils, going back to China or even Europe, we have a resource here which is still relatively young and non-degraded, but it’s rapidly approaching a critical point where it’s approaching the generally nonproductive state of many of these soils we see elsewhere in the world.
There is a high degree of urgency in moving forward on protecting the soil, stopping things we are currently doing that we know are wrong and are destructive, and changing that path to make sure that we are starting to rebuild and restore these soils to protect them.
Senator Oh: Are the panel members familiar with southwestern Ontario? There is a special cash crop called ginseng root. We are the largest producer in the whole world and it’s widely exported to Asia for medical uses. I talked to the farmers there. They only grow it once every four years. They never come back to the same land and farm it again. They need to let the land rest for a certain time before the second crop comes back to it.
Senator Dagenais: I’d like to thank the witnesses. My first question is for David Lobb. You talked about the loss of cropland to urban development. I think the agricultural community has always been vigilant about rezoning in municipalities. Oftentimes, when farmers want to make changes on their land, they have to deal with government bureaucracy. Why is farmland being lost to urban development? Are real estate developers to blame, or is it the cities hungry for more municipal taxes? Are both factors causing the problem and resulting in the loss of considerable farmland in urban areas?
Mr. David Lobb: I worked in land use planning in New Brunswick for a year and a half. In that time, I spoke to a lot of people in various provinces about urbanization and loss of agricultural land. I think rural residential development is also destructive. Both of them represent long-term losses of agricultural land. Why does that occur? You do get commercial developments. New Brunswick was the best example of a ribbon development in Canada, if not North America.
It occurs because the municipalities encourage commercial developments in the municipalities but outside of the towns to increase their tax base. There is a big struggle in New Brunswick between the towns and municipalities because both of them want the businesses for taxes and businesses will go to the agricultural areas because they get to pay a lot less in tax. It’s a tax structure problem. The fact that all these jurisdictions want tax dollars makes it very difficult to affect that. That is certainly what happens.
The municipalities are playing a role and they encourage that destruction or loss of agricultural land and it has to do with how the government has set up and manages their tax bases. Unless you can change that, you are probably not going to change that trend of loss of agricultural land. It’s a very simple solution.
Senator Dagenais: If we look at soil quality in different parts of the country, we see that some soil is more productive and other soil has to be treated in order to remain fertile. Do you have any data that allow for a breakdown of soil quality by region, and if so, is the known use of pesticides or chemicals taken into account? Chemicals are used to maintain soil fertility, but do you have any data or analyses on that?
Mr. David Lobb: In the analyses I did, where I looked at productivity, we did recognize how that varies from region to region. We based that solely on soil organic levels, looking at optimum levels for each ecosystem. We did not look at the availability and the quantities of fertilizers and pesticides put on to effect that productivity; so I don’t have that part of it. In terms of the organic matter and its influence on productivity, we do have that. You are correct that the productivity does vary a lot from region to region — so the productive potential.
It’s also equally as affected by climate and geology. You can look at cropland in Nova Scotia, as an example, which I would say some is absolutely terrible for corn production, but it’s ideal for blueberry production. It depends on which crop you are growing and what you mean by “soil quality.”
You have to consider that. All of those things come into that discussion about the quality of that soil. We have information on that, but not on the role of fertilizers and pesticides and how it affects that.
Mr. Burton: I would point you to the Agri-Environmental Indicator series that Ag Canada has published, because they do have a national indicator relating to pesticide use and its potential for impacts on water quality. That series does speak to the use of pesticides at least.
Senator Dagenais: I’m going to take a broader tack with all the witnesses. As we know, Canada has a long border with the United States. Soil composition on both sides of the border can’t be all that different. I imagine the soil on either side is somewhat similar. Have you looked into whether the same farmland changes we are talking about are affecting our neighbours to the south in the same way or whether they are experiencing soil transformation differently? Perhaps they use pesticides or other chemical fertilizers. Are you able to tell us whether there is a difference in the rate at which soil fertility is being maintained on both sides of the border?
Mr. David Lobb: Yes. I’ve had the opportunity to work with colleagues on both sides of the borders, and I suspect some of the other panellists have, but we spend a fair bit of time — because we work in the Red River Valley, and the majority of the Red River Valley is in the American states. We just had a three-day conference last week debating some of these issues.
When I look at the differences between our American colleagues and ourselves in Canada, and the soil degradation and water quality issues we deal with, there are significant differences. The differences I see are not because of cultural differences. It’s because you have slightly different climates. You start getting into a climatic region which is a little warmer; so they tend to have more corn and soybean production, more intensive tillage, et cetera.
As they do those practices, they certainly cause more degradation. Their chemical regime in terms of fertilizers and pesticides that you asked about will differ based on the crops they grow and what is suitable for those crops in that given climate. We certainly see that difference.
If you look immediately across the border where the climate, soil and landscapes are different, there is no difference, in my opinion, in terms of how the soils are managed and degradation. There are subtle differences that sometimes crop up.
For example, what is defined as “no-till”? We, in the Canadian Prairies — in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta — often use high-disturbance zero tillage, or direct seeding, whereas they do not. We do see significant differences there. That’s very subtle and most people probably wouldn’t note that. I can see the implications of that, where we have a more destructive soil-management regime in Canada than they do immediately south of the border.
Senator Dagenais: My last question is for Ms. Ferguson.
I’ve been on the Agriculture Community for almost six years now. Witnesses have often told us that it would be a good idea to store existing information in a single database for use by various stakeholders. They’ve also said that it was important to stop working in silos based on regions and certain interests. Why is it that what you talked about isn’t necessarily happening? Does it have to do with those who work in government or policies? Sharing information can be difficult, after all.
Ms. Ferguson: The situation, as it exists now — you said in the last six years, and I would say in the last six years the technology has advanced, but not so much so as a couple of decades ago. Within that context, my comments come from not just aggregating data into a single window. I’m not a proponent of a single place. The difficulty with that is when you have a single place, you need a single caretaker. The government can’t be the single caretaker, the industry can’t be the single caretaker, and the farmer can’t be the single caretaker. I could go on for quite a few minutes on that list.
Aggregating, synthesizing, analyzing and using that data, in my world, means across the value chain. What that means is that there’s a role for all of us, no matter what seat we’re sitting in, no matter what hat we’re wearing, to input data along that value chain. There’s also a role for us to use the data in a way that meets our purposes, that means we can add value along that value chain. The value chain can be GDP value or social value along that value chain.
It also allows anyone along the value chain to pull the piece out within the context of privacy. You can use that data without affecting an individual’s privacy, without pointing a finger at who is good or bad. It’s for the collective benefit. With the technologies we have now, you can access the data with doors. In other words, what you don’t want to share, you don’t have to share; and what you do want to share, you can share.
The advantages of that is, as we build trust and add value along the value chain, more gets shared and more trust becomes available. That’s when you start to see things move and see great success happen. It’s just like any team. You know the old “storming norming” thing. That’s what it’s about — when you develop that openness. You can’t do that with a single-stop shop, which we often talk about.
Mr. Burton: There is a tremendous opportunity to make sure that we harvest the data that has historically been collected on soils in this country, and particularly the provincial soil test labs. For many years they’ve considered the farmer their sole client, and they’ve never had a mandate to summarize, disseminate or share that information in any way.
My one concern is that we want to make sure that, as various managers retire, we don’t lose this information. There have been millions of samples processed over the last several decades, and there is a very grave concern that in some provinces in Atlantic Canada this information might be lost if we don’t emphasize to these provincial government agencies the value of creating that shared data commons in some fashion.
Who oversees that and how it’s done, I can’t speak to that. There is an issue within the Canadian Society of Soil Science, that professional society, to act as that warehouse. This is something we need to move on very quickly because we don’t want to lose decades’ worth of data.
Senator C. Deacon: Specifically, thank you, Senator Black, very much. This is very important.
Thanks to the panellists. This has been really insightful. It takes me back to my youth. I grew up in an area where you’d climb over the back fence at the back of the school or rink and head home across the fields. I contributed samples to the Ontario soils database back in the 1970s — lots and lots and lots of them, I can tell you — and since then a lot of houses have been built. That land is no longer used for anything related to food; that’s for sure.
I’m struck by the opportunity for predictive analytics, if we can get market-based systems going, as you were just saying, Ms. Ferguson, and looking at data. I’ve been involved in the Banking Committee study of open banking, which is trying to open up financial technology companies to accessing and providing unique services to Canadians, and around the world, around banking activities that are not being provided in the current market.
At the core of that is something called consumer data rights. Data ownership is very much in question, who owns data. But who controls it is a separate issue altogether. Australia has taken some real leadership right here.
I want to zero in on the data side of things to see where we can get some lessons learned and opportunities to collaborate. If we can sort out the consumer data rights side of things and start to get access to data, the opportunity for the market to take over and start to provide great insights from those data is profound. I look at it and say the opportunities to collaborate between farmers, academics and the three levels of government are fantastic.
I want you to focus in on where you see opportunities around the world where people have been making headway on the issue of starting to pull data together and get predictive data. This is a complex question.
Mr. Lobb, I want to tell you that’s one of the most important recommendations I’ve ever heard, to remove the protection of soil out of agriculture and into natural resources protection. It’s such a simple idea, but it totally shifts the dynamic in a strategic way. I know what I’m talking about here is a little more difficult to get at, but I want to celebrate that idea. I think it’s phenomenal.
If you could speak to data around the world. What’s going on? You mentioned that a lot of it is controlled by the equipment manufacturers.
We need to act on consumer data rights in this country. This is an opportunity where I think we could open doors specifically on this topic. Where do you see it working and not working around the world? In Europe and Australia they have different practices than here. They’re making headway in Australia. What is your experience in that regard?
Mr. David Lobb: I can’t let that one comment go. Dad and I have never talked about this, but it’s been a frustration throughout my career that soils resource, the land resource information, has been sitting in Ag Canada and Ag Canada has continued to gut that system over the last 20 or 30 years.
It was set up to serve the five resource departments: Environment, Fisheries and Oceans, Natural Resources, and I think even Health is included in that, as well as Agriculture. It has systematically neutered the whole system. So we don’t have the ability to actually move forward when it comes to soil database management, or land resource database management.
One the most effective things would be to move it to another department, because they’ve shown they can’t do it or they don’t want to do it.
Senator C. Deacon: And it is a natural resource.
Mr. David Lobb: It is a natural resource, and it has to be treated as such. Again, Dad and I didn’t talk about that, but I applaud that idea. I think it’s a brilliant idea.
In terms of the information, when you’re talking about this data, there are a couple levels of data. There is data that farmers collect based on their use of inputs, technology, et cetera — use which is theirs, and their yield data, all of that. I can’t speak to that, but I’m sure that does fall under a whole strict regimen of legal issues that can’t be resolved.
When you talk about the land resource information, that is something that is presumed to be public. It’s of benefit to the farmer in all of their predictive activities on the farm for assessment of yield potential, et cetera.
You also have that land resource information, which is public information, which is also important for industry and government programming, and that’s where a lot of predictive work has been done historically. That data is extremely valuable. Some of that data goes back to the 1940s.
The data that’s being collected now, which I think you’re interested in, is extremely valuable, but without the land resource data as a complement, it’s not very useful for many applications. You can’t have high-input information on how much seed and fertilizer you put on on a metre-by-metre basis and then not have any good idea about what your soils or climate are within 10 kilometres. It makes it difficult to manage, and the topographic data that goes into a lot of systems.
There’s one area where you can use the government data, which is coarse and not very useful. You can actually be generating your own data while you’re doing your operations. That’s something that has not been widely utilized. We’ve done it for research purposes. There are different levels of data that fall under different aspects of what you’ve asked.
Are you only asking about the data that farmers are collecting themselves?
Senator C. Deacon: No. I think it has to be from everybody. I also look at the opportunity for predictive analytics in terms of if you’re tracking inputs and you have a sense of farm gate receipts by farm, and you have satellite data, you can get a sense over time of who is managing their soil and who isn’t, I would expect.
I know P.E.I. has done something around satellite data and crop rotation to make sure they’re enforcing that a minimum level of rotation is maintained for potato farmers across the province, as I recall.
The Chair: That’s right, and the crop rotation is legislated.
Senator C. Deacon: It is legislated.
There are opportunities for us to start to get at some tools. I want to know where the barriers are, from your standpoint, and where the opportunities are to move first. We clearly need to get some actions in place. I’m looking for clues as to how we can move forward on this big issue of data not guiding our decision making, with serious ramifications. How do we start to move?
Mr. David Lobb: I’ll give you a simple answer, based on what I said.
You have certain levels of information, like the land and climate information, that are barriers because they are too coarse for some of the applications to effectively use the fine detail that’s collected by these other technologies. So you’ve got mismatched data quality.
Senator C. Deacon: As a rule, that’s always the case.
Mr. David Lobb: It is, but you don’t necessarily try to focus in on the higher resolution, real-time data and forget about the underlying data that is now the weak link in the chain. You have to look at the weak link in the chain.
Senator C. Deacon: I would love to hear what others have to say, please.
Mr. Burton: I didn’t think I’d ever be thanking Facebook for something, but I think we can thank Facebook for making us aware of the power of data, and I think it is a critical issue that we address.
We at Dalhousie have recently hired a soil digital mapper because we feel this is such an important issue in Atlantic Canada. Our understanding of our soil resources is in a dismal state, and we need to improve that.
One of the challenges we have is that we must convince all the potential users of the value of the combined data set so they’ll buy in. People don’t buy in unless they see something in it for them, and I think we haven’t communicated that effectively. The soil science community has not necessarily been as vocal about the value of digital soil resources and localized soil information in informing management. We need to do a better job of that and a better job of assembling that data.
I mentioned earlier that the Canadian Society of Soil Science has a pedology subcommittee. One of their roles — in fact, the person we hired as the digital soil mapper is taking the lead on that — is to try to establish a national initiative where an academic society, independent of government and industry, would be the warehouse for that soils information, and it would be tasked with making that information accessible to numerous users. I think there is a potential value in that, and I think there is an opportunity to do it right, and I’m hoping that the society will be able to achieve that.
Senator C. Deacon: Any others? I’m looking specifically for opportunities for low-hanging fruit, easy wins that we can get moving on.
Ms. Ferguson: I would say in terms of data, the quick wins are data collection, so things as simple as apps. When you’re in the field collecting stuff, putting it up. There’s a quick win for you.
The other is transparency in all the agreements that you have for data collection, whether it’s in precision data agriculture or in a soil test. These are simple little statements. Can we or can’t we use this? That is all that we need to ask people. Ask for permission. I think that’s a simple win.
There is also value-added analysis. They are projects already that are using value-added through the poultry sector and we can use those as examples, and it would help to clarify why we would bother doing that.
Mr. MacLeod: I want to highlight a pretty exciting project we have in New Brunswick this year. We’ve talked about data collection. I’m putting another hat on; I’m an agronomist and I have work one-on-one with growers. We have a lot of yield monitors out in the countryside collecting data that we haven’t pulled into any data set.
We have some pretty innovative guys in New Brunswick and we’re harnessing them. They have multi-year data sets. We can start to collect yield data on all these different crops in sequence, and that gives us a zone of recognition of high productivity across the landscape. Now we can start to delineate our management systems, with our variable rate technologies and such, so that we can manage those zones independently.
That was my initial response, but as David was talking, it dawned on me that we may be identifying areas of high productivity in the landscape not because they are inherently high in productivity, but they’re the dark zones in this picture. If we’re identifying here the upgraded areas and identifying these degraded areas and just accepting that’s the inherent productivity, that’s wrong.
We’re collecting the on-farm data and that’s good, but if we don’t have the background pedological data that these gentlemen have just expressed, then we’re masking what’s going on in the landscape.
Senator Kutcher: I want to echo Senator Deacon’s kudos to Senator Black. I’m fascinated by this. I know nothing about soils. I know a little bit more now, and I want to thank you all for it. I found the writing excellent.
I want to ask a question about something that all of you touched on and get your thoughts on this. That was the gap between knowledge and practice. I think David — and you should talk to your dad more — said it well: They know that they are wrong, but they don’t know how to protect.
Is the knowledge, the practice transfer, happening as robustly as it could? We heard testimony about the increasing erosion in spite of conservation practices. We heard testimony about changes in tillage practices. We heard discussion about reduced soil nitrogen because of lack of winter crop cover.
Is this a tragedy of the commons phenomenon? Is this a knowledge mobilization problem? Is this a regulation legislative conundrum? What could the role of the federal government be in this?
The Chair: Mr. Lobb, you’re on. We’re all looking at you.
Mr. Don Lobb: I really am very impressed with the knowledge expressed in the questions by this committee. I did a quick survey of the committee members before coming to get some sense of whether you would know anything or not, and I’m very impressed, and I thank you for that.
What can the federal government do to correct the situation? Is that what I’m understanding your —
Senator Kutcher: I’m concerned about what you think the situation is. Where is the challenge in that knowledge mobilization process, and what could the federal government do to assist in improving that?
Mr. Don Lobb: As a farmer, the greatest challenge I had was making sense from what I would hear from one researcher versus another and one crop adviser versus another.
An example of the kind of confusion that we’re faced with is that not long ago, there was a recommendation that in order to control the loss of soluble phosphorous into our waterways we should do tillage, which would be true if that was the only thing we were interested in. However, when we do that tillage then we break up soil aggregates, which results in less water infiltration and we end up with more surface runoff that carries more phosphorous into the waterways. And it goes on and on.
We need some way to pull the recommendations and the scientific observations we see. We need to pull that together so it makes some sense before it gets to the farm community.
Once in a while I have stories come across my desk that I’m asked to review before they go to publication in magazines. There was a story that came across my desk last week where a scientist was talking about how tillage doesn’t affect organic matter, which is true. But tillage affects the biotic community that affects the organic matter that has a huge impact.
A farmer out there, when he reads that and he’s just bought himself a new piece of tillage equipment because he has had more money in the last 10 years than he normally does, he is really happy to see that and he’ll be out using his tillage equipment next week if it’s dry enough, when in fact he’s going to be causing a whole lot of trouble for his land.
We need to have some consistency and some sense to the information that comes to us. Historically, the federal government and the provincial governments have helped a whole lot with that through their information extension services with agriculture, and that’s gone now in most of the country, or it’s certainly diminished from what we experienced at the time of soil at risk.
We have certified crop advisers who are helping to fill the gap. Some are independent and provide very good advice. Others are working for commercial interests and sometimes I wonder about what we hear.
All of this leads to some confusion, and we need solid, reliable information sources that aren’t just based on how we make the most profit this year but, rather, how we can secure productivity for our soils indefinitely. Soil is really where it all starts. It’s the productivity of the soil that determines food availability, and food availability determines the price of food, and that determines whether you can have a holiday or buy a boat or not.
The whole economy is dependent on the productivity of our soil. Nothing else matters until that’s in place.
Mr. David Lobb: I thought I would respond to that because the reference to the conservation village and water quality is actually my reason and it raises a point that is important at this time. I get asked to go to a lot of industry meetings. Lots of articles written about that, and there’s a great tendency with the delivery of information now, which is through farm meetings and farm industry magazines.
They pick and choose things that are sensational. This isn’t too surprising since you are in a political realm, but this happens. The information is correct, but if you only take a little piece of information and not look at the big picture and you have a conversation that something like tillage might reduce the phosphorous in the runoff, but you may actually degrade the soil, there is a whole system you are affecting. That gets lost in any of those sound bites, Twitter feeds and those kinds of things in these magazines.
There is a real problem that my dad identified, that we do not have an effective delivery mechanism for information getting to industry. We now rely on corporate interests, and I would argue that the magazines are corporate interests, too, because they are trying to get people to buy the magazines. They will go for a sensational quote or a partial quote that makes it more sensational. That is the norm now.
There is a problem that everyone has abandoned. Agriculture Canada has gotten out of extension. The provincial governments have largely gotten out of extension; they have tied up their minimal human resources into managing programs and fighting battles internally, typically.
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr. Burton: Just a quick comment to echo something that both the Lobbs have said.
David earlier said that one of the observations we can learn from foreign countries is they don’t listen to their farmers. We commented on the lack of the extension service and I think both the federal and provincial extension services have been dramatically diminished. That reduces our ability to deliver information to producers, but probably as important, it also reduces the ability of those governments to hear from producers. I don’t think we are listening enough as governments. I think we are out of touch. Our provincial and federal departments of agriculture are becoming increasingly out of touch and I think that’s a real issue.
Senator Moodie: Thank you all for coming today. Like Senator Kutcher, this is a huge and instructive exercise for me. I’m drawing on my university botany and zoology here heavily, but I am also thinking about the systems planning and the industry sector in which I work, which is health care, and it is somewhat fragmented like the one you describe.
I listen to this question of what sounds like the need to build a new culture around conservation for soil; taking a more strategic approach to soil use; and system management of soil as a whole, in the context of the entire country, not just the regions or local areas. There is building that culture of science-based use, conservation, education of the population in general, but especially of the farmers, the users, the front-liners. I call them the caregivers of the resource.
I’m listening to this dialogue and I was intrigued, Mr. Lobb, by your suggestion. I think we need a paradigm shift and I think that moving the accountability of this resource to a new area might help achieve some of the rethinking at a system level of how we can actually fix some of the breakdowns in the linkages that we need: getting information translation out to the front-liners; understanding how the metrics can guide us and how the data can guide us.
In health care we deal with the concern you had about privacy and using data appropriately at different levels, but there is a role for data across a system. That’s what you are all talking about and how to best use that.
If you think about this paradigm shift, what would it offer us in terms of being able to address some of the gaps we have been talking about and some of the concerns you have been raising? Is it likely to achieve? Because it’s the most intriguing thing I have heard today. We’ve heard about the problems. There is a lot of information and there are lots of people doing hard work in this area, but how are we going to bring it together and change the culture?
Ms. Ferguson: Thank you again for the question. I’m going to pick up on the health analogy, because I think it’s an appropriate one, and to maybe also connect with what Senator Kutcher was mentioning.
This gap between knowledge and action, that gap there, we see it in health. We know we should eat appropriately. We know that eating a whole bunch of the wrong things leads to the wrong thing. I think the same thing happens sometimes in soil health. The same things happen. This paradigm shift needs to be led by champions and those champions need to be supported. If you support the champions, they can make all this complex science and all this data real. They can become examples of how to do that. They can motivate people to get beyond the unknown and the risk into action.
We know that simple messages motivate. We have been living in that world. People don’t have time for the complexity. Those examples and those champions may be able to drive this.
Mr. Burton: I’m also going to comment on health and communication. As you said, it’s a paradigm shift. I think one of the things that we have done in soil science is we lost the public’s attention for a very long time. One of the things that really struck me is that the use of the term “soil health” has really engaged their attention again because they can relate to it. It has been a very powerful term for us, it has been a paradigm change for us, and it has helped us communicate. We as soil scientists anguish about whether it’s the right term, but it’s a term that communicates and engages a community.
You are seeing soil health programs emerge across the country, and in fact globally, because people are concerned about health. They are concerned about their food, and it allows them to realize that the soil resource that supports them also needs to be healthy and then they can relate to how health is measured.
That kind of communication term, that attempt to communicate to people the value of resources in producing healthy food and healthy people, is really critical to creating that movement and it has started. Over the last three to five years I think there is a lot more engagement in understanding how the importance of soil management impacts the quality of our food and the quality of our population.
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr. Don Lobb: Thank you for your question and your comments, Senator Moodie.
A paradigm shift that takes soil management to a different area in government will be very unpopular. However, soil underpins everything we have in society. It’s not just an agricultural issue; it’s a societal issue and we need to start looking at soil as being a societal resource on which we all depend. Agriculture is just one of the tools in the whole process.
The Chair: Okay. Thank you, everyone.
As you know, this was an information panel; this is not a decision-making meeting. There will be no votes or decisions on a further study. That discussion will come later. As we are running out of time in this current Parliament, it would be whatever committee is constituted by the Senate within the next Parliament of Canada that would address this issue in a major way. However, we anticipate that Senator Black will keep his finger on the pulse of this very closely.
I would like to thank our panel. It’s been great to have you here. It’s been a great learning session for everyone. Thank you.
(The committee adjourned.)