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AGFO - Standing Committee

Agriculture and Forestry



OTTAWA, Tuesday, February 14, 2023

The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met with videoconference this day at 6:33 p.m. [ET] to examine and report on the status of soil health in Canada.

Senator Robert Black (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: Good evening, everyone. It’s good to see you again.

I would like to begin by welcoming members of the committee, our witnesses and those watching on the web. My name is Rob Black. I’m a senator from Ontario and Chair of the Agriculture and Forestry Committee. Today the committee is meeting on its continued study to examine and report on the status of soil health in Canada.

Before we hear from the witnesses, I’d like to start by asking our senators to introduce themselves around the table.

Senator Jaffer: Welcome. My name is Mobina Jaffer, and I’m from British Columbia.

Senator Burey: Welcome. I’m Senator Burey, and I’m from Ontario.


Senator Petitclerc: Chantal Petitclerc from Quebec.


Senator Martin: Good evening. I am Yonah Martin from British Columbia.

Senator C. Deacon: I’m Colin Deacon, Nova Scotia. Nice to see you.

The Chair: Welcome to our witnesses both in person and online. It’s great to have you here.

Today we welcome from, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Gilles Saindon, Assistant Deputy Minister, Science and Technology Branch; Marco Valicenti, Director General, Innovation Programs Directorate; Edward Gregorich, Research Scientist, Science and Technology Branch; and Heather McNairn, Research Scientist, Science and Technology Branch. Online we have, via video conference, from Natural Resources Canada, Dominic St-Pierre, Director General, Laurentian Forestry Centre.

Thank you for joining us. I’d invite you to make your presentations. We’ll begin with Dr. Saindon followed by Mr. St-Pierre. You’ll each have five minutes for your opening remarks. I’ll signal when we’re down to one minute by raising my hand. When it’s about time to wrap up, you’ll see two hands. I’ll leave it at that. I have a little flexibility, but think about wrapping up when you see two hands.

Let’s start with the first presentation.


Gilles Saindon, Assistant Deputy Minister, Science and Technology Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada: Thank you, Mr. Chair. My name is Gilles Saindon and I am the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Science and Technology Branch at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you as you study the status of soil health in Canada, and for allowing me to talk about our department’s science initiatives related to soil health.


To start, I want to introduce two of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s senior scientists that are joining me today: Dr. Ed Gregorich, who is a soil biochemist whose research focuses on understanding the effects of agricultural practices on soil health, carbon cycling and soil organic matter; and Dr. Heather McNairn, who has nearly 30 years of research experience in developing methods to monitor soils and crops using airborne and satellite remote-sensing technologies.

Soil conservation and health have always been core priorities for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, or AAFC. Our scientists have worked with producers across the country safeguarding our soils for nearly 100 years while creating significant economic benefit, such as was the case with the introduction of conservation-tillage and zero-tillage systems.

In fact, 40 years ago, AAFC scientists contributed to the work of this committee, the highly influential Soil at Risk Senate report of 1984, which brought awareness to the complex issue of soil degradation and highlighting the need for soil conservation in Canada. This report laid the foundation for decades of research and action toward soil health.

These efforts have yielded results. Our agri-environmental indicators confirm that soil health in Canada has improved. The risk of erosion and soil salinization are now assessed as being very low. Soil organic matter has risen significantly. Soil cover has increased due to a substantial reduction in summerfallow and increased planting of cover crops.


Although we have had success, we also know that there are areas that still require improvement. To guide our activities into the future, the department has developed a 10-year Strategic Plan for Science. This plan is a natural continuation of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s work in recent years, which integrates agricultural sustainability into our continued focus on competitiveness and productivity. It will help refocus and reorganize our research priorities under four key missions: mitigating and adapting to climate change, increasing the resiliency of agro-ecosystems, advancing the circular economy, and accelerating the digital transformation of the sector.

Science activities in each of these missions will lead to innovative solutions, including protecting and improving soil health, while always keeping productivity, economic sustainability and reliability — for producers and Canadians — at its core.


This commitment to economic and environmental sustainability is demonstrated in our Agroecosystem Living Laboratories, an innovative landscape-based approach to conducting agricultural research with a focus on sequestering carbon, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other benefits, including soil health. It has given producers, AAFC scientists and other stakeholders the opportunity to work together to co-develop, test and implement beneficial management practices and technologies on working farms. Agroecosystem Living Labs are now being established in each province across Canada as part of the Agricultural Climate Solutions program.

AAFC’s soil health science efforts will continue, both to develop foundational science knowledge as well as to develop innovative practices and technologies. We are also working to ensure this knowledge is ultimately transferred to producers.


This is a good segue for me to introduce my colleague Marco Valicenti, who is the Director General of Innovation Programs at Agriculture Canada. The science and program teams work closely together to develop and implement science-informed programs that support producers throughout the country.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.


The Chair: Thank you very much.


Dominic St-Pierre, Director General, Laurentian Forestry Centre, Natural Resources Canada: Mr. Chair, senators of the committee, thank you for having me here today as part of your study on the state of soil health in Canada. I am very pleased to be here tonight and to have the opportunity to outline some of the issues affecting forest soil health, a topic that is not often heard of. Yet, over 35% of Canada is covered by forest, representing 9% of the world’s forest area.

My name is Dominic St-Pierre. I am the Director General of the Laurentian Forestry Centre, a Canadian Forest Service research centre located in Quebec City. I am also responsible for the national research program on enhancing sustainable forest management practices in Canada.

The Canadian Forest Service is the national and international voice of Canada’s forest sector. The organization is part of Natural Resources Canada and has an office in Ottawa and six research centres across the country. The Canadian Forest Service works closely with academia, Indigenous peoples, industry and Canada’s provinces and territories to ensure the sustainability and health of Canada’s forests.

One of the primary mandates of the Canadian Forest Service is to conduct scientific research on Canada’s forests. This research can be used to guide forest management planning and policy decisions, and to assist the forest industry, the public and other scientists. Our research projects cover a variety of forestry-related issues, including climate change, forest fires, insects and diseases and sustainable forest management. We also have several internationally recognized soil researchers.

Canada’s forest soils cover an area five times larger than that covered by agricultural soils and provide invaluable ecosystem services such as supplying forest products for materials, energy and non-timber forest products, regulating and purifying water, creating habitat for biodiversity, storing vast amounts of carbon and mitigating climate change. In short, healthy soil is important not only to the health of Canada’s forests, but also to the environment, economy and society in Canada and elsewhere.

Several factors can have a greater or lesser impact on the health of forest soils. I’ll mention a few now, but I can elaborate more during the question period, please.

Deforestation, the cutting down or removal of all trees in a site or forest without a program of restocking or regeneration, especially to make way for residential, commercial, mining or agricultural development, is probably the most significant impact on forest soils. However, the rate of deforestation in Canada is low, less than half of 1% since 1990, and the area of forest is stable.

Forest management in Canada is predominantly extensive, with long harvest rotations, little or no tillage, few or no inputs and an emphasis on natural regeneration. This type of management causes much less soil disturbance than other land uses and the issues are less severe as long as the practices meet sustainable forest management criteria.

Concerns have been raised about the intensification of practices such as biomass harvesting for bioenergy. This can result in loss of carbon and nutrients, reduced soil fertility and loss of potential productivity for subsequent forest regeneration. Several research projects are underway in Canada and around the world on this issue, notably within the AshNet network of the Canadian Forest Service. Some courses of action are beginning to emerge. For example, it is possible to return nutrients lost during biomass harvesting by spreading ash from biomass combustion.

Natural disturbances, such as fire or insects, also alter soil functions. Because these are natural processes, the soil often recovers its properties after a few years, depending on the frequency and intensity of the disturbance. Impacts on soils can be amplified by climate change. Warming, drying, recurrent disturbances and reduced organic matter inputs could alter soil function and health in some of the most affected areas. Given that Canada is warming at twice the global average and that Canadian soils store more than 20% of the world’s carbon, initiatives to understand their vulnerability to climate change and natural disturbances are critical, not only for Canada but for the global carbon cycle.

Another element that may seem unusual but that has a real impact is what I would call the invasion of earthworms in the forest. I know that another speaker on this committee has already alluded to this. Worms are often seen as beneficial in agriculture, but their presence is not desired in the forest. Worms are of European origin and new Asian species are on our doorstep, even more damaging. This is an issue that is not talked about enough. Research is underway within the Canadian Forest Service.

Natural Resources Canada has a long history of collecting and analyzing soil data at the plot, regional, and national levels and making some of these data available to the public. Unfortunately, reliable and accurate data on forest soils at the national level are not currently available. The quality and accuracy of available information varies greatly and soil maps for forests are, for the most part, very limited in range and scope.

Although forest land management is under provincial jurisdiction, Natural Resources Canada has taken some steps to maintain the quality and productivity of our forest soils. Scientific research conducted at the Canadian Forest Service informs management decisions through the many collaborations we have developed over time with the provinces and territories.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize the need for more investment in research and in the generation and harmonization of accessible data to better understand the factors that affect the health of Canada’s forests.

Thank you very much for allowing me this time to speak. I am ready to answer your questions.


The Chair: Thank you very much. We will proceed with questions from senators. I’ll ask our deputy chair to begin the questions.

Senator Simons: I’m Senator Paula Simons from Alberta, Treaty 6 territory.

My first question is for Mr. Saindon. We’ve heard a lot in our evidence so far from people who say there are all kinds of really important research being done at universities across the country and by provinces across the country, but no central clearing house is bringing that information together so people can really learn best practices from other agriculture professionals or learn what’s happening in cutting-edge research.

I wondered if you feel that your department could take more of a leadership role in being that central node of information for people.

Mr. Saindon: We do a lot of technology transfer of our knowledge that we create at our research centres or in partnership with a lot of people on an ongoing basis. We don’t have a mandate to do technology transfer, such as extension services. Usually, that’s done at the provincial level. Industry is doing quite a bit as well. It has changed over a period of time.

I have to say that a lot of our efforts right now, as I was mentioning in my remarks about the Agroecosystem Living Labs, we do that with the stakeholders and producers, and, at times, people from universities are also involved in some of these living labs as well. There is an opportunity to transfer the technology.

We attend a lot of conferences or meetings with industry where we convey the results of our research.

We do whatever we can in terms of providing the tech transfer. We don’t have a technology transfer mandate as an organization, and surely not as a clearing house.

Senator Simons: That wasn’t really my question. My question is, then, do you think there ought to be a different department that is responsible for collating and curating all that information? I don’t just mean your research, but should there be a national body that pulls together research and data from all across the country so that we don’t have people working in a disconnected way but people have the benefit of knowing that at Dalhousie University they’re doing this, at the University of Guelph they’re doing that and at Olds College they’re doing something else?

We’ve heard again and again from witnesses that there’s a hole in the system because there’s no place that pulls that information together. What your living labs are doing sounds fascinating, but it’s disconnected from what somebody else is doing over there. Should there be someone whose job it is to collate and curate all that information?

Mr. Saindon: Thank you for the opportunity to add a bit more context. Ideally, if there is such a body or organization, it would be useful. I would not be opposed to that idea. It’s quite complicated, though, to bring in all this knowledge from, as you mentioned, many universities, provincial governments and the federal government and try to put it all together into some type of cohesive story. That would be useful, but at this point in time, I don’t recall seeing that in this country.

Senator Simons: Mr. St-Pierre, at the end of your remarks you talked about working together with the provinces. Is there something on the forestry side that is happening so that different stakeholders in different parts of the country can share information and ideas?

Mr. St-Pierre: Yes. In fact, researchers in forestry work closely with the federal government and the provinces and territories, given the provinces and territories have the responsibility for managing the land and the forest itself. There’s a lot of research that is done in collaboration, but still, we need to have a more standardized way of tracking or keeping the data and the information on the soil, especially the forestry soil.


The information on forest soils is quite limited and not well organized, if I may say so.


Senator Jaffer: Thank you for your appearances today. I have many questions. We’ll see how far I can get. I’ll start with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

I recently attended a conference on agriculture and food insecurity where various panellists emphasized the important role that Canada has in ensuring not only domestic but global and international food security. They highlighted our capacity to produce food but also discussed how we need to increase production in the agricultural sector while reducing emissions.

I was wondering if you would comment on the relationship between soil health, agricultural production and the need to reduce emissions. That’s for you, Mr. Saindon, or anybody in your group.

Mr. Saindon: If you may allow me, I would invite Dr. Gregorich to say a few words on this.

Edward G. Gregorich, Research Scientist, Science and Technology Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada: Thank you for the question. On the issue of production, first of all, the main reason for agriculture is to produce food, and there are by-products from that. Sometimes there are emissions. There are leaks from the system, and some of those are emissions, some of which go into the water. The idea that production is enhanced by keeping it in the soil is a fundamental idea and a fundamental goal to try to focus on that soil, keeping it in a small internal cycle so that it stays within the soil.

If production increases, it’s ultimately good for the soil because it puts organic matter into the soil. The clue and the real trick of that is to keep it tightly cycling within the soil and not allowing leaks to the system or causing environmental problems. It’s ultimately an economic problem because the fertilizers — the inputs — are being lost from the system.

The goal is always to produce food, first of all. That’s why we’re doing agriculture, and agriculture, by its very nature, tries to intensify the growth of the plants and, from that, you’ll have a more robust soil at the end of the day.

Senator Jaffer: The challenge now is also extreme weather, with lots of droughts and flooding, and that’s become very challenging, especially when it comes to food insecurity. I wanted you to talk about heat waves. In my province, we’ve had floods and heat waves, and they’re occurring too often now.

What is the impact of extreme weather? I know that there will be quite an impact on the soil, but what kind of research are you doing to understand these impacts in order to build resilience into our agricultural sector, especially when it comes to food insecurity?

Mr. Gregorich: We’re trying to understand the extent of that effect on the soil biological processes. A drought will basically dampen down all of the microbial activity and all of the nutrient cycling and, of course, the water is not available for the plants. That sets things back, and that has a downstream effect into the future as well because when we don’t have plants growing, soil quality and soil health deteriorate in a very short time.

To build that up and to build resilience, we again come back to the idea of keeping the inputs in the soil, keeping the nutrient cycling tight and putting in an effort to grow robust, resilient plants as much as possible. That’s where the crop development side comes in, to develop plants that can grow in drought-tolerant conditions. We have some of that research as well.

There are different components of it. With soils, we focus on what happens in the short term. The long-term effects of one drastic event of a drought can last many years afterward because of that.

Senator Klyne: Welcome to our guests. I’m Marty Klyne, a senator from Saskatchewan, Treaty 4 territory. I have some questions for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and then I’ll have a question for Natural Resources Canada — NRCan — shortly.

I want to dovetail off of Senator Simons’ questions. When we were first told we would be studying soil, I didn’t think it would be such an inspiring topic. Once we started listening to some of the testimony from expert witnesses, it got my attention as being a concern, which is inspiring me now, especially the concern around the production of food and food security. We were hearing — and this is somewhat at the expense of being repetitive — a recurring theme from those who are researching soil degradation; whether it’s erosion or a loss of carbon in the soil, it was a real concern. It’s different, as you would know, region by region — even regions within provinces from coast to coast to coast. They’re all exhibiting different situations, issues and concerns.

One of the clear messages in speaking to all of those research experts around soil degradation and soil health was capturing this data, synthesizing it and indexing it so you can set a baseline and see changes and such — even topographically, maybe using satellite images to see how things are changing. It was quite frustrating to hear this and that there’s no national body that lends itself to this. Now, if there is a national body that’s lending itself to this, I have to assume it’s AAFC and the agri-food component of that sector.

So there’s a big demand out there for dealing with big data for a place that’s a repository to hold this data and do the synthesization of all of that and come up with what we are doing right, what we could be doing differently and what else we should be doing around our soils region by region by region.

I think there is a repository required here where we can collect this type of data and work with it. I would also think that while you may not have a mandate for technology transfer, you probably do have a mandate around food production and food security, I assume. This should be of interest to you as well in terms of the concern and the alarm I have for what’s happening to our soil here.

I would submit for your consideration that you should perhaps be the lead on a national strategy and working with the provinces and territories. Four months ago, I was unable to include the territories, but the more information we’re getting, there are some opportunities for farm production in the territories that are somewhat being ignored or it’s out of sight and out of mind.

I would appreciate if you could respond to that, and we might have to go to the second round to get to NRCan here.

The Chair: There is a minute left.

Mr. Saindon: I will invite Dr. McNairn to talk about the big data side of the equation and the remote sensing. I think Mr. Gregorich would probably have something to say about the way we maintain inventory of soil. I think we have some capacity at the national level as well.

Heather McNairn, Research Scientist, Science and Technology Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada: Getting back to the big data, NRCan actually is a great example. For all of the federal departments who are acquiring raw satellite data, there is a repository of satellite data that we can access at NRCan. So that’s the raw data. From that, actually, our department is creating some products that are free and open. So we have one based on satellite data that looks at the crop inventory, so we map crops across the country every year. That’s a product that our department creates and delivers and is free and open.

The Canadian Drought Monitor is another example that integrates geospatial data, satellite data and other pieces of information to help us understand what’s going on in the landscape, as well as our Canadian soil inventory as another open data set that is freely available. So there are some repositories of this big data that are really good models for us.

Senator Klyne: Thank you.

Mr. Gregorich: Further to that, we do have a clearing house for soil information: the Canadian Soil Information Service. All the agricultural soils are in this database and it is freely accessible. They also have models that use that data for looking at greenhouse gas emissions or whatever. They have models that are freely available, and they promote them to farmers and to academics as well so that they can use the data in the models that they provide as well.

Senator Klyne: Thank you.

Marco Valicenti, Director General, Innovation Programs Directorate, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada: I’d like to add an additional element more at the farm gate level. Senator, you were talking about digitization and data. I think we’re starting to see that discussion in the sector really take hold at the grassroots level. Part of our programming in AAFC is to work with third parties that are close to producers in the context of thinking about their data and how they can generate data that tells a story; we’re talking about soils today but also the environmental footprint and sustainability. I think in that scenario we continue to work with the sector to improve both the data elements but also the digitization, I will say, of the farm gate on environmental sustainability. It’s an area we’re working with the sector on. I wanted to give that perspective as well.

Senator Klyne: These are all refreshing answers here.

Senator C. Deacon: Thank you, witnesses. I’ve been focused on carbon sequestration opportunities associated with improved soil health for a number of years now. I really want to build off of Senator Simons’s and Senator Klyne’s remarks as well, focusing on the work you have been doing to work with NRCan, Innovation, Science and Economic Development — ISED — and Environment and Climate Change Canada — ECCC — to make sure — Canada has got a great research engine. We’ve got a phenomenal research engine in so many sectors, but we have a really crappy transmission. We don’t convert that knowledge into opportunities, jobs and prosperity very effectively at all in this country.

Clearly, one of the things we have to do in this area, as it relates to soil health and catalyzing carbon sequestration in our agriculture and forestry soils, is to, for example, with agriculture, find ways to improve farm gate revenue through the practices we know will reduce their input costs and create value in sequestering carbon that should go back through their farm gate.

What practices have you been doing and what things have you been doing to work with the related departments to make sure that starts to happen?

Mr. Saindon: Obviously, that is one of the objectives of our new set of Agroecosystem Living Laboratories — to focus on the data and carbon sequestration. That is one thing that we want to document and work with at the producer level as well as telling the story and also documenting. I think the sector has also done quite well in terms of capturing carbon. We have some data in the National Inventory Report and we see every year carbon sequestration is a thing. There is a lot of up and down over years depending on the moisture and precipitation and all of that, but I think you see some improvement in that area.

I was making reference to the work 40 years ago of this committee on the Senate report, and that led to no-till agriculture. I keep referring to no-till as one of the largest technology transfer impacts that we had in the history of this country because we moved from cropping the land in Western Canada every second year because of fallow to cropping every year. So we doubled the production capacity of the producer, with the income that came with that — pulses, you name it.

Senator C. Deacon: I think it’s a great example, but that took 30 years to implement; 30 years from now is 2050. We’ve got to accelerate this. I’m wondering what you’re doing to catalyze more market adoption of gold-standard practices by working with related departments. I’d really love to see examples of that.

Mr. Valicenti: I know we work with various departments and the provinces from an environmental sustainability point of view. I want to refer back to the living labs, which have three core principles. They’re user centric, so we’re talking about the landscape being the field. We’re talking about partnerships, that is provinces, producers, academics and, of course, our own scientists. And, of course, it has to deal with real-life context. So we move from the living lab. I think the idea is to co-develop the right beneficial management practices, or BMPs — in this case on soil health — and then provide incentives to producers to implement those beneficial management practices.

We have a program called the On-Farm Climate Action Fund where we provide dollars through third-party delivery agents to help and incentivize producers to implement those BMPs that were co-developed through the living labs, which was user centric and field focused. That’s where we are trying to focus attention: taking it from the field where we co-develop and then incentivizing producers across the country.

Senator C. Deacon: What I would love to do in round two of questions is learn more about the specific things you’re doing to make sure the markets start to work in Canada, that farmers can sell the carbon credits they should be able to earn and that we measure through good satellite and other techniques. I want to learn about what you’re doing now to catalyze those markets.

The Chair: They’ll be ready.

Senator C. Deacon: They’ll be ready.


Senator Petitclerc: My question is for you and your team, Mr. Saindon, but if Mr. St-Pierre has anything to add, I would be pleased to hear what he has to say as well.

We have talked a lot about data collection, you talked about investment programs and so forth. Looking at your notes as well, you also mention Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Strategic Plan for Science. My question is whether objectives have also been set for soil health and resilience?

Is there a plan with a quantifiable or measurable objective? If so, I would like to know more about it. If not, perhaps there are reasons for not setting that kind of objective.

Mr. Saindon: Thank you for the question.

Yes, there are a number of examples in the strategic plan. I will leave a copy of the strategic plan for the committee and we will also provide the link to the PDF version. The plan provides some examples, and they are fairly specific on the matters you mentioned.

One of the key issues is determining how to measure progress. We have data, but how do we measure progress from point A to point B. There is much scientific debate about this. The science is not exact. It is not precise and it is never finished, in fact.

There is a lot of discussion about how to take the right measurements at the right places in order to obtain the right indicators. We have indicators. We noted that organic matter had increased, but that soil salinity is lower. These objectives have been reached and we have to continue to move forward.

The science has not been completed yet. We are looking for what the next generation of knowledge will provide. We might be surprised. Not everything has been determined.

Mr. St-Pierre: I would like to say something.

Senator Petitclerc: Yes, of course.

Mr. St-Pierre: With regard to soil health and objectives, forest soils are very different from agricultural soils. Forest soils in Canada are healthy, on the whole.

As I said in my opening remarks, sustainable forest management, as it is practised in Canada, does not involve intense and repeated disturbances of the soil. Forest soils will be resilient if we practise sustainable forest management. If we allow a period of time after cutting, a forest fire or an insect epidemic, the soil will return to its initial state. The issues we will have to watch with respect to forest soils pertain instead to major disturbances and impacts such as climate change, harvesting of biomass or logging waste that is too intensive, and invasive exotic species. These are the real concerns, I would say.

Senator Petitclerc: Thank you. Do I have any time left?

It is similar, actually. You are saying that it is very difficult to assess soil health in Canada right now and to know where we will be in 15 years. It isn’t simple. Am I simplifying it too much?

Mr. Saindon: It is not easy to give a precise direction. We can provide a boost, a sense of direction. I always say it takes resilience to manage or address climate change. For agriculture, that is the focus of our entire directorate. People are working in labs. They are not working outdoors in the soil, but they are looking at genetics, the best approaches to soil nutrient management, to find out how nutrients are captured and used by plants, and so forth. There are a number of different approaches possible, but the one we have to take is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the long term; that is really the key issue.

Senator Petitclerc: Thank you for clarifying your remarks.


The Chair: Thank you.

Senator Burey: Thank you so much for being here. I’m a novice at this, so let’s start with that. I’m a pediatrician by training, and this is my very first committee. I don’t have all the soup and salad of the acronyms correct, so I won’t even try them.

But coming from a scientific field and knowing the importance of knowledge transfer, I’m getting back to that same question as to the value of all your wonderful scientific work. I mean, Canada is world-class in this. How are we going to ensure that some of this — not some — all of this knowledge is transferred to the people who really need it?

Now, I heard — and it was very gratifying to hear — information about the Living Laboratories Initiative and the partnerships, and, of course, I would like to know more about that. But before we get to that, what are you doing about targeting small- and medium-sized farmers, in particular, to raise awareness about having this data out there for Indigenous, Black and other racialized groups to gain some of this knowledge and transfer some of this through your living labs and that partnership, just looking through an equity lens with all the information and knowledge that you have?

Mr. Valicenti: Thank you for the question. From a couple of different perspectives, we’ve decided with some of our recent programming to go through a third-party delivery with stakeholder groups that are actually closer to the stakeholders and have a network where the Knowledge Translation and Transfer, or KTT, is ingrained in their day-to-day work.

That was one of the things we decided to take on for one of our programs, such as the On-Farm Climate Action Fund. This is providing dollars to incentivize producers on key beneficial management practices in the areas of nitrogen management, cover cropping or rotational grazing, and it is delivered directly from a third-party association, a non-profit, that knows their community. That’s one of the key approaches we’ve taken.

It comes back to a comment that was talked about earlier about transferring some of that knowledge through smart farms. You may have heard some of this terminology. There is a network building across the country of smart farms where producers have the ability to see certain technologies and practices in real life. That’s one of the things we hear from producers: “We want to see real-life examples; how does it help our bottom line?”

So there is a network of smart farms. I think somebody mentioned Olds College; they have started a fairly big one, and they are trying to connect various smart farms across the country so that there are discussions about data and that ability to transfer that information from a western landscape or an eastern landscape. So the smart farms are being used as well as a vehicle for tech transfer.

We want to see more of that, so we’re engaging — from a federal role and with the provinces — through the sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership framework to do more of that, just to give some examples.

Senator Burey: Thank you for that.

Following up on that, would you be collecting from the federal point of view any metrics or data using an equity lens to see if your outreach is actually reaching a diverse group of people and not just a certain group of farmers?

Mr. Valicenti: I would say all our programs have a gender-based analysis lens from under-represented groups as well, and we do that through evaluations of our programs — mostly post — to see how well we’ve done and whether we need to correct course if we extend the program. We try to do that from a couple of different angles and by working with those third parties who are delivering the program on our behalf.

Senator Burey: Thank you so much.

The Chair: Now I get to ask a question or two.

Mr. St-Pierre, you discussed the AshNet network where you have studied returning ash from the forest and biomass combustion to the soil. Is that being routinely practised now, and if so, how do you see it evolving into a program that encourages further uptake by companies and other stakeholders to participate?

Mr. St-Pierre: The AshNet network, for now, is a research network. We have scientific researchers, foresters and representatives from the industry and from the federal and provincial governments.

The idea here is to try to improve the health of forests.


The ash from the wood used to produce bioenergy can be spread on forest soils, for instance. Spreading wood ash is not a standard practice in Canada right now.

It nonetheless makes it possible to return to the soil the nutrients removed in harvesting forest biomass, thereby reducing the risk of lowering soil fertility and reducing pressure on landfill sites where the ash is thrown. The short answer is it is not standard practice right now, but the Canadian Forest Service is conducting research into this.


The Chair: Thank you. Now, a question for our AAFC colleagues: Are our soil maps current and up to date in your minds? Because we’ve heard that they’re not.

Mr. Gregorich: A lot of the root work was done in the 1960s and 1970s. We’re undergoing data renewal right now; they are being updated. They’re starting with the older data to upgrade it, and they’re taking different measurements as well to characterize the soils across the country, but a lot of it is old data.

The Chair: Can it be updated with what you have on hand or can access?

Mr. Gregorich: Yes. There are now mathematical models that can be used to take the old information and upgrade it using new information. There is a modelling technique, a transferring of the old data into a newer set of data based on relationships with a wide range of properties.

The Chair: I recollect that at my very first job we had a soil map of Wellington County on the wall. It was huge. The date at the bottom corner was 1954. So I agree that they’re out of date, but I’m delighted to hear that there is some renewal. That’s great to hear. That is tremendous.

Mr. Valicenti, in the new Agriculture Clean Technology Program, I understand that many applicants were denied funding simply because of an unprecedented number of applications. What determinants were used to decide on the allocation? Was soil health one of those determinants? If it was, why; if not, why not?

Mr. Valicenti: Thank you very much for the question, chair. You’re absolutely right. There was significant demand for the Agriculture Clean Technology Program, and for that reason the government decided to provide additional dollars to the program. I think it was a tripling of the program back in Budget 2022.

With those dollars, we were able to get some dollars to address some of the backlog, so that’s something that we’re currently doing, and we anticipate that there will be a new intake in 2023.

With regard to soil health, I can give examples where soil health might not have been the primary beneficiary of the funding but had some secondary and tertiary benefits. For example, we fund on both the research and innovation side. For example, we have a couple of really interesting projects. A couple of companies out West have developed some soil sensors where they’re using some of the research and innovation-side dollars to implement and prototype soil sensors to get a better sense of the carbon and the soil health. That is something we’re pleased to see and hoping to see more projects of that nature in the new intake in 2023.

The Chair: How does the government intend to improve that access to funding in a new intake? Will soil health rise to the surface or still remain under?

Mr. Valicenti: We’re still trying to finalize the priorities. I anticipate we’re going to look at various components of sustainability and the environmental footprint. One of the main priorities is to reduce GHG emissions, and I think that’s one of the areas we’re going to try to focus on. I will indicate that we are trying to assess the priorities for the new intake, and soil health will be part of that as well.

The Chair: Thank you. We’re moving onto round two.

Senator Simons: My questions on this round are going to be primarily for Mr. St-Pierre.

Canadian forests were evolved to experience occasional wildfire, and the fire, of course, would create the natural ash effect of the trees being burned and the ash going back to the soil. Over the years, we tried to control fire, and as a result, the forests got older and more vulnerable to fire. Now when wildfires happen, they often burn out of control with tremendous damage to the surrounding communities and to that forest stock.

The challenge is that after those fires, I gather there’s more soil erosion when there are heavy rains because the trees are not there to anchor the soil.

Do we need, in the interests not just of soil health but also of our own safety and management of resources, to rethink some of our fire management strategies so that natural fires can occur and rejuvenate the soil?


Mr. St-Pierre: Forest fires have always happened and our practice, particularly in Canada, of the nearly complete suppression of fires has caused forests to age and increased the combustible matter available. Further, new research is showing that prevention through forest management that regenerates the forest also reduces the risks of vegetation fires.

There are ways of managing combustibles in the sectors which we want to protect by selective cutting or management that limits the spread of fires, because forests have a way of naturally recovering from fires over a much longer period of time than the usual human standard.

In our management practices, the make-up of forests, the type of trees planted can be varied to increase the proportion of deciduous trees, which are much less flammable than coniferous forests. So, controlled burning and tailored forestry practices help us better understand and control the impact of forest fires. I also think that the current work on cartography, such as the satellite images we talked about earlier for forest management, also offers effective tools to better prevent and predict areas at risk for forest fires.


Senator Simons: I come from Western Canada where the mountain pine beetle has been spreading because it’s not cold enough. Every time it gets to be minus 40 degrees, we dance the happy dance of killing the mountain pine beetle, but it doesn’t get to be minus 40 nearly as often as it used to. When the tree stems die, they’re much more vulnerable to fire because they’ve lost all their moisture, but even as they die off, it changes the quality of the soil around them.

Is there a long-term upside? As those trees die, does their carbon go back to enrich the soil? What is the best way to deal with that mountain pine beetle die-off in terms of managing the forest and the forest floor?


Mr. St-Pierre: Insect epidemics are natural phenomena, however, even in the case of invasive species. Certain trees or parts of trees will resist nonetheless. So the forest is ready for that kind of disturbance and, over a slightly longer period of time, it will return to its initial state after a few years. The same thing applies to the soil: over time, yes, the soil will be enriched and the trees will recover. So, if we are patient, this is a way to allow for forest regeneration.

Another interesting thing is that when trees are harvested, there is a way of cutting that protects forest regeneration and soil regeneration. These practices are regulated by the provinces and territories, which are responsible for soil management. All of this falls under the broad heading of sustainable forest management as practised in Canada.

Senator Simons: Thank you.


Senator Jaffer: I have a question for Mr. St-Pierre, but first I have a question for you, Mr. Valicenti, and that was on collecting data. You said you collect data for gender analysis. I imagine that’s Gender-based Analysis Plus. My experience with the government has been that Gender-based Analysis Plus does not mean much in the sense that there’s not much data collected for Black or Indigenous people.

Can you please give us the data that you’ve collected on this issue so we can see exactly how the data is collected? Maybe we can work together to improve collection of that data. Will you do that?

Mr. Valicenti: I can certainly go back and see what we have in the context of data. I would just say that on the environment side, some of our programming is still fairly early in its infancy, like a year or two years old. And, as I mentioned, we try to use third-party delivery agents to support us in the delivery and collection of data. We can certainly look at that.

I can say that it is an area we want to focus attention on. You’re right, it is the “plus,” to be clear. It is part of the survey work we’ll be doing, as well as the evaluation of the programs midway and towards the end. We can certainly look. I will say that especially in this area vis-à-vis other programs that we deliver, I would say that the data is very preliminary, but we are looking at it as an area of focus as we go through the next few years in the area of the environment and environmental sustainability.

Senator Jaffer: With the greatest of respect, the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada department is not new; there must be data collected over the years. I would like to see some form of data that you’ve collected. I know when we asked the Department of Justice, we were shocked. They say Gender-based Analysis Plus, but the “plus” doesn’t exist, so I’d like to see that.

I want to ensure you make a serious effort and work with you to make sure that we put systems in place for Gender-based Analysis Plus. Farmers are from many different walks of life, especially Indigenous farmers. Just the other day we heard that. That’s why I think it’s very important that we look at the data, so if you could, please provide that to the chair.

I have a question for you, Mr. St-Pierre. Natural resources and deforestation have a negative impact on soil health. As I’m from B.C., I’m interested in the issues around old-growth forests. Last year, a panel of independent ecologists and forestry experts identified 2.6 million hectares of unprotected old-growth forests at risk of permanent biodiversity loss in B.C.

Could you please discuss how the logging of old-growth trees specifically impacts soil health and biodiversity? How does it differ from regular logging?

Mr. St-Pierre: On the old-growth forests, there are two things. I think logging practices are certainly the element that has the most impact on the soil itself. As I mentioned, in Canada, the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers has adopted sustainable forest management practices for many years now. All provinces have implemented very strict practices on this, so impact on soil is very limited.


The age of the trees does not necessarily affect soil quality. Just because trees are very old does not mean that their soil is very rich or vice versa. There is no direct link between soil quality and the age of a forest.

In some cases, there are very old trees growing in very poor soil. In Quebec, for instance, some of the oldest trees are growing in rock notches with very little soil. They look more like bonsais as opposed to the huge trees in the coastal forests of British Columbia. The impact varies a great deal from one location to another and there is no direct link between soil quality and the age of a tree.


Senator Klyne: I want to thank you for what I would call some enlightening answers around that data, things that I hadn’t heard from AAFC before. Thank you.

Regarding food security and food production, are you hearing any concerns from academics, researchers and stakeholders about soil health, the degradation of arable land in Canada and the need for a national strategy or repository? That can be a yes or no, or it’s increasing, or crickets — silence.

Mr. Gregorich: I think soil health is generally improving across the board across the country. Looking at a detailed level, the picture changes drastically because the soil types are so different, but I’m not clear what you’re trying to get at.

Senator Klyne: I’m just reflecting on what we’ve heard from researchers, academics and stakeholders, like farm associations and such. We are hearing there’s a concern about soil health and degradation in certain areas. Particularly for the researchers and academics — I don’t want to dwell on this — there is a need for that repository and national strategy.

Mr. Gregorich: Again, in terms of a soil database, there is a repository of soil information, but the information regarding the research is disparate. Like in any type of field, it’s hard to bring all of the research together, especially in Canada. We have really different climates and different soils, and it’s hard to make an across-the-board blanket recommendation or statement about soils because they are so different.

Senator Klyne: That’s likely in every country. Region by region, there are differences.

Mr. Gregorich: Yes. The crux of the matter is trying to synthesize that information and bring it together. I think we have the data. Our programs, as mentioned, are directed to get people talking and getting the conservation groups talking to the farmers and to the academics. We’re trying get that going. That hasn’t been done before. That happens in any type of field of study.

Senator Klyne: Okay, I’ll just leave it at that. I have another question. I don’t know who will answer it.

In late 2021, there was a report that was published following a meeting of the Canada-European Union CETA Agriculture Dialogue Sustainability Workshop, which made several recommendations on how both Canada and the EU can better manage soil health. One of those recommendations was to establish collaborative long-term field experiments in Canada and the EU for monitoring soil biodiversity and soil carbon levels.

As of 2023, have any collaborative experiments of this nature been created? I would find that very difficult, understanding the regional differences. Now, compared to the EU, I don’t know how you make that happen.

Mr. Saindon: Thank you for that question. We’ve talked about the living labs, which is a network of locations we have across the country. We’ve expanded this to the United States. We’re working with the United States on this whole thing. They added their sites as well, and we can have a wider library of sites that can be used to draw conclusions.

When we had the discussion with the European Union on this, they were very interested in that as well. In fact, they’ve launched a program in the EU more or less based on the same principle of living labs. I think at the end of the day we hope that we might be able to draw conclusions that will build on each other.

They are very interested and we’re working with them. As a matter of fact, later this year, in October, there will be a symposium that we will host in Canada on this issue of living labs. This will be co-hosted with AAFC and INRAE, which is the organization in France.

Senator Klyne: Where is the symposium going to be?

Mr. Saindon: I think it’s Montreal in early October.

Senator Klyne: I’ll see you there. Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you.

Senator C. Deacon: Thanks again to the witnesses.

Mr. Saindon, you said we’ve improved relative to our past. What I would love to really focus in on is how we are doing relative to our potential.

I’ve seen a lot of studies that say agriculture produces about 73 million tonnes of carbon equivalents a year in Canada and that much of that could be sequestered annually in our soils if farmers were adopting more advanced practices than just no-till and moving more aggressively in this regard.

A lot of countries are moving very swiftly on this issue. New Zealand and Australia and other countries in Europe are moving very swiftly. Certainly, I think our chair and Senator Cotter heard an awful lot about that at the World Congress of Soil Science in Glasgow last summer.

I am just wondering, to build adoption of best practices, can you specifically highlight what you’re doing in terms of developing regulatory changes, incentives, coordinated plans, reporting and tracking of how we are implementing best practices that are already known in the world and creating carbon-trading markets that our farmers can participate in?

What are the specific things you’re doing to make sure the knowledge that we already have is being applied in our farms as best as possible right across the country? What programs and results can you speak to in that regard?

Mr. Saindon: I could start, if I may, on this a bit, and then maybe on the program side, because we have programs that incentivize at the farming level.

We had a look at all the literature and the body of research done up until a couple of years ago, and we called it our road map to what you’re talking about. We have identified a number of technologies or BMPs that could be implemented. No-till, I think, is well known. I would say it’s in the bag. In fact, it’s in the reference data now, much to the chagrin of people who have done it. You cannot double bang this one. It’s part of our bottom line now already.

We are promoting in here, in the emission of carbon dioxide, and we are trying to look at different types of fertilizer and some fertilizer coatings and all of that, and the way the fertilizers are used as well — dual applications, split applications and all of that. We’ve identified some of these in this area, which I think is very important.

The biggest issue that we have is how we capture that progression that is being used by producers. I’d love to have remote sensing coming in, the same way they can, at times, look at methane, and they show you a plume of methane and all of that. For nitrous oxide, this is very, very difficult, and I think that, in fact, there is nothing, really, in this area.

We rely on the fact of how we can capture the data of adoption, at what rate and on what areas that we have in the lab.

Senator C. Deacon: My worry is that in Canada right now we are doing a lot of small and incremental individual efforts that are disparate but not coordinated; we’re not working together with ECCC and we are not working together with ISED. It’s off on its own in AAFC.

I look forward to getting to a third round to get to NRCan because I’m really looking forward to chatting with Mr. St-Pierre about that.

Mr. Valicenti: That was a great question, and Dr. Saindon talked about the road map.

The road map highlighted what we call beneficial management practices. Using that road map and those practices, we implemented this On-Farm Climate Action Fund, which basically says, “We have data that proves if you undertake and adopt these practices, we will see a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in three areas,” which are nitrogen management, rotational grazing and cover cropping.

The idea is that the science is now providing us with the data and the practices, and now we’re providing that incentive to producers across the country to implement them. That’s the adoption.

We’re hoping, as the program goes through its life cycle, that we’re able to generate data to highlight how that adoption has been implemented and, hopefully, show progress.

You talked about the offset. I would say Canada, generally, is in the fairly early stages of carbon offsets. The program, this On-Farm Climate Action Fund, allows voluntary offsets, and I would say that we are seeing more of the private sector trying to get involved in providing incentives and revenue for producers through a voluntary carbon offset program.

I just wanted to give you that. I know you mentioned it in your last round.

Senator C. Deacon: On the road map, let’s say it’s a 60-mile road to the end point on your road map. How far down the road are we right now, in your estimation?

Mr. Saindon: It’s a very hard question to answer.

Senator C. Deacon: I’d love you to reflect on it.

Thank you.


Senator Petitclerc: My question is simpler than what my colleague asked, but it is along the same lines.

We have heard from witnesses who talked about regenerative agriculture and drew a parallel in telling us their story, pointing out that they were pioneers. They did that from the outset for many reasons, without programs or grants. Some of them said it was too easy, because the ones who were opposed ultimately got on board because of the programs and grants, while they were the ones who had done all the work, without such benefits.

What can we do for those people other than thank them for being pioneers? When you develop programs to encourage them, whether through incentives or grants, do you consider the fact that there are people who did that and that there might be a competitive disadvantage for them? I am just putting that out there, but what do you think?


Mr. Valicenti: Thank you for the question.

Most of our programs do focus on incrementality, and I think we have seen, through the programs, some early adopters that started on a piece of their property, a plot of their land, and they have seen the benefits of going down one of these practices. And they actually come in and say that they want to increase the number of acres that are under the same practice. We will allow for that. That’s the incrementality.

On the first point, I think that’s where it becomes a little tougher. We are trying to really push those who are laggards a little bit to move to the forefront, so we are focusing on that incrementality. It doesn’t mean that someone who has been an early adopter can’t participate. It just can’t be on the same acre of land on which they’ve already used that BMP. It does need to be in a new area on their farm, even with the same practice.

We allow that. It is about incrementality.

Senator Petitclerc: So you wouldn’t say that an early adopter versus someone who joins in and has some help wouldn’t have some sort of a competitive advantage? At that point, they wouldn’t?

Mr. Valicenti: I think the competitive advantage for the early adopter is that they actually are seeing the benefits —

Senator Petitclerc: Earlier.

Mr. Valicenti: — and will come back in and say, “I had 100 acres; I want to now go to 200 acres, because I know it’s a proven practice. It’s positively impacting my bottom line.” So they will know it.

There are others who have just gotten started who are not sure, and that’s why I referenced smart farms and a way of using smart farms as a vehicle for knowledge tech transfer. I think that’s part of the benefit of being an early adopter is that you know the practice. You’re hoping that the practice is successful, and you have proof. It’s on your property.

We would allow that incrementality. We just don’t pay for the first part of your land where you’ve done the BMP, the beneficial management practice.


Mr. Saindon: Those who accepted it quickly from the outset — which was some time ago already — have seen productivity benefits. Their soil and production have improved. So there is a benefit for them as well. They have already reached the stage of reaping the benefits with respect to crops, and are enjoying improved productivity. They are already there. For those who are just getting started, it will take years for them to get there. I would say they have an advantage.

Senator Petitclerc: It was worth the effort.

Mr. Saindon: It was worth it, and they already have conclusive results when it comes to farm incomes.

Senator Petitclerc: Thank you.


The Chair: Thank you. Mr. Saindon mentioned the earlier report, Soil at Risk: Canada’s Eroding Future. This question is directed at Mr. St-Pierre and Doctors Gregorich and McNairn. If you were the authors of our report, succinctly, what would be your recommendations for our report? We’ll start with Mr. St-Pierre. What would be one recommendation?


Mr. St-Pierre: Regarding forest soil, there are still a lot of unknowns regarding the health of forest soils. My main recommendation would therefore be to support Canadian and international research networks in this area to ensure that forest soil data is well recorded and accessible to managers and researchers. I am saying this as the director general of scientific research. That would be my recommendation to you.


The Chair: Thank you.

Ms. McNairn: Thank you. Not surprisingly, we’ve talked a lot this evening about data, so I think that’s clearly an area where we can make good strides in. There is actually a lot of digital data out there for us to harness. There are some really innovative methodologies out there with which we can harness that data to get at some of the benchmarking and monitoring change over time. So I would really like to see a focus on exploiting the data that’s out there.

The Chair: Thank you.

Mr. Gregorich: I would start by prioritizing soil health. That sounds like a global statement, but that involves, then, education — bringing in all sorts of programs to educate schoolchildren all the way to farmers, and understanding the importance of soil as a priority for our future.

The Chair: Thank you for that. We don’t often get to a third round of questions here, so congratulations to everybody.

Senator Simons: I want to follow up on something Mr. Valicenti said. I had the privilege of representing this committee at a major soil conference in Edmonton at Christmastime. I spoke to a lot of people there, farmers and ranchers, who were very concerned that, having been the early adopters of regenerative agricultural and carbon sequestration techniques, they were going to be functionally penalized if there were all kinds of incentives for late adopters, and that they weren’t going to get any kind of financial or practical recognition of what they had already done. You spoke to that a little bit.

The other thing that surprised me when I met with these people is how they talked about the peer pressure against regenerative agriculture. Some of them joked about planting their fields where people couldn’t see them — as far from the highway as possible so that people couldn’t see the experimentation they were doing.

I wondered if you can address that concern about them being placed at a real financial disadvantage if other people will be rewarded for their procrastination in changing. But also, if you are doing any research on the social science end of things about what has to be done to change the culture so that early adopters are valorized and lifted up as positive examples so that we get people who are willing to experiment and who are willing to change, what is the sales job that has to be done to create a culture of innovation at the farm gate?

Mr. Valicenti: Thank you for the question. I can certainly go back to the first question you mentioned — or the comment you mentioned regarding early adopters. As I said, our programming, specifically in the context of the On-Farm Climate Action Fund, allows early adopters to participate as long as it’s on new land or a new piece of their property. They can certainly come in and participate as part of that program, again, delivered through the third-party delivery agents.

As for the social science, I hear you. The only comment I would make, and again, I hate to repeat myself, but we are in this country trying to build that network of smart farms, and the ability of the smart farms to connect across the country is to share, to educate and to increase awareness. I think that’s one approach to try to destigmatize.

Senator Simons: I had the chance to go to Olds College and to see their smart farm research in action. It’s fascinating what they’re doing there. I guess the problem is that is also for early adopters. You have to be young enough, tech savvy enough and have access to Wi-Fi to make those things work. That’s not a mass-market program. It’s something I’m wrestling with here on this committee. How do we create an environment that encourages people? You can’t even call it experimentation; it’s well past the experimentation stage. But how do we encourage socially the adoption of regenerative agricultural techniques that will be good for the soil and in the end good for farm receipts?

Mr. Valicenti: One of the things we’re looking at, even for some other programs that we have, is just generally — even to the public, so not even the farming community but just to the public — the whole idea of regenerative agriculture and the concepts and rationale and education has to go across society. I think you mentioned that. I would certainly agree with that statement. It has to go beyond. That’s what we’re trying to target even in some of our communication, just to look at the broader landscape, beyond the farm gate or, say, the agriculture sector. I think that would be really important. That would be one of the areas we would focus on. I’m not sure about the research behind that. I’m not aware of it. But certainly that’s an area I would focus on.

Senator Jaffer: I want to address you, Dr. Saindon, rather than pick on Mr. Valicenti all the time, because you’re sort of the head. I come from B.C. and I’m very much aware there are many Indigenous farmers and racialized farmers in my province. I don’t need an answer from you now, but I’m suggesting to you that it is maybe time that we get proper data about what they do and how to support them. If you can, send me something, because I’m not going to let it go. If you can send me something, I would really appreciate it, because I’ve had the same kind of issue with the Department of Justice and others that, until we ask the questions, there hasn’t been the support.

I am a farmer in Abbotsford and there are large blueberry farms around. Blueberry, strawberry and other farms are owned by South Asians. I want to know what kind of data is being collected for soil purposes from those areas, please.

Mr. St-Pierre, we know that forestry is a provincial jurisdiction and you’re working in the federal government. How do you encourage old-growth forests and how do you work with provinces to make sure that old-growth forests are protected?

Mr. St-Pierre: On that, yes, it’s a shared jurisdiction. In terms of the science, we do science together; the federal government and provinces and territories do some science on forestry. Obviously, provinces manage the land itself. They are the ones managing the tenures and all of that.

The federal role is providing the knowledge to support good practices in sustainable forest management. So it will provide guidelines that the provinces will then implement by their regulations and laws. It’s more of —


 — an advisory role, I would say.

In terms of accountability or reporting on the state of Canadian forests, we have partnerships will all the provinces and territories to obtain information on the indicators of forest health, including primary, old-growth forests, the way they are managed and their forest cover that will regenerate. These data that are reported internationally, to the UN or organizations such as the Montreal Process, enable us to track the state of forests around the world.


Senator C. Deacon: Mr. St-Pierre, I’m looking forward to getting some advice from you around Nova Scotia’s rather tough forestry challenge. We had pretty much one buyer of wood waste in the province, and the sector has been devastated by the shutdown of Northern Pulp, and it was shut down for good reason, but it has had a devastating effect across the province.

Of our forestry lands, 50% are in private hands — private wood lots. We have a very thin layer of soil over top of rubble or rock, so windfall is a major problem in the province. Much of our wood waste and windfall is simply rotting, which is adding to our emissions challenges.

Where would you be starting in helping us with some of our rather significant challenges in our province that I think we can overcome and that we need to?


Mr. St-Pierre: I think that leads into the topic of carbon capture, because in terms of what you are saying about forest degradation, anywhere there are afforestation, reforestation or soil rehabilitation activities, there will be substantial increases in soil carbon.

We know that moist soils, especially forest soil, are well recognized as carbon sinks, which is why they must be preserved and not drained, which is not a standard forestry practice in Canada.

Through Natural Resources Canada, the federal government has established a program to plant two billion trees, as part of the Nature Smart Climate Solutions Fund. This program will have a very positive impact on soil health, climate change and carbon capture, because trees will be planted in places where there weren’t any, and in locations where conditions are likely to improve, which will result in more carbon capture.

That is the advice I can provide from Nova Scotia: make sure that forested areas remain forested.


Senator C. Deacon: In terms of making sure that we advance soil carbon sequestration as much as possible, does that require good forest management in a situation like ours because an untended forest is subject to a lot of windfall? What’s your thought there?

Mr. St-Pierre: On that, naturally, the forest will regenerate. If you leave the windthrow, yes, the forest will emit carbon for a while, but new seedlings will grow and the forest will regrow and capture carbon again. It’s really a question of time that carbon will be sequestered again.

Senator Cotter: Thank you to the witnesses. Mr. Valicenti, your answer to Senator Petitclerc brought me to the table. It is a question not dissimilar to the one that Senator Simons asked, as well as to the discussion about early adopters and early imaginations that create possibilities. We tend not to be developing this in government departments but out in the field by private entrepreneurs who are in the business of farming.

Your answer reminded me — I’m not particularly religious — of the kind of situation where somebody converts at the last minute, the prodigal son, and the prodigal son gets rewarded while all the other people did the work to sustain the farm up until then. My concern is the idea of disregarding the people who have actually made these things possible not just for themselves but for others, and then to have them disregarded. This is problematic in jurisdictions like mine in Saskatchewan, where the early adopters have paved the way for others who are the ones who get rewarded, and these ones do not. The answer that says, “On the next 100 or 1,000 acres, you’ll be like everyone else,” isn’t much of an answer. I wonder if you can respond to that.

Mr. Valicenti: Thank you for the question.

As my colleague Dr. Saindon said, we are trying to move the adoption rate and we have to look at the ability to find that incremental gain. I certainly understand your point about early adopters, and I think they are paving the way and seeing the benefit of that work. But we do have to look at, as part of our process, the ability to add incremental acreage under those beneficial management practices that we talked about that were based on science through the road map and the best practices. That’s where I think we were looking at focusing our attention.

Mr. Saindon: I would like to bring back part of my answer to Senator Petitclerc’s question earlier. I think it goes to that point. You cannot just look at the time you get an incentive or a payment from a program which is a year or two in a row. You get the payment to implement new beneficial management practices and that may help.

I have to say that the early adopters are reaping the benefits immensely already in terms of increased and more resilient yields on an ongoing basis. They’ve been reaping their return on the yields for many years already, or at least they’re ahead of the curve. If you start implementing today, you won’t see the benefit because of the scale of time needed to see the impact. It will take a while to get the full benefit.

Senator Cotter: It is kind of a weird arrangement that you would then reward those folks who haven’t come there yet who would normally experience the same thing but get a bonus.

Senator Klyne: Mr. St-Pierre, I want to take a broader swipe at a question that the chair asked earlier and ask about the forest soil health conditions in Canada. You may want to answer this through the clerk in writing given the limited time we have.

Can you tell this committee about any concerns you have today — not two years ago or not where you see the ball going — with Canadian forests region by region or forest by forest and, of course, any recommendations you may have regarding those concerns?


Mr. St-Pierre: I can try to answer.

We have to remember that forests are complex systems that are an important part of our landscape. The health of forests and their soils can be addressed in different ways. Forest health is often defined by the production of forestry conditions that meet human needs, such as resilience and recurrence, in order to produce wood, for example. That is something that might warrant further consideration.

Forests serve a number of purposes. In terms of forest soil health, it is more complicated because the criteria for agricultural soil health do not apply much or at all to forestry. Some forests grow in soil that is considered very poor and inhospitable, but the forests are healthy and serve multiple purposes in the ecosystem, whereas soil that might be considered healthy for spruce trees is not healthy for sugar maple trees. So it is very localized. Trees are extremely well adapted to their local environment.

It is quite difficult to provide a very specific or general answer. It is truly localized by region. That is why the Canadian Forest Service is conducting research into the health of forests and the health of forest soils.


Senator Klyne: Is there a region or a forest that’s keeping you up at night, worried that we’re going to lose it?

Mr. St-Pierre: No. It’s an interesting question.


Certain forested areas must be preserved for protection, conservation and as model forests. This is often raised in British Columbia, because they have old-growth forests. It is also important, however, to have other areas for wood production in order to maximize carbon storage in wood products and to avoid substitution with products that cause more pollution, such as oil and gas products.

I am not concerned about any region in particular. Canadian practices are quite good, but it is important to take an approach that is consistent with regional realities.


Senator Klyne: That sounds like our next study. Thank you.

Senator C. Deacon: I want to drill down a little bit further on Senator Cotter’s question because agricultural carbon sequestration is not permanent. There is a lot of study about the rolling nature of the sequestered carbon. I just felt from your answer to his question that you’ve decided there really isn’t any way to reward those who have been leaders and that it really comes down to creating markets or systems that benefit those who are new to the show. I have to believe there is a way to reward the amount of carbon you’re keeping in the soil on a regular basis — as monitored through satellite and testing on the ground — that is rewarded on an annual basis. As it increases or decreases, those rewards increase or perhaps decrease; they could become negative.

I felt that you have decided it’s just not possible, and I’m not satisfied with that answer.

Mr. Valicenti: I appreciate the question and the comment. I would just say — and I think I mentioned it previously — the On-Farm Climate Action Fund program allows for voluntary offsets under the current pilot. I understand from talking with stakeholders and the private sector that they’re trying to play a bigger role in that area. We’re seeing that a bit more in other parts of the world on the carbon offsets side. That is an area of focus that some will try to promote. I think producers should certainly play in that area.

Dr. Saindon talked about this, even in the sense that these payments are not in perpetuity; they are only for a few years. We are hoping the adoption rate really picks up across the board, across Canada, in the context of defining that adoption rate on those beneficial management practices. That’s kind of where we’re trying to focus our attention. We’re hoping we see the private sector, including on the value chain as well. There are players in the private sector who are trying to come into the sector and who are looking at defining the benefits across the value chain, whether it’s at the producer level or implementing those benefit management practices all the way to retailers in the context of showing value across that value chain. That is another area where we’re hoping those incentives will show success across the value chain, not just at the producer level.

The Chair: Thank you.

Dr. Saindon, Mr. Valicenti, Dr. Gregorich, Dr. McNairn, and Mr. St-Pierre, we want to thank you today for your participation. Your assistance, as evidenced by four rounds of questions, is very much appreciated. Thank you.

I also want to thank the committee members. I am absolutely excited every time we get together about your questions; that sounds weird, but I am pleased with how you prepare. It’s great, so thank you.

I also want to take a moment to thank the staff who support us around the room, the translators, the folks managing the television and the folks behind us. We couldn’t do it without you, so thanks again.

Our next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, February 16, at 9 a.m. when we will continue to hear witnesses regarding our soil health study. I want to point out that I was in front of the Subcommittee on Senate Estimates and Committee Budgets with respect to our possible trip to Guelph. We hope to hear something in the next short while.

I will close with the fact that I believe there’s a smart farm on the edge of Ottawa, out past Algonquin College, and that could be another place we consider for a committee meeting to see the work they are doing, because it is fascinating.

(The committee adjourned.)

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