Soil health, extension services, and doing the right thing

Jun 19, 2024

Recently, the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry (AGFO) released their report to complete a study on the status of soil health in Canada. Critical Ground: Why Soil is Essential to Canada's Economic, Environmental, Human, and Social Health highlights the vital role of soil in various aspects of Canada's well-being. The 157-page report is full of recommendations, data, firsthand testimony from individuals across many sectors, international perspectives on soil legislation and policies, and much more. 

Some of the recommendations of importance include calling on the federal government to collaborate with provinces and territories to enhance long-term funding for soil extension services, the implementation of tax credits for producers adopting innovative technologies that support soil health, ensuring early adopters are not left behind, and to enhance funding for public/private partnerships for research and development in agricultural and forestry soils.

KAP was pleased to participate in this study and bring the perspectives of Manitoba farmers when it comes to soil health and the innovative practices and technologies being employed in our province. Highlighted in the report was commentary from one of KAP’s vice presidents, Jake Ayre, discussing the value of soil health to Manitoba farmers. 

Ayre noted that Manitoba farmers have embraced innovative agricultural practices to reduce emissions and enhance soil health, such as 4R uptake and the uptake in the On-Farm Climate Action Fund (OFCAF) program. He pointed as well to challenges such as crop inputs, debt, market conditions and profitability that may influence the decision-making around adopting these practices, emphasizing that it is key to have an incentive-based model to increase adoption. We need to ensure the financial sustainability of farm operations, harkening back to the old adage that you can’t be green if you’re in the red. 

Overall, this report emphasizes the need for increased investment in farmers, ranchers, and agriculture to enhance soil health and overall environmental sustainability, but also demonstrates the commitment of Canadian producers to adopting these practices when the right program structures are in place. We don’t have to look too far for proof points that demonstrate the desire of producers to do the right thing. 

The Sustainable Agriculture Manitoba (SAM) Program under the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership (SCAP) provides essential funding to farmers and land managers to implement beneficial management practices (BMPs). SAM supports projects in three streams: Cropland Management, Manure and Livestock, and Water Management, aiming to increase environmental and economic sustainability.

The 2024-25 intake of the SAM program saw an overwhelming response, with applications far exceeding the available funds. Despite the high demand, many eligible projects could not be funded due to limited resources, showcasing the need for increased funding.

Farmers are willing to invest their own money to adopt sustainable practices and technologies, demonstrating their commitment to environmental stewardship. When this is coupled with enhanced program funding, farmers and ranchers will be enabled and supported to adopt sustainable practices and innovative technologies, leading to long-term benefits for the environment and the agricultural sector.

The high subscription rate of the SAM program is a testament to farmers doing the right things and their readiness to embrace innovative solutions for soil health. The SAM program's success story underscores the need for continued and increased support for farmers and the agricultural sector. By aligning with the recommendations from the Critical Ground report, we can ensure the sustainable management of soil, benefiting Canada's economy, environment, and society.

We urge the Government of Canada to consider the recommendations from the AGFO report seriously and that they demonstrate a commitment to working towards providing the necessary funding and support to farmers. Enhancing soil health through strategic investments in agriculture will pave the way for a sustainable future for not just producers and the agricultural sector, but for all Canadians. Farmers are eager and willing to lead the way in sustainability; reducing barriers for them to invest in their soil should be a top priority.

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