Soil Conservation Act

An Act respecting soil conservation and soil health

Sponsor

Alistair MacGregor  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Outside the Order of Precedence (a private member's bill that hasn't yet won the draw that determines which private member's bills can be debated), as of Nov. 29, 2021

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-203.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

May 2nd, 2022 / 12:35 p.m.
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NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I'll repeat my colleagues by thanking all of our witnesses for aiding us in this study.

Mr. Toensmeier, I'd like to start with you.

I really appreciated your sink analogy with respect to climate change—the faucet and also the spillover on the floor. I think we acknowledge that agriculture's greatest role is probably in acting as a mop, in trying to sequester the excess carbon that we've put into the atmosphere.

I appreciate the shout-out to my Bill C-203. I really took a lot of inspiration from what Australia is doing. They have older soils there, generally, which are not very high in carbon content, and they are losing billions of dollars' worth of farm production every year due to erosion. It was turning into a real national crisis there. I also like how they are going to establish the office of a soils advocate, someone who can be in a position to keep pressure on the government and act as a nexus for public opinion but also for stakeholder relations, to continue to push those policies.

You've authored a book called The Carbon Farming Solution. I've read that book. I've seen many examples of what other countries are doing. With respect to agroforestry and all of the examples that you've included in that book, for the benefit of our committee, I was wondering if you could talk about other countries, apart from Australia.

What are some of the notable countries that are putting these practices into amazing effect that we could perhaps study and learn from?

May 2nd, 2022 / 12:05 p.m.
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Eric Toensmeier Director, Perennial Agriculture Institute

Thank you, honourable members.

I hope today to share my experience as a former senior fellow for Project Drawdown and researcher on agricultural climate change mitigation. My knowledge relates to science and practices rather than policy. That part I will leave to you.

Climate change is kind of like an overflowing kitchen sink. Emissions are the water flowing from the faucet, which is now pouring onto the floor. The first thing to do is to turn off the faucet. That's reducing emissions, turning off the faucet. The next thing is to mop up the wet floor. This is carbon sequestration. Both are necessary, and neither is enough alone.

In the area of agriculture, we have several approaches to mitigation.

The first is to demand reduction, for example, reducing food waste and shifting diets to foods with low emissions and low land demand, although food can have positive or negative effects depending on how it is produced.

Next is reducing emissions from agricultural production itself.

Third is to remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in soils and biomass, a process called carbon sequestration. Increasing productivity on the farmland we have can help to reduce deforestation pressure elsewhere, a process called sustainable intensification.

Finally, the supply chain is a significant source of emissions, including transport, processing, retail and more.

Each approach is important, and together they can have a powerful impact.

According to FAO, Canada's top five sources of agricultural emissions are land conversion, farming on peat soils, on-farm energy use, enteric fermentation from the digestion of cattle and other ruminant livestock, and synthetic fertilizers.

Canada has a powerful tool kit of mitigation practices to draw on. I love seeing the agricultural climate solutions grants program that targets cover crops, nutrient management, shelterbelts and rotational grazing. These are all excellent priorities.

A number of additional tools are available to address your key emission sources like limiting land conversion, re-wetting peatland soils, on-farm energy conservation and using forages with high tannin levels to reduce methane. Returning sovereignty of forest land to indigenous people is also a powerful tool for protecting forest carbon.

When it comes to carbon sequestration, it's important to note that some practices have a much higher per acre impact than others. They're not all equal. Generally speaking, the more trees, the more carbon. This is why agroforestry practices that integrate trees with crops and/or livestock are especially powerful.

Carbon sequestration has other limits as well. It does slow down dramatically after several decades, and the carbon that is held can be re-released by climate disasters or a return to the previous farming practices.

To come back to the notion of the overflowing sink, the bucket for the mop is only so large, and it can be knocked over. Carbon sequestration is essential, but isn't the only approach we should take.

While many emission reduction practices are new and were created just for mitigation, this is not true for carbon sequestration. These practices were developed because they're good for the farm and/or the surrounding environment. They offer many co-benefits like climate change adaptation, which is critical because, while no farm on its own can mitigate all of climate change, every farm must be resilient to the new conditions in which they're farming.

Canadian farmers are facing increased rainfall intensity, which exacerbates erosion. Many of these carbon sequestration practices reduce erosion, and all of them improve soil organic matter, which greatly enhances soil water-holding capacity for drought resilience, among other benefits.

The proposed private member's bill, Bill C-203, an act respecting soil conservation and soil health, would create a national strategy to greatly accelerate the adoption of practices that sequester soil carbon and assist farmers to adapt to our changing climate.

Thank you once again, and I welcome the opportunity to answer any questions.

May 2nd, 2022 / 11:40 a.m.
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NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

There's a certain private member's bill, Bill C-203, that you might all be interested in looking at for further research.

I thank each of you for your answers on that.

I'll turn to the Canadian Cattlemen's Association. On your website, your organization has an article posted from February 22, entitled “Curbing methane emissions will take a team effort”. It's an in-depth approach to the different feed additives that are under development, trying to reduce methane emissions from ruminants—from dairy and from beef cattle.

We also know that there is potentially promising research out there with the development of different genetic stocks and so on, which could provide some steeper long-term decreases in methane emissions.

When you look at the research, I know research takes a lot of time to get it right. However, when you look at the progress of research both in developing those feed additives and their approval for commercial use but also the different genetics, bloodlines, that might also yield some incredible results, are you happy with the way that research is progressing?

If there's any room for improvement, is there anything that our committee could specifically be recommending to the federal government on aiding that research even further? Does the federal government need to pay more attention to funding that research because of the potential it might yield in terms of an absolute reduction in our methane emissions?

Soil ConservationRoutine Proceedings

November 29th, 2021 / 3:15 p.m.
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NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-203, An Act respecting soil conservation and soil health.

Mr. Speaker, I am extremely proud, not only as the member of Parliament for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, but also as the NDP's critic for agriculture and agri-food, to introduce this private members' bill.

Healthy soils are the foundation of sustainable food production, enhanced biodiversity and cleaner air and water. Healthy soils are also key to our fight against climate change, as good agricultural practices can unlock soils' huge carbon sequestration potential. The bill I am introducing today sets up a national strategy to promote efforts across Canada to conserve and improve the health of our soils.

The strategy would help maintain, enhance and rebuild the capacity of soils to produce food and fuel for years to come. It would encourage farmers and other land users with research, education, training and knowledge transfer in best practices. The bill would also recommend the establishment of a national advocate for soil health, and would formally recognize both World Soil Day on December 5 and National Soil Conservation Week during the third week of April each year.

Finally, I want to acknowledge and thank the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley for seconding this bill, and I invite all of my colleagues to join me in making this strategy a reality for our hard-working Canadian farmers.

(Motion deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)