Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for inviting Fertilizer Canada to speak with you today regarding your study on climate change and water and soil conservation issues.
I'm pleased to provide the committee with information about our association's mandate and to present our recommendations to enhance the government's goal of supporting the Canadian agricultural sector to better adapt to potential impacts of climate change. This is an area of significant interest to Fertilizer Canada.
Fertilizer Canada represents the manufacturers and wholesale and retail distributors of potash, nitrogen, phosphate, and sulphur fertilizers. Collectively our members employ more than 12,000 Canadians and contribute over $12 billion annually to the Canadian economy through advanced manufacturing, mining, and distribution facilities nationwide. Fertilizer is an important input for farmers, providing nutrients to plants that are not readily available in the soil, fostering plant growth, and increasing yields. Approximately 50% of crop production can be attributed to fertilizer use. That's on a global basis, but very similar to what we would see in Canada.
Our product has increasing importance as we seek to feed an increasing global population. In a continuously evolving climate, Canadian farmers must ensure that crop production is sustainable. The framework we use to sustainably grow food is “4R” nutrient stewardship. It says that to utilize fertilizer properly and to achieve the benefits of an abundant and healthy crop, farmers should follow the “4Rs” of fertilizer use: using the right source of fertilizer and applying it at the right place, at the right time, and at the right rate. 4R nutrient stewardship is innovative, as it encourages an adaptive and integrative nutrient management approach that is specific to any farmer's soil and climate conditions, including the crop they're growing, while mitigating negative impacts on the climate.
We believe that 4R nutrient stewardship is an important tool for supporting the Canadian agricultural sector in the face of climate change and addressing associated soil and water concerns. While we understand that the focus of the current study is not on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we do think it's important to note here that 4R nutrient stewardship does lend itself to addressing this environmental concern as part of the bigger picture of soil health and climate change. Our Canadian-made offset, the nitrous oxide emission reduction protocol, or the NERP, which applies 4R nutrient stewardship, is evidence of this. Recognized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations as a climate-smart agricultural practice, this protocol can reduce on-farm emissions of nitrous oxide, which is a potent greenhouse gas, by up to 25%.
Our first recommendation to the committee is that the federal government formally recognize and endorse 4R nutrient stewardship as the leading approach for sustainable nutrient management in Canada. We have well-established partnerships with provincial governments, retailers, conservation authorities, crop advisers, and farmers themselves in the major agriculture-producing provinces—Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, and we're working very closely to get a program going in Quebec—for regional implementation of 4R nutrient stewardship.
We also participate in national efforts, including the Canadian round table for sustainable crops and the national environmental farm plan program, both of which are integrating 4R nutrient stewardship in measuring progress and compliance for agricultural sustainability. Additionally, the International Joint Commission, which oversees the jurisdiction of the Great Lakes, recognizes 4R nutrient stewardship as an effective method for reducing nutrient runoff.
The timing for the federal government to acknowledge this approach has never been more critical given the level of awareness and support the 4Rs have achieved over the past several years among the agricultural sector at large. The Canadian government should take advantage of this voluntary effort by acknowledging 4R nutrient stewardship, integrating it into its communications about nutrient management, and encouraging our agricultural sector to adopt its principles and practices.
I do want to note that the federal government has been very good in providing us with funding for research and extension over the years, but what we're really seeking is that the federal government, through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, really integrates the 4Rs into the way it talks about fertilizer use and nutrient management and gives it that final push to make it truly a federal-provincial program.
Building on this, our second recommendation is to provide incentives or recognition to farmers who adopt 4R nutrient stewardship. Fertilizer Canada has an ambitious goal of achieving 20 million acres under 4R nutrient stewardship by the year 2020; approximately 20% of Canada's cropland.
Enabling farmers to implement 4R nutrient stewardship practices on their farms will drive greater uptake. This might be a financial incentive, a workshop, other means of engaging farmers, or just a simple pat on the back. When farmers see the co-benefits, economic and environmental, of applying the 4Rs, they are more likely to use the practice on their farm. For example, many Prince Edward Island farmers are seeing evidence of yield and environmental benefits of 4R nutrient stewardship compared to traditional practices of fertilizer application.
Fertilizer Canada also has a number of publicly available tools and resources that help farmers use the 4Rs in different Canadian landscapes, and suggests practices that can reduce the impacts on soil and waterways.
Our third recommendation is to continue to support agricultural research to better understand nutrient losses and their impacts on soil and water, and how those impacts can be measured using the 4Rs. Our industry is science-based, and is committed to research and innovation to ensure environmental stewardship when fertilizer products are being used.
Fertilizer Canada's 4R research network has nine leading Canadian scientists collaborating on innovative best management practices using 4R nutrient stewardship that demonstrate tangible environmental benefits. As an example, one researcher in the prairies is finding that in-soil placement of phosphorus fertilizer can be an effective strategy to maximize crop response and minimize the potential for phosphorus runoff.
We hope to advance this work to protect fresh water through the proposed smart agrifood supercluster; a short-listed application currently before Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. As Fertilizer Canada's contribution to this proposal, we seek to expand research and programming to enhance water quality in the Lake Erie and Lake Winnipeg watershed regions. We're also collaborating with other agriculture commodity groups on a fertilizer use survey, which over the past four years has been collecting data on farmer practices for source, rate, time, and place for the major Canadian crops.
With all this information there's an opportunity to understand interactions between practices, how they interact under specific climatic conditions, and how they collectively can provide benefits to improving soil and water quality.
Environmental stewardship and sustainability are not new ideas for our industry or for Canadian farmers, who have long embraced past management practices on their farms, yards, and business operations.
As we move forward, it's increasingly important to demonstrate our successes in measurable ways, and also to identify areas of potential improvement. Farmers need all of us in the agrifood sector just as much as we need them, so we can continue to have abundant and nutritious food.