Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to explain what the Government of Canada is doing for rural Canada, especially farming communities, in response to concerns about the environment. Good farming practices go hand in hand with healthy farming practices.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is working with all stakeholders to increase the farming sector's capacity to manage its soil resources, to provide the public with better access to a safe supply of water, to adjust to climate change, and to support the adoption of practices which will maintain soil and water quality.
The sustainability of the environment becomes particularly important when one is confronted with exceptional situations such as the drought which, once again this year, is of tremendous concern to many rural communities.
The measures we are taking to protect the environment cannot prevent drought, because no one can control meteorological conditions. But these measures can help to attenuate the effects of a possible drought. We must therefore have methods and programs in place, because writing a cheque is no guarantee of rain.
In order to put such measures in place, the federal government is working in partnership with the provinces and territories, with the sector, and with interested Canadians to develop a national strategic agricultural framework.
The agriculture strategy framework will build on our past successes in order to create a more solid structure for success. It is based on five key components which are integrated one with the other. These are risk management, food safety, renewal, science and innovation, and environmental management.
The federal and provincial Ministers of Agriculture have committed to working together to achieve a set of common objectives which will make it possible to improve the environmental performance of agricultural operations. The purpose of these concrete and quantifiable objectives is to enhance the quality of our water, our soils and our air, as well as ensuring compatibility with biodiversity.
To that end, the strategy framework contains provisions for greater use of regional environmental management plans, and improved practices relating to the use of manure, fertilizers and nutrients.
The framework encompasses the following: advantageous practices for pest-control practices and pesticide use; reduced fallow periods; increased use of no-till methods with a view to soil conservation; better management of areas along waterways, and range land and water use; and the adoption of better management practices in order to reduce odours and particulate matter emissions.
The proposed government objectives would make it possible to improve the long term sustainability of our farm operations during drought years and non-drought years alike.
This approach is based on the progress already made, thanks to the programs and practices that protect farmers against drought, and that incorporate weather conditions and other environmental factors in the farmers' daily planning and risk management processes.
These programs include initiatives such as the Environmental Farm Plans, which apply to over 20,000 farm operations in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces; Quebec's Clubs conseils en agro-environnement, which include over 4,000 farmers and encourage them to develop sustainable farm practices, while also supporting them when they make representations; and the promotion of an integrated environmental approach of agriculture, through the Agriculture Canada Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, in western Canada.
Since the catastrophic droughts of the thirties, the Agriculture Canada Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration has helped farmers greatly increase their ability to deal with the unexpected forces of nature. Thanks to increased knowledge, technological progress and better management practices, we have now significantly reduced the consequences of droughts.
On a practical level, we have built dugouts specially designed to help farmers put up with two years of drought, and irrigation systems made up of dams and reservoirs that supply water to farmers. When there is a risk of drought, it is critical to use sound soil conservation methods.
So, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada co-operates with other stakeholders to develop and promote management practices, such as conservation tillage—which allows the soil to retain water and prevents it from evaporating—chemical fallow—which helps the roots of dead weeds retain water—plans to use nutrients, grassed waterways, grazing management of native grasslands, cross slope cultivation and contour farming.
The Soil Conservation Council of Canada, which has its headquarters in Saskatoon, has set up a national network of soil conservation organizations and is trying to promote the conservation and enrichment of Canada's soils for the benefit of present and future generations.
The use of healthy, ecological soil management practices can appreciably reduce the levels of greenhouse gases and help attenuate the effects of drought.
The federal government encourages producers to adopt practices which will increase the amount of organic carbon deposited in soils and vegetation. It also encourages producers to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide and methane, which are by-products of farming. These practices also lessen soil disturbance and increase crop yield and the effectiveness of fertilizers.
Other methods are used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as reducing soil tillage, incorporating more forage crops in crop rotations, planting more windbreaks, switching to grass and forage crops on marginal lands, and improving management of pasture land.
The national strategic agricultural framework being proposed emphasizes these initiatives and promises a healthier agricultural environment and a healthier society. It includes an exhaustive plan for the accelerated adoption of environmental protection measures. This plan covers Canadian farming operations and will help us to meet the measurable objectives applying to all facets of our environment.
Let us be clear. Healthy ecological practices are not just good for the environment. They also make good business sense. Consumers the world over are demanding that food production methods respect the environment. A more rational use of resources could reduce costs and increase the revenues from new green markets. By adopting these methods, the sector will become more cost-effective.
In conclusion, the Government of Canada will continue to support our farmers and their efforts to manage the environment with respect. Their efforts and their proper management of the environment, through the programs we have put in place, as well as the promise of a new approach to our environmental responsibilities, will strengthen our agricultural sector, a key component of rural Canada.