Contrary to claims by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the Liberal government is not asking farmers to decrease their fertilizer use, a new report concluded that it would be impossible to achieve the 30% fertilizer emission reduction target without drastic cuts to fertilizer use. 

The University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy report titled Planning to Fail: A Case Study of Canada’s Fertilizer Based Emission Target said that while the target was laudable, the voluntary targets failed to take into account regional conditions and could not be achieved unless Canadian farmers are willing to jeopardize their economic viability. 

“The proposed target (is) unachievable without drastic reductions in nitrogen fertilizer use,” wrote the report’s authors. 

“Given the variation in climate and production across the country, a one size fits all approach is unlikely to be effective. Provincial governments and organizations should be encouraged to develop regional solutions to meet national objectives, with the (federal government) providing coordination and support.”

Report co-author Dr. Guillaume Lhermie said that the federal policy first devised by Trudeau in his 2020 climate plan has reduction of use written into it and it could jeopardize Canada’s place as an economic breadbasket. 

“It is putting a lot of pressure on producers to decrease their emissions and their fertilizer use,” said Lhermie. 

“Canada could be able to justify that they were able to reduce their emissions. However, that doesn’t mean other countries will do the same. This could open the door to less sustainable practices in other countries, because we still need to feed people.”

Earlier this year, Trudeau told farmers that they were under the spell of “disinformation and misinformation” due to social media.

“I want to be clear, we are consulting with farmers in the industry about a voluntary, not mandatory reduction in emissions from fertilizer not in use of fertilizers,” said Trudeau. 

However, exclusive reporting by True North shows that the federal government was aware that adopting such targets would result in decreased crop yield for farmers in Western Canada and even floated the idea of a carbon tax-like regulatory backstop to enforce fertilizer emission reduction targets. 

In the paper, researchers argued for a province-led strategy to deal with emissions in agriculture and not the current federal approach. 

“For example, a made-in-Alberta strategy will likely focus on large-scale grain and oil seed production for dryland and irrigated production systems. Recommended (best practices), current levels of adoption, and barriers to increasing adoption will likely differ from those developed for Quebec or PEI,” the paper argued. 

“Provincial targets may also receive greater buy-in as regional differences and producer concerns are more likely to be reflected in regional targets than at the national level.”