Agriculture and Agri Food Canada (AAFC) has issued an apology for an error in a departmental results report wherein the ministry claimed that it was working towards a “30% reduction of fertilizer use” in Canada. 

Minister of Agriculture Lawrence MacAuley published the “2022-2023 Departmental Results Report” which contained the discrepancy. 

“The Department published a ‘What We Heard Report’ compiling the feedback received, which will inform AAFC’s work in collaboration with the sector, towards meeting the target of a 30% reduction of fertilizer use from 2020 levels by 2030,” wrote the original report.

AAFC has since said that the call for a blanket 30% reduction of fertilizer use was a mistake and that it would revise the report to accurately reflect the government’s emission goals. 

The apology came after True North contacted the federal government to explain the statement, which conflicts with the department’s stated goal of reducing fertilizer emissions by 30% by the end of the decade. 

“The Government of Canada wants to be clear that it is not imposing a 30% reduction in fertilizer use. This is in fact an error, which will be corrected in our Departmental Results Report. We would like to apologize for any confusion this may have caused,” AAFC Media Relations Officer Samantha Seary told True North. 

“There is no mandatory reduction in fertilizer use on Canadian farms. Canada’s fertilizer emissions reduction target does not represent a ban or a mandatory reduction on fertilizer use. Any plan to reduce agricultural emissions will not impose restrictions on the amount of fertilizer that Canadian farmers use, nor will it limit Canada’s ability to maximize food production.” 

Although the government claims that the reduction in fertilizer emissions would not impact crop yields, internal AAFC analysis shows that it would in fact harm crop production, especially in western Canada. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has claimed in the recent past that it’s “misinformation” to say that the government wants a 30% reduction in fertilizer. 

“I can reassure you that’s not the plan. We are not mandating a 30% reduction in fertilizer use,” said Trudeau at a town hall earlier this year.

“I know there’s a bit of misinformation out there around going after farmers around fertilizer. That’s not what we are doing. There’s some concern about what’s happening in Europe, the Netherlands particularly but that’s not what we’re doing.”

True North asked AAFC whether it considered its report to have spread misinformation by making the same claim; the department did not address the question directly in their provided statement. 

This isn’t the first time that AAFC has called for a “30% reduction in fertilizer use” instead of a reduction in fertilizer emissions. 

According to exclusive documents obtained by True North and reported in the Fertilizer Files, Fertilizer Canada representatives raised concerns about a deputy minister at AAFC who claimed during a Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute webinar that the government wanted to “reduce fertilizer use” altogether. 

Additionally, former agriculture minister Marie Claude-Bibeau delivered a speech in 2021 to her European counterparts wherein she expressed a desire for Canada to be “very closely aligned” with “the fertilizer reduction target in the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy.”

One of the key concerns raised by farmers groups and stakeholders is that the federal government has poorly communicated its goals on its fertilizer emission reduction strategy and hasn’t provided a clear path forward for the industry to move toward. 

Additionally, internal AAFC documents show that the federal government has considered a carbon tax-like “regulatory backstop” to enforce compliance with the emission reduction target. 

“We want to support measures that producers can take voluntarily to reduce their emissions, while maintaining or growing crop yields. Nitrogen fertilizer plays an important role in Canadian agriculture,” Seary told True North. 

“Efforts to achieve emissions reductions will focus on improving nitrogen management and optimizing fertilizer use – not a mandatory reduction in the use of fertilizers. The goal is to enhance farmers’ yields, while reducing emissions.”