NFU Series #4: Farmers Can’t Do it Alone. What we need to fight the climate crisis.

Posted by National Farmers Union on February 24, 2021

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This is the fourth and final post in a series of guest posts by the National Farmers Union. They are highlighting the work of young farmers and bringing climate change to the forefront in B.C. agriculture.

In inspiring numbers, young farmers are taking to the land to act on climate – but we know that our individual zeal, commitment, and fighting spirit will not be enough to achieve the drastic reduction in on-farm emissions that we so desperately need.

“I can make my own individual actions but what we really need is broader national and international policy, and a better ability to make those hard decisions that are going to create an actual impact.” – Gemma, Zaklan Heritage Farm

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It will take systemic change, widespread policy support, and a government-led warlike mobilization to change the tide – so farming solutions can be climate solutions, so we can create a climate-resilient agroecological future, and so farmers can focus on farming. 

Now is the critical moment for farmers to be louder. We can take an active role in shaping how the inevitable agricultural transformation will unfold in the face of climate change, or we can risk ceding control to other interests. 

In the National Farmer’s Union, farmers are finding a collective voice. 

The groundbreaking NFU report,  “Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis; A Transformative Strategy for Canadian Farms and Food Systems” articulates a world-class policy roadmap for slashing agriculture emissions and restoring the livelihood of Canadian farming. 

Some of the top policy recommendations include:

    1. Federal and provincial governments must refocus Canadian agricultural policy—away from maximum-export, maximum-production, maximum-input, maximum-emission farm and food systems toward sustainability, resilience, higher net incomes, and increasing the number of farmers stewarding the land.
    2. As widely as possible, we must replace fossil fuels with low-emission electricity. Governments should provide incentives and financing for on-farm solar arrays; fund R&D to create battery-electric tractors, trucks, and machinery; finance energy-saving retrofits for farm buildings and homes; and improve building codes for new construction.
    3. Governments should help farmers reduce emissions from nitrogen fertilizer by incentivizing efficiency (4R techniques), introducing policies to reduce total tonnage (targets, independent soil testing, a small tax on fertilizer to fund fertilizer-reduction research), and mandating low-emission production facilities (renewable energy and carbon capture).
  • Maximize benefits from livestock while minimizing emissions. Government educational efforts, policies, and support programs must work to proliferate best-possible grazing systems, genetics, herd health, and feeding. This will improve soils, support grassland ecosystems, and help integrate livestock into biodiverse mixed farms. 

The National Farmers Union boldly proposes that we need new government agencies, such as a Canadian Farm Resilience Agency (CFRA), to oversee and coordinate the technical aspects of transition. 

Modelled on the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) but updated for the 21st century and emerging climate threats, a CFRA could lead on-farm mitigation and adaptation, oversee wetlands restoration and tree planting, manage extension agrologists and independent soil testing, and operate demonstration farms where emission-minimizing production practices could be refined and showcased. We need wartime levels of government action and leadership to avoid massive damage to our climate, farms, food supply, and future.

  “Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis; A Transformative Strategy for Canadian Farms and Food Systems

Behind any successful policy work, there’s a movement. That’s why it matters that as young farmers who care about climate action, we have no shortage of vision, ideas, and passion. 

We know the situation is dire, and we are willing to take immediate and coordinated action.

What we need are policy-frameworks that are multi-pronged and well-calibrated to BC’s highly diverse farm sector, uplifting agroecological practices at every scale. 

Ultimately, we need to address existing policy and larger corporations and how they’re contributing to climate change.” -Alisha, Legacy Growers Collective

“Just like there’s no one type of farming that can feed the people – the large-scale big monocrop stuff isn’t doing it and the small market gardeners aren’t either – there needs to be a lot more thought put into, what makes sense for this person might not make sense for this other person, and how to localize it. What might be a solution for me is not a solution for the guy down the road growing thousands of acres of canola.” – Tiffany Traverse, 4th Sister Farm

“I believe biodiversity is the key to a profitable and healthy farm business that is resilient to climate change. We listen and observe and allow nature to each of us. We follow nature’s model and adjust our farming practices.” – Sam Ballan, Chub Lake Ranch

“Diversity in crops. Diversity in farm sizes. Diversity in farming techniques. Because with that, we have a greater range of things to draw from.” – Noa Levart, young farmer

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“For the meat sector, policy is so not supportive of small-scale people who are trying to do it in an ethical or environmentally sensitive way, and the carbon footprint of that sector is really massive – that’s a big place that needs to be changed.” – Gemma, Zaklan Heritage Farm

We need support in identifying and implementing the most effective on-farm mitigation measures. 

“We’re facing a knowledge barrier – what can actually be effective? How do we balance the economics of our practices with what actually makes a difference?” – Gemma, Zaklan Heritage Farm

“There is a lot of potential for BC to lead the way in sustainable agriculture. What that looks like to me is integrating different kinds of technology, whether that be scientific technology or traditional technology and knowledge, having better connections and opportunities for farmers to improve methods and have access to different technologies, and having policies that really support farmers not having to jump over these hurdles on their own.” – Cara Legault, young farmer

We need more of us, from all backgrounds, with access to affordable land and we need to learn from and empower each other.  

“A climate resilient agriculture sector really needs black people, indigenous people, people of colour at the foregrounds of cutting edge, innovative technologies. Accessing land is a really big piece of it and it’s really important that the sharing of this land involves First Nations and is not just something that the province of BC is jurisdicting.

The truth is that people have been living in this place for time immemorial and they have been feeding themselves since time immemorial so they have this relationship with the plants and they know how to maintain the ecosystem in a way that lasts beyond climate change. The truth is that these techniques that some of these older cultures have been maintaining, they’re now coming back re-packaged in sustainable agriculture. You go to an organic farm, they’ll tell you we do crop rotation, we do no-till, we do polycultures, and all these things, when you look deeper into them, they come from black farmers. They come from indigenous farmers.” -Alisha, Legacy Growers Collective

We need the implementation capital to act on everything we already know – compensation for shepherding ecosystem services, financial support in taking more on-farm action, and coordinated campaigns to grow fair markets for local sustainable food. 

“I’m a young farmer and I don’t have capital, or the means to capital as far as any grants or subsidies to help me do projects that I’d love to do.  I would go plant a large forest in the back right now if there was any support to do so. There’s an entire acre of pastureland that I would love to reforest back there, but financially I can’t do that because my profits are still razor thin at this point and it’s a huge investment that I guess I’ll do slowly, but it would be nice if there was some support.” – JJ White, Flora and Fungi Farm

“I would absolutely love to switch us over to solar. We have heavy winds in the Peace – our power gets knocked out very frequently. We do have a generator, but a generator again is fossil fuels. I would absolutely love to have something where we could partially switch over to solar. We can’t afford the initial start-up, that’s one of the more prohibitive things to switching over.” – Tiffany Traverse, 4th Sister Farm

“We need resources and support for small farmers, sure, but also really supporting big agriculture to make the changes that are needed because that’s where more of the climate mitigation is going to come from.” – Gemma, Zaklan Heritage Farm

We need to have difficult conversations about land ownership and rematriation. 

“The big elephant in the room that’s never part of the climate change talks is land and to actually address climate change there has to be some addressing of land ownership and treaties that still haven’t been figured out. For there to be climate action there has to be reconciliation and farming is a huge part of that.” – JJ, Flora and Fungi Farms

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Stewardship does not equal ownership. We have to get away from that. I don’t own this thing because I pay the bank to live here. I’m a small part of what’s happening here. Being of indigenous blood, I really do strongly believe that land back and land rematriation is a piece to the climate puzzle. I really feel like a lot of the solutions to the climate could be mitigated by having indigenous peoples back on the land to help steward, utilizing plants, broadcasting of native species, back to our traditional hunting methods which we know are amazing.” – Tiffany Traverse, 4th Sister Farm

And first things first, to do all of that – we need to be organized. 

We need to come together as farmers, and farm-allies, to do the critical policy and direct action work that this time demands of us. 

So, please consider joining us at the National Farmers Union!

If you care deeply about the future of farming and the planet, you will find a vibrant and inviting home at the National Farmers Union. 

We are a grassroots, democratic national organization that has been committed to protecting small to medium scale farms and farmers for 50+ years. 

Have questions? Reach out to Freya (kellet@nfu.ca) or Laura (fash@nfu.ca).

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