|A farm fertilizer plant in Brandon, MB. Photo by Larry Powell.|
SASKATOON, Sask: The National Farmers Union (NFU) recently released a report entitled Nitrogen Fertilizer: Critical Nutrient, Key Farm Input, and Major Environmental Problem. The report takes a big-picture look at nitrogen fertilizer, details its many benefits and also its negative impacts, and makes the case for optimizing rather than maximizing tonnage.
The report examines the path governments and farmers must navigate as we make our way toward Canada’s 2030 and 2050 greenhouse gas (GHG) emission-reduction commitments. The report is the NFU’s submission to the federal government’s consultations on its target to reduce fertilizer-related emissions by 30%.
GHG emissions from Canadian agriculture and farm input manufacturing are up by one-third since 1990. The primary cause is rising emissions from nitrogen fertilizer production and use. Darrin Qualman, NFU Director of Climate Crisis Policy and Action, commented: “These upward trends in emissions from agriculture and fertilizer are incompatible with Canada’s commitment to reduce economy-wide emissions by 40% by 2030.”
Nitrogen fertilizer is a crucial and valuable farm input that most farmers will continue to use. But rapid increases in nitrogen tonnage in Canada and around the world are creating problems. Canadian tonnage has almost doubled since 2006; Saskatchewan tonnage has quadrupled since 1992. Qualman noted: “GHG emissions won’t go down if fertilizer tonnage continues to go up.”
He underscored the voluntary nature of the government’s 30% reduction target for fertilizer-related emissions, saying: “Contrary to rhetoric from some, governments are not proposing bans or forced reductions; governments are using incentives and cost-sharing programs to get farmers onside with voluntary efficiency measures and rate reductions. Federal and provincial governments have allocated hundreds-of-millions of dollars to fund these voluntary cost-share programs. And as governments help farmers use fertilizer more efficiently, farmers’ costs can go down and their margins can go up.”
The NFU report also details lack of competition in the fertilizer sector and potential profiteering. “Record-high fertilizer prices and company profits cut deep into farmers’ incomes. We can reduce farmers’ dependence and vulnerability and reduce emissions at the same time,” said Qualman.
He concludes: “Defending fertilizer is not the same as defending farmers. Fertilizer companies prosper when they sell as much as possible. Farmers prosper when they use only as much as necessary.”
For more information:
Darrin Qualman, Director of Climate Crisis Policy & Action