Report to Ministers of Agriculture
Federal-Provincial Agriculture Committee
on Environmental Sustainability
June 30, 1990
The Federal-Provincial Agriculture Committee on Environmental Sustainability
was set up under the Agri-food Policy Review in November 1989. Their
task was to develop an action plan to address natural resource base
and environmental quality issues facing Canada's agri-food sector; and
to report to federal and provincial Ministers of Agriculture. The Committee
was assisted by a Working Group with members drawn from federal and
provincial governments, producers, and other agri-food sector stakeholders.
The issues dealt with were: soil concerns associated with degradation
and urban encroachment; water quality linked to pesticides and other
agricultural contaminants; the relationship between agriculture and
wildlife habitats; excess or inadequate water supply; problems such
as climate change and ozone depletion; inefficient energy use and the
lack of economically viable alternatives to fossil fuels; pollution
and waste management problems; and concerns linked to genetic resources.
These issues were examined with the view that sustainable agri-food
systems are those that are economically viable, and meet society's need
for safe and nutritious food, while conserving or enhancing Canada's
natural resources and the quality of the environment for future generations.
In the agri-food sector, environmental sustainability is the capacity
to maintain indefinitely the environment necessary to sustain agri-food
Collectively, these issues were seen to constitute a threat to the
environmental sustainability of agriculture and of the agri-food sector
as a whole. However, since these are not the only issues that affect
overall sustainability, other aspects of sustainable agriculture are
being addressed by other task forces and processes. For example, food
safety, pesticide registration, competitiveness, and farm safety nets,
are being addressed under the Agri-food Policy Review. The present report
focuses on those sustainability issues that are most closely linked
to natural resources and environmental quality, while recognizing the
need to integrate economic and social concerns.
As a subset of the overall concept of sustainable agriculture, the
goal for environmental sustainability that guided the Committee's deliberations
was the following:
To maintain or enhance the natural resources that the agri-food
sector uses or affects, while ensuring environmental, economic and
To achieve this goal the following three objectives were identified:
- To conserve and enhance the natural resources that agriculture
uses and shares.
- To be compatible with other environmental resources that are
affected by agriculture.
- To be proactive in protecting the agri-food sector from the
environmental impacts caused by other sectors and factors external
2. POLICY SETTING
The report highlights the major policy developments during the 1980's
on topics such as sustainable development, the National Agriculture
Strategy, the federal-provincial Soil and Water Accords and the National
Soil Conservation Program (NSCP). It identifies a few of the many studies
that have documented the extent and severity of environmental sustainability
issues in the Canadian agri-food sector. Many of these studies linked
the problems to both underlying economic conditions and some of our
major sectoral programs such as Crop Insurance, Western Grain Stabilization,
Western Grain Transportation Act, and others. The need for thorough
policy and program reform in support of environmental sustainability
is emphasized throughout the report, and emerges as one of the principal
3. ISSUES AND FUTURE ACTIONS
Each of the eight main issues is explored in detail, a vision for
the future presented, and actions to take us to the year 2000 are recommended.
In order to make the vision a reality, the Committee stressed the need
for a more holistic approach to the management of our natural resources.
The holistic approach is one that integrates all factors including environmental,
economic and social, on the basis of systems, rather than individual
The Committee's vision for the eight issues is:
- A secure and well-managed resource base of agricultural land
and soil to support the long-term productivity and competitiveness
of the Canadian agri-food industry
- An agri-food sector that contributes to improved surface and
groundwater quality through the use of environmentally sustainable
production and processing practices.
- An agri-food sector that has adapted itself to, and manages
on a sustainable basis, the surface and groundwater resources available
- Canada's agri-food sector and wildlife resources to be managed
for sustainability and long-term mutual benefits.
- An agri-food sector that is able to respond to air and climate
change, and which does not itself contribute to air and climate
- An agri-food sector that is more energy efficient, less polluting
and less dependent on non-renewable energy sources.
- A major reduction in the impact of pollution on air, soil and
water resources used by the agri-food sector. An agri-food sector
that has minimized its contribution to air, soil and water degradation
- Canada to have an accessible and sufficiently diversified genetic
resource base that can be effectively utilized to assure the sustainability
of agriculture for future generations
Examples of actions required to move the sector towards these visions
are summarized under the following headings:
- Agricultural Practices
- Which: reduce summer fallow, diversify and extend crop rotations
and conserve moisture; cut back on the amount of tillage; remove
highly erodible and environmentally sensitive lands from production;
maintain cover crops or crop residues for soil cover; incorporate
legumes in crop rotation, and other practices which maintain
both productivity and environmental quality.
- On economically and environmentally sound production practices:
holistic ecosystems- based management practices; interactions
between agriculture and wildlife; integrated pest and fertilizer
management; climate change; alternative energy sources; technologies
to support the three "R's" of reducing, reusing and recycling
in the agri-food sector; methodologies and technologies for
maintaining genetic resources; criteria for assessing environmental
sustainability of programs; the impacts of environmental problems
on the agri-food sector. There is a need for much more on-farm
research and on-site demonstrations.
- Education and Awareness
- Enhanced information regarding best management practices
compatible with the ecological limits in defined areas or ecozones;
better training, on-farm demonstrations and information for
farmers and extension professionals on holistic management practices;
improved curricula and teaching materials for agricultural colleges
and universities; an awareness campaign targeted at the general
- Land Use Planning and Management
- Protection of the agricultural land base through: greater
multi-purpose land use and rural landscape planning; improved
mechanisms for resolving conflicts and strengthening compatibility
between agriculture and wildlife; reforming municipal assessment
and taxation policies to provide greater protection for farmers;
reviewing legislation and enforcement with respect to land use
zoning with a view to protecting farmland from urban encroachment
and enhancing environmental protection.
- Through developing comprehensive data bases on agricultural
resources and environmental quality; improved monitoring of
land use change, degradation and the state of conservation in
the sector; developing both physical and economic indicators.
- Policy and Program Reform
- Including: accelerated development of programs under the
new crop insurance legislation that are supportive of environmental
sustainability; reform of safety-nets to enhance resource sustainability;
implementing cross-compliance, by making eligibility for program
benefits conditional upon approval of individual farm conservation
plans, including waste management strategies; greater use of
long-term programs to address long-term resource and environmental
problems; and other policy and program reform measures which
strengthen both economic viability and environmental sustainability.
4. FRAMEWORK FOR ACTION
The Committee's framework for action emphasizes the goal of maintaining
or enhancing the natural resources that the agri-food sector uses or
affects, while ensuring environmental, economic and social integration.
A key element of the framework is cooperative partnerships between governments
and other stakeholders. The framework also highlights the importance
of both direct action through long-term programming and indirect action
through immediate policy and program reform. Regionally sensitive implementation
in line with respective roles and jurisdictions of all partners is an
important dimension of the framework. The Committee recognized the need
for greater resources to enable the adoption of a holistic approach
to environmentally sustainable agriculture. It also noted that existing
Federal-Provincial Soil and Water Accords could serve as a model to
be broadened to embrace all aspects of environmentally sustainable agriculture.
5. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
- An agro-ecosystems approach to managing the sector is the key
to conserving or enhancing the natural resources that agriculture
uses or shares.
- The same agro-ecosystems approach that leads to conservation
or enhancement of the agricultural resource base, will also effectively
address the off-farm environmental quality concerns which are so
closely linked to management practices, inputs and technology used
on the farm.
- The adoption of effective resource management and environmentally
sustainable practices is directly related to the economic feasibility
and viability of the practices.
- Environmental sustainability is an important key to long-term
sustainability and competitiveness in the agri-food sector.
- The assessment of agri-food sector performance and its contribution
to national income must take into account both the impact on soil,
water and other natural resource capital, and the public cost of
environmental damage resulting from activities in the sector.
- Producers, extension personnel and the general public must be
the target for education and awareness activities that have been
strengthened and refocused towards environmentally sustainable agricultural
- Current efforts to make the agri-food sector more environmentally
sustainable are encouraging, but a more consistently holistic approach
must be pursued in all areas, particularly education and research,
to ensure significant, long-term improvement.
- The proposed action plan to address environmental sustainability
in the agri-food sector should be considered as a subset of the
whole sustainable agriculture effort. It will have its fullest impact
if the other elements encompassed in a broad sustainable agriculture
strategy are implemented.
- Actions which enhance environmental sustainability will also
lead to greater market responsiveness, self-reliance and regional
diversity that reflects the strengths and needs of each region in
the Canadian agri-food sector.
Governments and industry are strongly encouraged to confirm and demonstrate
their long-term commitment to environmental sustainability of the agri-food
sector through the implementation of the following recommendations:
- Adopt the comprehensive policy framework comprising the issues
and future actions, and framework for action identified in this
report, and apply in a regionally sensitive way the actions outlined,
to ensure environmental, economic and social integration.
- The federal and provincial governments should review respective
and joint programs and activities related to environmental sustainability
issues, so that long-term support is both adequate and responsive
to regional conditions and swords.
- Accelerate reform of policies and programs that contribute to
resource base and environmental degradation, and reallocate resources
to support environmental sustainability.
- Improve federal-provincial-industry cooperation and coordination
by building on the existing Federal-Provincial Soil and Water Accords
- to confirm the Accords as the formal mechanism through which
long-term environmental sustainability will be brought about;
- to broaden the scope of agricultural resource base and environmental
issues that can be addressed under the Accords, in order to
provide for a more holistic approach; and
- to involve farmers, agri-food industry representatives and
others, such as local governments where appropriate, with the
work of the Accord Management Committees.
- Institute a national advisory council to ministers on resource
base and environmental quality issues involving the agri-food sector,
drawing membership from the Accord Management Committees, national
organizations and educational institutions with an interest in the
environmental sustainability of the agri-food sector.
- Under the ad vice of the Accord Management Committees, develop
and implement long-term, cost-shared environmental sustainability
agreements to provide additional resources for measures such as
technical and financial assistance, monitoring, research, education
and awareness activities, to encourage adoption of sound resource
- Governments to provide leadership through legislative and regulatory
measures for protecting agricultural resources and the environment.
- Governments, educational institutions and industry to take immediate
steps to strengthen and reorient research and education programs
and awareness activities towards a more holistic, environmentally
sound management of natural resources.
- All governments to adopt consistent criteria for assessing the
environmental sustainability of agricultural policies and programs.
- Immediately initiate a detailed examination of the feasibility
and acceptability of implementing suitable cross-compliance measures
in federal and provincial agricultural programs.
- Develop indicators to monitor and assess the state of natural
resources and environmental quality in relation to agriculture.
Created: Fri August 25, 1995
Wednesday, May 11, 2011 04:19:47 PM