Executive Director, Soil Conservation Council of Canada
Chair, Canadian Cattle Association’s Environment Committee
National Manager Agricultural Sustainability, Ducks Unlimited Canada
Vice-President, Communications & Stakeholder Relations, Fertilizer Canada & Board of Directors, Soil Conservation Council of Canada
Dr. Justine Taylor
Director, Stewardship & Sustainability, CropLife Canada
Executive Director, Canadian Forage & Grassland Association
How we conserve and preserve our soil will decide the future of our country. Soil health is at the crux of climate change, biodiversity, sustainability, and resilience. Eight independent organizations have come together to provide a set of win-win recommendations to safeguard Canada’s soil legacy.
Society begins and ends in the dirt. Ancient Rome fell with the depletion of its soil, and the principle still holds today. Healthy soil is the foundation of our food supply, climate resilience, and biodiversity. It’s the literal underpinning of our cities, forests, farms, and lives. When soil thrives, people prosper. When it falters, the fundamental pillars of a healthy society crumble one by one.
Canada is not Ancient Rome. The needs of our society, the quality of our soil resources, and the conservation tools available to us differ vastly. And yet the lessons are the same. In an era of overwhelming concern about climate change, air quality, and water conservation, it’s easy to forget that one of our most important resources is right beneath our feet. We must understand it and protect it. “It’s not just dirt,” says Jim Tokarchuk, Executive Director of the Soil Conservation Council of Canada. “It’s something much more than that. It’s as fundamental to the life and welfare of Canadians as the air we breathe and the water we drink.”
And so, as Canada grapples with the formulation of the next policy framework for soil health, it’s critical that we perform a complete accounting of our successes, missteps, historical and indigenous knowledge, and goals for the future. To this end, a diverse alliance of stakeholders — including the Soil Conservation Council of Canada, Canadian Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Canadian Cattle Association, Canadian Federation of Agriculture, CropLife Canada, Canadian Forage and Grassland Association, and Fertilizer Canada — have banded together to provide the Hon. Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, a comprehensive set of recommendations across four broad priority focal areas of climate change, biodiversity, sustainability, and resilience.
Climate change: soil as a carbon sink
“Good soil health benefits all of society, from producing healthy foods to storing vast amounts of carbon,” says Duane Thompson, Chair of the Canadian Cattle Association’s Environment Committee.
“Grasslands and grazing systems are the perfect examples of soil conservation, where there are only winners. Wildlife habitat is conserved, carbon is sequestered and stored, and a nutrient-dense food source is created,”
Biodiversity: efficient croplands safeguard nature
“Soil conservation is tremendously important from a biodiversity perspective,” says Paul Thoroughgood, National Manager of Agricultural Sustainability at Ducks Unlimited Canada. “Soil conservation and improving soil health supports increased productivity from our existing agricultural lands. This helps ensure that, as demand for agricultural goods grows, more land doesn’t have to be brought into production. The areas not under agricultural production disproportionately support biodiversity.”
Sustainability: if we deplete the soil, we deplete our future
“Canada has a robust agricultural sector that grows healthy, hearty crops for Canadians and people all over the world,” says Catherine King, Vice-President of Communications and Stakeholder Relations for Fertilizer Canada. “The foundation of our agricultural sector and one of the most important factors to a successful harvest is the soil the crops are grown in. Healthy soil is rich in nutrients, feeding our food. To ensure Canada’s soil stays healthy, nutrient management is crucial.”
The foundation of our agricultural sector and one of the most important factors to a successful harvest is the soil the crops are grown in. Healthy soil is rich in nutrients, feeding our food. To ensure Canada’s soil stays healthy, nutrient management is crucial.
“Soil is the foundation for all of the food, feed, fuel, and fibre grown around the world,” adds Dr. Justine Taylor, Director of Stewardship and Sustainability for CropLife Canada. “It’s critical that current and future policies related to sustainability and soil health recognize the importance of innovation, be science-based and be focused on outcomes rather than individual practices. It’s also important that policymakers engage with the agricultural value chain, including farmers, to ensure that any policies are practical and can be reasonably implemented by farmers to achieve improved soil health and long-term sustainability for the industry.”
Resilience: strong soil makes for a strong society
“Everybody wins from having grass on the landscape,” says Cedric MacLeod, Executive Director of the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association. “Resilient landscapes create habitat for biodiversity, store water on the landscape, and minimize flooding events to large urban areas. [Former American President Franklin D.] Roosevelt said the nation that destroys its soil destroys itself. If we don’t have a multisector approach to soil conservation and continued improvements in its health, we run the risk of fading out like other civilizations that failed because they degraded their soils.”
Collaboration thrives when everybody wins
Each of these organizations, and the thought leaders within them, are looking at the health of Canada’s soil legacy from different perspectives, with different concerns and priorities at top of mind. And yet, when they come together and set aside their specific agendas and terminologies, they find a broad consensus in their hopes and recommendations for the future of soil conservation in this country.
“The long and short of it is that a diverse bunch of people who’ve been working in each other’s margins for a while sat down and discovered that our needs aren’t all that different,” says Tokarchuk. “What’s good for agriculture can be good for wildlife and vice versa. Every person who took part in this conversation could see very clearly, as our advice to government evolved, that this was a win-win proposition. There is also a win for our federal government in meeting Canada’s national goals in addressing climate change. We can all see advances and improvements in the environment we work in, if we work together.”
It’s not every day that such diverse interests as those on display here are of a single mind as to the policy direction that will best benefit Canada. So much so, in fact, that they have provided unanimous consent on eight detailed soil health and conservation recommendations for government across the focal areas of climate change, biodiversity, sustainability, and resilience in a concise white paper undersigned by all. When thought leaders of all stripes are speaking with a single voice on a conservation issue as existential as soil health, it behooves us to sit up and listen.