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Q&A with Minister Bibeau on Canada’s Agriculture and Agri-Food Sector

minister of agriculture
minister of agriculture
Photo courtesy of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Mediaplanet chatted with the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food in Canada, about the work being done to ensure the sustainability and long-term resilience of Canada’s agriculture sector.

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Minister Bibeau, as the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, what are your top priorities and strategies to ensure sustainable and resilient agriculture in Canada? 

The Government of Canada is committed to taking action to support farmers and producers to reduce emissions, implement climate-smart farming practices, and grow the economy. 

Through the Sustainable Agriculture Strategy, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) is developing an integrated and coordinated approach to improving the agriculture sector’s environmental performance and supporting its long-term vitality. We’re working in collaboration with a wide range of partners. The strategy will focus on five priority areas: soil health, climate adaptation and resilience, water, climate change mitigation, and biodiversity. It will also inform actions that the Government of Canada can take to contribute to its target of reducing emissions from fertilizer application by 30 per cent by 2030 (based on 2020 levels).

In addition, on April 1, 2023, federal-provincial-territorial governments launched the new Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership (Sustainable CAP), which supports our shared vision for Canada as a world leader in sustainable agriculture and agri-food production. Over the next five years, Sustainable CAP will provide $3.5 billion in federal-provincial-territorial investments. Sustainable CAP has set $1 billion in federal programs and activities, and another $2.5 billion in cost-shared programs and activities funded by federal, provincial, and territorial governments. This represents a 25 per cent increase in funding for cost-shared activities compared to the previous framework. This also includes the Resilient Agricultural Landscape Program, a $250-million cost-shared program to help producers conserve and enhance the resiliency of agricultural landscapes. This new program will use an ecological goods and services payment approach to support on-farm adoption. To best support producers with the on-farm adoption of beneficial management practices while reflecting local conditions and regional needs, the program will be designed and delivered by provinces and territories. 

Additionally, the Government of Canada is investing over $1.5 billion into initiatives that will help farmers and processors reduce their environmental footprint, invest in clean technologies, and collaborate with researchers in living labs to adopt sustainable practices that work on the farm. These initiatives include: 

  • $670 million for the On-Farm Climate Action Fund to help farmers tackle climate change. This includes providing funding directly to farmers to accelerate the adoption of beneficial management practices to reduce greenhouse gases and support sustainable farming for decades to come. These practices also provide other environmental benefits, such as improved biodiversity and soil health.  
  • $495.7 million in the Agricultural Clean Technology Program to scale up the development and adoption of clean technology in the sector. 
  • $100 million in transformative science for a sustainable sector in an uncertain climate and to support the sector’s role in the transition to a net-zero economy for 2050, including fundamental and applied research to support a path to net-zero emissions, knowledge transfer, and developing metrics. 
  • $185 million for the Agricultural Climate Solutions — Living Labs Program, where producers, researchers, and other stakeholders work together to co-develop and test innovative on-farm climate solutions under real-world conditions and to accelerate the co-development, testing, adoption, dissemination, and monitoring of technologies and practices, including beneficial management practices, that sequester carbon and/or mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. 

Now is the time to build on past and current successes and to work together to address ongoing climate and environment challenges in the sector while ensuring productivity continues to meet growing demands for food. 

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Can you elaborate on your plans to promote innovation and technology adoption in the agricultural sector to enhance productivity and address environmental challenges?  

Increasing the use of clean technology is essential to both growing the economy and protecting the environment. This will enable farmers to increase their competitiveness and reduce their carbon footprints while allowing innovators to develop new technologies with a positive environmental impact. It’s as good for the bottom line as it is for the climate. 

Canada’s hard-working farmers and ranchers have a solid track record of using innovation and new technologies to preserve and protect the natural resources on which they depend — for example, with zero-emission on-farm equipment or machinery, precision agriculture, artificial intelligence, and innovations that enable the use of alternative energy and bioenergy. The recently expanded $495.7 million Agricultural Clean Technology Program supports the development, purchase, and installation of commercially available clean technologies and processes.  

For example, under the ACT — Adoption Stream, Entosystem Inc. in Drummondville, Que., received up to $2 million to purchase and install state-of-the-art, energy-efficient technologies and equipment to streamline the production of insect-based products to be used in animal feed and fertilizer. As another example, under the ACT — Research and Innovation Stream, Lucent BioSciences in Burnaby, B.C., is receiving up to $1,333,761 to develop natural-based, non-polluting micronutrients suitable for seed coating — a solution that aims to help improve crop yields and will lead to more efficient use of fertilizer by reducing runoff of the main ingredients in most fertilizers, known as NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium).  We’re also working with producers and sector stakeholders through the $185-million, 10-year Agricultural Climate Solutions — Living Labs Program. Each living lab will focus on co-developing innovative technologies and on-farm management practices that can be adopted by farmers nationwide to sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The solutions developed will also help protect biodiversity on farms, improve water and soil quality, and, through the efficient management of resources, strengthen farmers’ bottom lines. Because the resulting innovations are co-developed with farmers from beginning to end, they’re more likely to be adopted by farmers. The process ensures that innovations are economically viable, technically feasible, and desirable for the producers in addition to being scientifically sound. Collaboration with farmers throughout the cycle of innovation is essential. 

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Food security is a pressing issue globally. What initiatives or policies are you implementing to strengthen Canada’s food security and support vulnerable populations, both domestically and internationally? 

The Government of Canada is committed to addressing food issues in Canada and has invested over $134 million in initial investments to support the Food Policy for Canada. These investments reflect what was heard during consultations on the food issues that matter most to those living in Canada. The Food Policy is helping Canada build healthier and more sustainable food systems — ones that build on a robust agenda to support sustainable growth for farmers, producers, and food businesses in Canada. 
 
Under the Food Policy for Canada, AAFC is delivering on the following:  

  • The $70-million, five-year Local Food Infrastructure Fund (LFIF), which is aimed at community-based, not-for-profit organizations. Since it first launched in August 2019, the LFIF has committed $55.4 million to support over 897 vital food security projects across Canada. On December 16, 2022, AAFC announced  support for up to 79 new projects across Canada that promote food security in Indigenous, remote, and northern communities under the fourth phase of the LFIF.
  • The $20-million Food Waste Reduction Challenge, which includes four streams (divided into two cohorts) to enable innovative solutions for different areas. Reducing food waste plays a role in increasing the amount of food that’s available for those who need it. Other government organizations, including the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, are working to raise awareness of reducing food waste, including educational initiatives on best-before dates. 

The Government of Canada recognizes that food prices and food security concerns have been on the rise, putting pressure on household finances and making it more difficult for many Canadians to afford nutritious food. This is why Budget 2022 reaffirms the commitment for the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food to work with provinces, territories, municipalities, and Indigenous partners to develop a national school food policy and explore how more Canadian children can receive nutritious food at school. 

In addition to the food policy, during the pandemic the government also invested $330 million in the Emergency Food Security Fund to support food assistance organizations in addressing immediate needs. As part of this funding, AAFC transferred $30 million to Indigenous Services Canada to support projects targeting food security as part of the Indigenous Community Support Fund. 

The Government of Canada is also providing new, targeted inflation relief to Canadians hardest hit by rising food prices. As announced as part of Budget 2023, the Government of Canada introduced a Grocery Rebate to provide financial support to eligible Canadians.

At a time of unprecedented global challenges and rising costs, ensuring that Canada’s agricultural and agri-food sector continues to grow is vital to strengthening food security for all Canadians, including vulnerable populations. 

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Canadian producers are at the front lines of climate change and are experiencing increased pressure to feed Canada and the world. Agricultural production and the ability of farmers to make a good living from their work depend on a healthy environment and resilience to climate change. 

That’s why the Government of Canada launched consultations to develop a Sustainable Agriculture Strategy. The goal of the strategy is to ensure Canada’s agriculture sector is ready and able to recover quickly from extreme events, thrive in a changing climate, and ensure a steady food supply that we all depend on. The Sustainable Agriculture Strategy will set a shared direction for collective action to improve environmental performance in the sector over the long-term, supporting farmer livelihoods and the long-term business vitality of the sector. In an effort to address some of the challenges resulting from climate change and to minimize its impact on the sector, farmers have already demonstrated leadership by adopting climate-smart farming practices and beneficial management practices such as techniques like no-till, low-till, cover cropping, rotational grazing, and agroforestry. 

Adopting these types of climate-smart practices is essential to improving the sector’s resilience so that farmers can quickly get back to doing what they do best: producing high-quality food for Canadians. We also need to ensure that our efforts to reduce emissions don’t undermine the competitiveness of farmers, especially at a time when food insecurity has reached unprecedented levels worldwide, the supply chain is increasingly strained, and labour challenges negatively affect agricultural and processing operations. Given the large variations across regions and farm types across Canada, tailor-made approaches are required for them to be as effective as possible, and AAFC is committed to continuing to work in partnership with the sector to support the important work already underway.  

Under Sustainable CAP, the federally funded $324.77 million AgriScience Program will address challenges and opportunities under three priority areas: climate change and environment, economic growth and development, and sector resilience and societal changes.  

Additionally, the Government of Canada has a wide range of climate science activities underway, including in partnership with provinces and territories, academia, and sector partners. This includes developing new crop varieties to increase the tolerance and suitability of plants to temperature, moisture, and other relevant conditions associated with climate change. It also includes early warning systems that provide daily weather predictions and seasonal forecasts, and water management innovations, including irrigation. This will address the risk of moisture deficiencies and the increased frequency of droughts. 


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