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Saving our agriculture requires far more than addressing pesticides

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lettre ouverte santé des sols

By Nadine Bachand, Senior Analyst for Climate Agriculture, Équiterre

Quebecers are prepared to pay millions of dollars to help our farmers reduce their pesticide use, says a recent survey conducted by a team from the Université du Québec en Outaouais. Now we need to understand that the problem goes much deeper.

The good news from the study is that there is a real appetite among Quebecers for improved agro-environmental practices and even a willingness to financially support them - a huge shift over the past 10 years.

But the report also reveals that many of us widely misunderstand the more fundamental problems in the agricultural sector and are therefore less supportive or engaged in working towards their solutions.

Soil health is one such blind spot.

The article that reported on the research team’s findings states that [TRANSLATION] “a measure such as soil conservation may have been too abstract to be chosen” by the survey respondents.

Our foundations are crumbling

If our agriculture is a house, our soil is its foundation. And that foundation is crumbling.

In some regions, such as the black soil area south of Montreal, experts estimate that two centimetres of our “black gold” is disappearing every year, and will completely disappear within 50 years if nothing is done.

In addition to the threat that this poses to our food security, the loss of this soil also reduces the earth’s ability to reduce the carbon in the atmosphere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sounded the alarm in 2019: If we fail to take action on our agricultural and food systems, we will be unable to contain global warming.

An indispensable tool

Healthy soil can play a concrete, pivotal role in attacking the source of modern agriculture’s myriad problems. It offers countless benefits as well.

Quality soil helps us fight the climate crisis and protect biodiversity. It helps farmers manage extreme weather events (whose frequency is on the rise), while ensuring greater yield stability and reducing the need for pesticides.

Our new agricultural and climate policies must play a key role to nourish and care for what grows under our feet, as outlined in Équiterre’s recent report on the “Power of Soil”.

The Legault government seems keen on tackling these problems with its new Sustainable Agriculture Plan. This is good news, because we won’t be able to pursue a two-track agricultural policy (regenerative on one side, conventional on the other) much longer. Solutions to transition to resilient agriculture must be prioritized.

As a society and as individuals we must continue to educate ourselves about the complex realities that our farmers, who put food on our tables, are facing.

The crisis must be considered holistically so that we can take action and find solutions that are effective on many fronts, leaving no stone unturned.


Équiterre report:

Article on the research:

Black earth figures: