In the context of the climate crisis and the pandemic, which have thrown the fragility of our food systems into sharp relief, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ), André Lamontagne, unveiled Quebec’s Plan d’agriculture durable (PAD – Sustainable Agriculture Plan) on October 22, 2020. Équiterre was present for the announcement, welcoming this step towards more sustainable and resilient agricultural practices.
What is the PAD all about, and which agricultural and environmental issues does it address? Here is our analysis of the plan, in five points.
1. WHAT ARE THE PAD’S GOALS, AND WHAT DO THEY ADDRESS?
Reduce the use and the risks of pesticides on health and the environment
- Quebec must address the findings from the hearings that were held in the fall of 2019 by the Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries, Energy and Natural Resources (CAPERN). The PAD is a way for the Quebec government to address the industry’s repeated requests for more compensation and more support for farmers who convert to more sustainable and resilient agricultural practices. The plan includes $70 million for this type of compensation.
- The PAD addresses the crisis that occurred after agronomist Louis Robert was fired for being a whistleblower and shedding light on problems regarding the independence of research and the lack of independence among agronomists who advise farmers on pesticide use. One of the plan’s main measures, “Développement des connaissances, un axe incontournable pour développer des pratiques agroenvironnementales performantes,” addresses this issue.
- Since 1992, Quebec has adopted various strategies to reduce pesticides and their risks, with mixed results despite the efforts of those in the industry.
Improve soil health and preservation
- Soil health, or “climate agriculture,” is the cornerstone of our agri-food system. It is one of the key issues that Équiterre is focusing on in the coming years. Healthy soil improves our agricultural resilience to future economic and climate crises. One of the aims of the PAD is to give farmers the tools to transition to regenerative agriculture, focusing on soil cover and organic matter amendment practices.
- Of the plan’s $125 million budget over five years, $30 million is dedicated to knowledge building, and $25 million is dedicated to knowledge transfer, training and support.
Improve management of fertilizing materials
- N2O emissions (a GHG which is 300 times stronger than CO2 over 100 years for global warming)  continue to increase globally, primarily due to the use of nitrogen fertilizers in agriculture. Quebec must encourage the adoption of regenerative agricultural practices to reduce the use of this type of fertilizer.
Optimize water management
- The PAD aims to help farmers develop their knowledge and ability to put regenerative practices in place to increase the soil’s absorption and water filtration capacity, thereby improving the resilience of farms to the impacts of climate change. It also seeks to preserve waterways.
- A recent study by the World Wildlife Fund revealed that two-thirds of the planet’s animal population has disappeared in the last 50 years, largely due to the destruction of natural habitats (including deforestation for agricultural purposes).
- Quebec intends to support the implementation of regenerative agricultural practices that favour the development of biodiversity, such as crop rotation and wildlife habitat creation, in order to protect nature and animal species.
2. WHAT SOCIAL, POLITICAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONTEXTS HAVE INFLUENCED THE CREATION OF THE PAD?
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fragility of our agri-food system and has made us more keenly aware of its vulnerability in the face of the climate crisis. The increasing impacts of climate change on agriculture, such as recent droughts in Quebec and elsewhere, the collapse of biodiversity, the degradation of soil and water quality, and the effects that synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are having on the environment, emphasize the urgency of shifting to more sustainable and resilient agriculture. Furthermore, in light of the revelations concerning interference from the private sector in public pesticide research, the agricultural community and the general public have been calling for concrete solutions to remedy the issues in the agricultural system.
3. WHY WAS THE PAD SO HIGHLY ANTICIPATED BY THE AGRICULTURAL COMMUNITY AND ENVIRONMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS?
Although much remains to be done in order to truly effect change, the PAD contains elements that could have a significant positive impact on agricultural issues: improving soil health, reducing the use of pesticides and fertilizers, increasing the profitability of farms and managing the risks related to climate change. With a budget, methods and policies, it is creating a framework for the agricultural community as a whole to shift towards more sustainable agricultural practices.
4. WHY DOES ÉQUITERRE SUPPORT THE PAD?
- The PAD is a step in the right direction to make the necessary transition to agricultural practices that are more resilient and more environmentally and socially sustainable.
- The plan includes concrete, measurable results through targeted action, with the potential to make real improvements.
- The strategies put forward offer industry stakeholders a framework for continuous improvement: recognition of farmers for the agro-environmental practices they implement, knowledge building and transfer, training and support.
5. WHAT IS ÉQUITERRE’S INVOLVEMENT IN IMPLEMENTING THE PAD?
Équiterre hopes that the PAD will bring about a transition to regenerative agriculture which will result in many medium- and long-term benefits for our communities, our farms, the environment and our health; also enabling us to reach many of Quebec’s Bio-Food Policy objectives.
There is still much to be done in the coming years, and it will be essential to ensure that the PAD produces concrete results and is commensurate with the current and upcoming climate, biodiversity, social and economic crises.
Équiterre has been working on climate agriculture issues across Canada since 2019 and will continue to work towards bringing about the transition to sustainable agriculture in Canada, with the support of our members and the general public. We will continue to press for the necessary public policies and will continue to encourage and support farmers to adopt practices that promote soil health.
We will also continue to highlight the soil health and conservation practices that have already been implemented by large-scale Quebec producers through our Vitrines technologiques project.
At the national level, we will continue to bring Canadian experts together to report on agricultural best practices that promote soil health as well as on innovative programs and policies that can help these practices be adopted on a wider scale.
· Has a budget of $125 million over five years.
· Includes a plan to hire additional human resources.
· Aims to achieve concrete, measurable results through targeted action.
· Aims to speed up the implementation of agro-environmental practices.
· Focuses on flexibility, acting as a catalyst and adapting to regional diversity.
· Places producers at the heart of the action by recognizing their skills, innovation and efforts in implementing agro-environmental practices.
· Addresses the majority of the CAPERN’s recommendations.
· Addresses the UPA’s Plan vert agricole (Green Agricultural Plan).
· Addresses the expectations of residents and consumers.
· Will align with the Quebec government’s highly anticipated Plan pour une économie verte 2030 (2030 Green Economy Plan)
· Press release - Équiterre welcomes Quebec’s sustainable agriculture plan
· Section Agriculture and food at the heart of our lives!
· News Climate agriculture: A solution from the soil
· Vitrines en santé et conservation des sols (in French only)