Editor’s note: the National Farmers Union in New Brunswick and several other groups have signed onto an open letter addressed to provincial Minister of Agriculture Margaret Johnson with recommendations on how to address climate change. You can read it here: OPEN LETTER (PDF).
Farmers across New Brunswick are increasingly feeling the impacts of climate change from more frequent and extreme severe weather events. We all remember the 2020 drought and its warning of what is to come with a warming climate. During that year’s growing season, New Brunswick saw a tenth of the average rainfall – not enough to fill our rivers and irrigate our fields. The end of the season brought only a quarter of the average rain. Our farm operations struggled, and yields across the province were down significantly as a result. This year Hurricane Fiona caused much infrastructural damage in the eastern part of the province, and as yet unaccounted for losses in PEI; we could easily be in the path next time.
The intersection between farming practice and environmental health gives farmers an opportunity to play a significant role in both mitigating and adapting to a changing climate. With a total of 1,851 farms, the agriculture sector employs over 13,000 New Brunswickers. In 2020, farms in New Brunswick reported $734.2 million in total annual farm revenues. In order to take real action on climate, the agriculture sector needs strong support from the government: clear policies and adequate financial support. Farmers – and our province as a whole – will be greatly affected by the environmental consequences of not doing enough now.
The agriculture sector accounts for approximately four percent of our province’s total GHG emissions. In late July, Canadian Agriculture Ministers announced an agreement in principle for the next Agricultural Policy Framework, which governs spending on the sector across the country. The new Framework, effective in April 2023, is better than its predecessor. There is a commitment to reduce national agriculture GHGs by three to five megatonnes, $500 million in new funds (a 25% increase), $250 million to support carbon sequestration and adaptation, and a renewed commitment to reduce emissions from nitrogen fertilizer use by 30 per cent.
But the Framework still falls short of the broad systemic changes necessary to tackle the climate crisis. The emissions target is half what is needed. Measures to address climate change and emissions reductions could be stronger. We need more substantive changes to make Business Risk Management programs responsive to climate risk. And encouraging exports plays a larger than necessary role in federal efforts.
In 2021 Farmers for Climate Solutions (FCS) – a national farmer-led coalition advocating to make agriculture part of the solution to climate change – assembled a farmer-led task force of experts to identify the most cost-effective ways to reduce emissions rapidly. Their program recommendations chart a course for a climate-resilient agricultural sector that prioritizes farmer livelihoods and food security for all Canadians. FCS is recommending a range of program and policy options to improve nitrogen practices, manure storage and handling, livestock management, soil management, and wetland and tree management.
These proposed practices achieve considerable co-benefits, such as improved biodiversity and soil health, improved water holding capacity, and preventing soil erosion. By implementing climate-smart solutions that further reduce GHG emissions, New Brunswick’s agriculture sector will protect the land, water, and air that it depends on for long-term sustainability.
“Farmers know that climate change will challenge the survival of their farms and the future of their children and communities. They also know that farmers are price takers rather than price setters. Climate mitigation practices may improve farm profitability in the future but until we get there, beneficial practices require public support; after all, all of us will benefit from food security and a liveable world,” explains Ted Wiggans, owner of Shepherd’s Garden (Harvey, New Brunswick).
The federal government is now negotiating with the provinces and territories to determine the types of funding and programs best suited for each region. We have success stories, here in New Brunswick, of farmers already adopting practices to lower emissions and build resilience. We need our government to step in to support these efforts and to support farmers who need resources to implement such practices.
Geneviève L. Latour is secretary of the National Farmers Union in New Brunswick and a member of the working group on provincial government relations of Farmers for Climate Solutions.