Alberta farmers with strong links to the energy industry may question switching to environmentally friendly practices, but the erratic weather that growers battle across Canada cannot be denied, says the president of a national agriculture organization.
“There’s parts of Alberta that have 70 per cent of the crops still out in the field under snow,” said Katie Ward, president of the National Farmers Union, who recently spoke at the downtown Red Deer Public Library.
“The wild and wacky unpredictability of the weather that we’re seeing right now is really what’s hurting us in terms of the climate impacts.
“We had different kinds of erratic weather this last growing season, but really bad, erratic weather across the country. Some areas were having droughts, other areas were having floods, and other areas were having really cold weather late into the spring, and not able to plant,” said Ward, who farms northwest of Ottawa, where tornadoes are becoming more common.
But some Alberta farmers may still be hesitant about changing their practices, like shifting from fossil fuels to electricity for farm machinery, she said.
“Everybody’s family is either impacted, or involved, in the oil industry. But a lot of the changes we’re suggesting will actually be a tweak here, a reduction in the amount of nitrogen fertilizer there, make sure it goes on in the right quantity, in the right place, at the right time.”
In December, the organization released its report — Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis: A Transformative Strategy for Canadian Farms and Food Systems — which looks at pursuing sustainable practices to make farms and the food system more resilient to climate change, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate further climate change.
The report can be found at www.nfu.ca/publications and includes recommendations like retrofitting farm buildings, minimizing transport distances, maximizing renewable on-farm energy production, better managing manure emissions, and more.
She said the report is primarily focused on the crop agriculture on the Prairies.
“That’s where relatively small changes can have the most bang for your buck, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.”
But Ward said farmers can’t make all these investments on their own. They need support to make meaningful changes that will help consumers, farmers’ bottom line, and revitalize rural communities that have been hollowed out.