Canadian Sustainability Gets a Boost from Canola Farmers
Sustainability Learn more about how one crop has helped farmers be economically viable, while being environmentally-friendly and socially-conscious.
For Canadian farmers growing canola, sustainability isn’t just a one-track issue — it has economic, social, and environmental implications for everyone.
Farmers in Canada have embraced canola as a field crop that supports sustainable food production.
Sustainability is about meeting the needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations. For canola farmers, that means three key factors: economic, social, and environmental. This includes being profitable, following production practices that ensure social responsibility and focusing on environmental priorities like water management, greenhouse gas emissions and soil health.
“If our farms aren't sustainable, long-term consumers won't have access to local crops, which are some of the world's safest and most nutritious,” says Mark Walker, Manager of Policy Development at the Canadian Canola Growers Association (CCGA).
Technology and innovation
As Walker points out, crops nowadays use less inputs like fuel and herbicides and better utilize fertilizers, in large part due to innovations in agronomic data, farm equipment, and crop inputs including seed. With these innovations, farmers pick seed varieties that best suit the characteristics of their soil, and make better decisions on finding the right amount of nutrients or the best products to control plant disease, and insects.
Contrary to what you might think, farmers want insects in their fields. A canola field can provide habitat for up to 400 different beneficial insects which undertake many important jobs, including pollination, and elimination of the few undesirable insects that feed on canola.
When it comes to insects, bees are a favorite of canola farmers. Canola pollen is a food source for bees, while bee pollination helps to increase canola yields. An estimated 80% of Canada's honey comes from canola producing regions of Canada. This has helped Canada's bee population expand by over 30 percent since the 1990s.
Jack Froese, a farmer from Winkler, Manitoba, believes genetic modification has been one of the biggest breakthroughs for sustainability. Keenly aware of the negative views some people have about this breeding technique, he believes there’s “a lack of understanding” from the public on its benefits. Many of the sustainability improvements for canola result from genetic improvements that have made canola tolerant to herbicides. Because of herbicide tolerance farmers are using less herbicides than previously and we’re no longing tilling our soil.
Despite drought conditions comparable to the 1930s, which turned Western Canada into a dustbowl, Froese says farmers were able to maintain their crops with remarkable results. The shift to conservation tillage conserves moisture and prevents soil erosion even in years of drought.
“We’re producing more with less and doing a better job conserving moisture in our soil,” says Froese.
Doing more with less impacts more than just the bottom line. Zero or minimum till, allows growers to plant their crops without disturbing the soil, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, saving fuel, and improving soil health Currently, Canada’s agricultural soils sequester 11 million tonnes of greenhouse gases — the equivalent of removing 2.5 million passenger cars off the road, every year.
“We're also trying to maintain a standard of accountability, and we know the populace demands it,” says Froese. “The same food I produce, I'm feeding my family and grandchildren. The last thing I would feed them is something that would harm them.”
Froese notes that farmers are most comfortable looking after their farming operation, so they haven’t always been the best at sharing information about how they grow and produce crops. But more farmers are using new mediums to share how they’re growing food for consumers in Canada and around the world.
“We want to make sure there's a balance of economic, social, and environmental sustainability,” says Froese. “It's a delicate balance you're trying to create as a producer because the end result is you have to leave soils in better condition than when you took them over, or else you're not being sustainable."