Sustainability on the farm: Shared ambition in Canada and the EU

recent virtual seminar co-hosted by IEEP and the Mission of Canada to the EU discussed initiatives and efforts undertaken in Canada and the EU on agriculture and sustainability on the farm.

Considering the importance of the agriculture sector in meeting environmental and climate change mitigation objectives, as well as in addressing consumers’ concerns on the sustainability of the food they eat, the webinar showcased practical examples where efforts are being made in Canada and the EU to achieve environmental, social and economic sustainability in the food supply chain – objectives which are also at the core of the EU’s European Green Deal, in particular the Farm to Fork Strategy, as well as the Food Policy for Canada and other Government of Canada priorities.

The webinar highlighted several initiatives launched by Canada and by the EU, many of which were identified to have potential for cooperation either through policy dialogues or even in the context of the existing trade relationship. Sustainable agricultural practices adopted in Canada and the EU were shared and discussed, including approaches to soil management and agroecology. Moreover, two young farmers from both sides of the Atlantic shared their perspectives on the future of the sector, discussing the role of technology and digitalisation on the farm and emphasising the need for cooperation with civil society and government to demystify farming practices.

The event was part of a series organised by the Government of Canada on shared global ‘green’ policy priorities on both the Canadian and EU agendas. A previous event in this series, co-organised by the Mission of Canada to the EU and IEEP, discussed global biodiversity conservation and how to build back better with nature after the COVID-19 crises.

Insights from the panel

“The agriculture sector in Canada and the Government of Canada appreciate the leadership the EU is showing in setting out a detailed and ambitious Farm to Fork Strategy […] We have a lot in common. The Farm to Fork Strategy echoes many of the priorities that we see in Canada through our Food Policy, but also through our broader efforts on climate change and improving sustainability.”

“The Government of Canada recognises that farmers and ranchers are key partners in the fight against climate change and we will certainly support their efforts to reduce emissions and build resilience and adapt to a changing climate.”

— Chris Forbes, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada

“We have some rather similar policy directions to the Farm to Fork Strategy, for example the Food Policy that was launched last year. It takes a more comprehensive approach and is really a roadmap for a healthy and more sustainable food system in Canada. So we are looking at the social, health and economic components of food systems because they are interdependent […] which is a very similar approach to what the EU is doing.”

“Something to keep in mind is that we have a diverse set of agricultural systems across Canada. We have much smaller farms in the Atlantic provinces, for example, and we need to recognise these regional differences […] Canada is a very large country. Our agriculture sector is mostly composed of family farms, but of course the scale of those farms might be a bit different from the scale of farms in Europe. But what is consistent is that there is a real desire among producers and farmers to conserve resources and to protect their water, to make sure they can transfer it to their children or to the next generations.”

— Andréanne Léger, Deputy Director, Environment Policy Division, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

“[In the EU] We want to encourage farmers to increase the landscape features on farms because that is a good proxy for improving biodiversity. That is one of the targets of the Common Agricultural Policy for the next period.”

“Sustainability is great but often times we may mean different things and I think it’s good to listen to each other to try to understand what we mean and to try to come up with methods to measure [sustainability], that would be an area where we could work together”

“The [Canadian] living labs is something we’ve been inspired by and this is also part of the Horizon Europe research program […] that is an important project because we need to make sure the research outcomes are appropriately translated to practical application.”

— Gijs Schilthuis, Head of Unit, Policy Perspectives, DG AGRI, European Commission

“Talking to farmers, the overwhelming consensus is that the agriculture sector has a huge opportunity to be part of the solution to climate change. […] While we have some more senior farmers who have set the pace in terms of no-till and eliminating summer fallow, I think the general feeling is coming from a generational shift that we are starting to see at the primary producer level.”

“Climate change is a real challenge. I feel strongly that our farmers stand ready to learn, to un-learn and to re-learn to come up with the solutions.”

— Andrea De Roo, Grain and cattle farmer and professional agrologist, Member of the Canadian Agricultural Youth Council

“[Farmers] have to have in mind that we have to respect and live-in synergy with the environment, and that it is a great opportunity if our products are valued correctly. If farmers manage to connect with the food chain and society, we can explain to society how we produce our food, this could be a win-win situation [for farmers and the environment].”

“We would need a more efficient labelling system because this is an immediate tool we have with consumers. So, with a better labelling system it could be easier [to increase transparency concerning] origin, production methods and other important information for consumers, so it can be a win-win situation.”

— Alice Cerutti, Italian rice farmer, Head of Cascina Oschiena

“In terms of good soil management practices, our prairie farmers, which is the bulk of our export grain products to the world, have undergone quite a few changes over the past couple of decades. One of these is direct seeding, or one-pass operation […] Direct seeding has had a great impact in that it has resulted in a reduction in tillage. Over the past couple of decades this has really become the dominant way of producing crops on our prairies and this lack of tillage has increased the protection of soil organic matter.”

— Dr. Mario Tenuta, Ph.D., PAg – Professor of Soil Ecology, University of Manitoba

“Agroecology can deliver economic benefits and secure livelihoods, […] the data is showing that agroecology is able to deliver costs savings, resource efficiencies and therefore higher incomes for farmers – who are making this shift – in terms of the income per unit of production. […] Farming systems based around principles of diversity and circularity are well placed to be resilient to shocks, and this adds to the economic benefits.”

 “People within the agroecological movement really see social and technological innovation as going hand in hand. […] Agroecology and the type of diversification we’re talking about is fundamentally compatible with a lot of the technological breakthroughs we’re seeing in agriculture.”

— Nick Jacobs, Director of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food)