The volume of perspective has significantly increased in the past three months relating to the AAFC (Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada) and ECCC (Environment Canada & Climate Change) discussion paper: Farm Applied Fertilizer Emission Reduction Discussion Paper comment period ending August 31.
The paper advocates a 30 percent reduction of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from farm-applied synthetic nitrogen fertilizers without a solution to achieve.
Some within the ag science community have recently stated a 30% reduction of N20 emissions is achievable and more with the right approach and application of 4R principles with precision ag technologies. While most of the ag industry supporting broad acre agriculture production agree we can reduce emissions, achieving net zero is unlikely.
Reducing emissions cannot be forced on farmers. The solutions and transitions must be market-driven, supported by data, and not impact farm profitability. The approach cannot place Canada at a cost of production export disadvantage.
The week of September 5, 2022, two reports of significance were released: 1) Stratus Ag Research, Fertilizer Use Survey, Western Canada 2021, and 2) Fertilizer Canada, Canola Council of Canada, Fertilizer Agri-Economics of 4R BMP Implementation and Emissions Reduction from Fertilizer.
Key takeaways of the Stratus 2021 Canola report:
Relating to Canola nitrogen timing and volumes: 1) 74.6% of total Nitrogen (N) is applied at planting vs 16.1% applied in the fall of the previous year; 2) 62.6% of total N applied at planting is side banded or mid-row banded. Relating to Canola fertility programs: 1) 10% variable rate on all fields, 2) 4.3% variable rate on some fields, 3) 20% program tailored by field, 4) Program same for all fields. Little change in trend in the past five years. How are ag retailers engaged in developing fertilizer rates? Some 61.5% of farmers surveyed develop their own plans; 20.2% utilize crop consultants’ and 18.3% rely on their ag retailer. Use of 4R-designated agronomists: 19.7% work directly, 68% do not, and 12% don’t know. The majority of respondents (87.9%) do not have a 4R plan in place. The main reason for not having a 4R plan in place include lack of benefits, lack of incentives, perceived costs, and those that don’t know. When asked who to look to for 4R nutrient stewardship information: 58.7% said agri-retailers, 30.4% certified crop advisors, and 26.7% professional or technical agrologists.
The Fertilizer Agri-Economics Study confirms what was previously communicated by Fertilizer Canada, farm organizations, and affiliates. An absolute 30% reduction will cost Canadian farmers, consumers, and the economy. A 14% reduction is achievable with little impact on production and profitability. The recommendations are lucid and succinct. Emissions targets remain voluntary. Collaborate with provinces and industry stakeholders. Intensity-based approach versus absolute. Data, data, and more data. It is apparent there is too much modeling and not enough on-the-grounded regional data that includes best management practices, and using NIR without considering how the products are completed. 4R leads the solutions and is focused on measured uncomplicated incentives to reduce emissions.
How do agri-retailers, agronomists, and consultants lead the uptake of 4R management practices? As the data describes, or its based-on relationships. There is a need to double down on the one-on-one conversations of what are your plans? to maximize fertilizer efficiencies.
How can we provide solutions and evidence-based decisions or overcome the hesitancy and misconceptions relating to additional costs? There are significant small changes that add up.
Data collection and analysis is where we start. Planted acres vs harvested acres. Planted acres planned vs actual. What is the cause of “0” yield zones? Can this be eliminated or reduced? What is the percentage overlap of field (over application)? ROI of section control on planting and seeding equipment?
Two ways to reduce fertilizer applications without impacting yield are farmers collecting data and, allowing trusted agronomists to scrutinize data while building deeper and candid relationships.
I challenge agri-retailers to demonstrate agronomic knowledge through data. Demonstrate your farm knowledge supporting 4R introduction, commitment, and adoption. The best solutions to environmental stewardship and sustainability come from within the industry, not from outside mandates.
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