Air, water, soil pollution

The food system has for many years been one of the highest users of water of all segments of the economy (Gregorich and Coote, 2000) and the OECD (2008) reported that use continued to increase, albeit modestly. Food production and processing continues to contaminate water bodies, particularly with organic material, bacteria, nitrate and phophorous. Significant regions of the country have high levels of N and P in rivers and lakes (though agriculture is not the only contributor). According to the OECD (2008), while N and P use relative to crop needs has gone down across OECD countries, it has increased dramatically in Canada, with an 80% increase in N balance and 123% increase in P. This then contributes to problems in waterways since N and P are highly mobile when not used by the crop.

Animal production facilities are very concentrated, typically with insufficient land base for the number of animals reared. As a result, manure is  stored for extended periods  in large tanks, creating high risk of manure release and water contamination.

Canada does not collect very good data on pesticide use and what measures it does have are criticized for being inaccurate (MacRae et al., 2012). There have been decreases in sales of some pesticide categories and environmentally friendlier products are now available, but most farmers continue to rely heavily on the older chemistry and do not design their cropping systems to prevent pest attack. In the rest of the OECD world, pesticide use declined by 5% between 1990 and 2004 (OECD, 2008). HIgh use of genetically engineered varieties in certain crops contributes to this problem

Regarding soil quality, although there have been improvements since the 1980s and soil degradation is not as severe as earlier periods, significant problems remain.  Erosion levels are still unacceptable and on many farms the soil remains bare for long periods because of poor crop rotations.