Current government initiatives (fertilizers)

Federally, the CFIA is responsible for the Fertilizers Act and has core programs regarding pre-market assessment, fertilizer label verification and marketplace monitoring for compliance.  Program details are elucidated in CFIA's Regulatory requirements.

A number of federal, provincial and territorial  acts, regulations and codes,  and municipal by-laws have provisions to minimize farm pollution, particularly of water bodies, since fertilizer and manure run-off are significant sources of water pollution (see Goal 5, Water in the food system).

Programming related to soil health, however, is largely operated by departments of agriculture, based on jurisdictional divisions (see Instruments, Constitutional Provisions). Most programming is not directly targeted to soil health, but often has some impact, both positive and negative, on soil health parameters.  Most of these initiatives run through the Environmental Farm Plan provisions of the Canadian Agricultural Partnerships (CAP), carried out in collaboration with the provinces and territories. The EFP takes a Best Management Practices approach (see Instruments for limitations of this). The BC EFP Workbook, for example, has pertinent modules (leading to actions on a voluntary basis only) on fertilizer use BMPs, handling, disposal and spill mitigation; on compost making and use; on manure handling, storage and use; cover cropping; nutrient and amendments management and application; and soil quality and management. Some provinces also have modest supplemental collaborations with the federal government through the CAP to develop better soil health monitoring, program assessment, and peer-to-peer education programming, for example Ontario's On-Farm Applied Research and Monitoring (ONFARM) project.  Some programming is also linked to climate change. The 2021 budget identified funding to help farmers reduce nutrient use and improve cover cropping as part of climate change mitigation.  The announced $200 million will be delivered through Agricultural Climate Solutions.

The provinces have a wide range of approaches to regulation, nutrient management and soil health, with substantial gaps within many provinces and a patchwork of implementation across the country (see Table).

Table: Provincial nutrient management (NM) and soil health (SH) instruments

Jurisdiction Key Acts/regulations Key Programs Key weaknesses
BC Code of Practice for Agri-environmental management under Environmental Management Act NM training and planning, sometimes mandatory in Vulnerable Aquifer Recharge Areas Important pollution reduction focus, but limited soil health
AB Agricultural Operation Practices Act (AOPA), Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) administers manure regulations Traditional extension supports Important pollution reduction focus, but limited soil health
SK Agricultural Operations Act and regulations Traditional extension supports Pollution reduction focus, very weak on soil health
MB Livestock Manure and Mortalities Management Regulation under The Environment Act; NM Regulation under Water Protection Act Restrictions and prohibitions; traditional extension supports Important pollution reduction focus, but limited soil health
ON Nutrient Management Act; Soil health strategy (New Horizons) CAP consulting services; Many strategic actions named beyond traditional extension, but specific tools unclear See Rotz and MacRae
QC Agricultural Operations Regulation, Environmental Quality Act; Agir, pour une agriculture durable includes soil health strategies Budgeted farmer incentives; strategic soil health targets Most ecologically comprehensive plan in Canada
NB Livestock Operations Act (LOA) and General Regulation 99-3; Watershed or Wellfield Protected Area Designation Orders (Clean Water Act)
EFP; Environmentally Sustainable Agriculture Program; traditional extension supports Pollution reduction, but no specific soil health program
PE Environmental Protection Act; Water Act; Agricultural Cover Crop Act Enhanced EFP; Agriculture Stewardship Program; Agricultural Climate Solutions Program Significant concern about soil health, evidence of improvements, but programming may not match  concern
NS Environment Act and Regulations; Farm Practices Act CAP; Atlantic Soil Health Lab Minimal pollution reduction, and weak on soil health
NL Environmental Protection Act and regulations CAP; traditional extension supports Very limited, agricultural sector slowly expanding
YU No direct legislation Environmental Farm Plans; Agricultural Policy encourages soil building and nutrient management Very limited, agriculture sector slowly expanding
NWT No direct legislation No direct programs Limited agriculture
NU No direct legislation No direct programs Limited agriculture

So, in a more rational system, an agroecological approach to soil health would be the overall framework and fertilizer approval, use, management and disposal would operate within such a frame.  Currently, fertilizer regulation and soil health essentially function as thinly related processes, with fertilizers and nutrient management receiving far more attention that many parameters of soil health.