Agroecology (and aquaecology) Action Plan (adapted from Howe, 2017)
In the EU there have been organic action plans since the mid 90s, now totaling 27 national or regional schemes in effect since the mid-2000s. Some evaluations conclude that having an action plan results in a better policy and program mix to support adoption. The advantage of this approach is that it provides a way to integrate initiatives across a range of policy objectives and coordinate instrument selection and implementation and avoid contradictory undertakings. In particular, it helps with coordination of supply push and demand pull and lays out a framework for different actors - businesses, government, the organic sector - to collaborate (Sanders et al., 2011).
Building on this, agroecology action plans are now emerging, that of France being one of the more elaborated. French has long held a multifunctional view of agriculture, having participated in many programs under the Common Agricultural Policy including supports for organic transition. Although these programs had produced some positive outcomes, the feeling was that environmental improvements had stalled and the current approach could not significantly improve soil carbon storage, a key part of the French efforts to reduce climate change.
In 2013, the French Ministry of Agriculture, Agrifood and Forestry (MAAF) launched ‘Produisons Autrement’ (producing differently), a wide-ranging plan to support a majority of farmers (200,000) to achieve high ecological performance that complement strong economic outcomes. Produisons Autrement has been described as a “meta-instrument” which offers incentives and regulatory tools to empower farmers (Jolly, 2016, p. 87).
In June 2014, an official plan of action developed by a diverse steering committee was endorsed, structured around 10 themes and 10 specific action plans. Annual reports since 2014 have tracked the goals, processes, and indicators.
The 10 themes that guide the project and organize the annual reports:
- Mobilizing the actors
- Communicating and raising awareness about the project
- Teaching to produce differently
- Accompanying the producers
- Supporting agroecological goals
- Supporting research and innovation
- Engaging the sectors
- Considering the realities of overseas territories
- Promoting agroecology internationally
- Monitoring and evaluating the project
10 specific action plans have their own goals, governance groups, funding, and indicators.
- Organic Ambition: 20% share of public procurement market, 10% of land in organic production by 2021
- Ecoantibiotics: reducing livestock antibiotic use by 25% over 5 years and other measures to fight antibiotic resistance
- Ecophyto II: halving pesticide use by 2025, engaging 30,000 operations in reduction plans
- Methane for Energy and Nitrogen Self-reliance: using methane for energy, supporting better nitrogen management and reducing need for it
- Vegetable Protein: producing more vegetable proteins domestically
- Sustainable Seeds: breeding seeds for better environmental and economic performance
- Agroforestry: supporting more research, policy, business planning, training and funds
- Development of Sustainable Beekeeping: research, hygiene, training, organization of producers
- Teaching to Produce Differently: updating diplomas/curriculum, training ministry staff, supporting regional governance, mobilizing farm operators and workshops (added in 2014)
- Animal Wellbeing: includes 20 priority actions for better animal and operation health
Following the French example, a pan-Canadian plan could integrate a number of key strategies. Quebec has a plan as well with some comparable elements so it could also help inform a Canadian plan. Elements could include:
- Pesticide reduction strategy (see Goal 4)
- Pollinator strategy and sustainable beekeeping (see Goal 5)
- Antibiotic reduction strategy (see Goal 4)
- Rural employment (see Goal 8)
- Ecological aquaculture (see below)
- Encouraging sustainable diets (see Goal 2, Demand-supply coordination)
Costa-Pierce (2010) sets out the core principles of an Aquaecology action plan, rooted in the long human history of ecological fish farming:
- Developed in the context of ecosystem functions and services (including biodiversity) with no degradation of these beyond their resilience capacity.
- Improves human well-being and equity for all relevant stakeholders.
Uses systems thinking, ecological modeling, and ecological economics methods in its design, operations, and communications.
- Is scaled to avoid the problems of current industrial approaches to aquaculture, reflecting the learnings of ecological scale in other food production systems
- Focuses on energy efficient design and feed conversion.
- Has integrated planning dimensions from farm to landscape level and links to the capture fishery and agriculture
Dimensions of such plans exist in different parts of the world, but nothing like this has been developed for Canada (see also Goal 5, Protecting genetic resources, fish). See Goal 2, Landscape level planning for more on the governance mechanisms required.
As part of Action Plan implementation, environmental protocols become mandatory. The federal authority for such interventions would derive from the Safe Food for Canadians Act, the Health of Animals Act, the Fisheries Act or the Pest Control Products Act.The difficulty is that the experience of the organic sector in Canada is not viable across a wide range of sustainable certifications. Multi-party organic standards development through the Standards Council of Canada and the Canadian General Standards Board cost several million dollars for development and maintenance. Consequently, a different approach is required.
Under the SFCA regulations, the federal government has the authority to approve third party protocols and standards. Based on the requirements set out by Natural Resources Canada for approval of third party actors in the forestry sector (see Sustainable Fisheries Management), this authority could be applied for these purposes. The SPCA regulations could include an annexe of approved protocols. Penalties for non-compliance could be levied under the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act.
Regulating plant varieties and fish and animal breeds
The choice of variety can have a significant impact on resource inefficiency. Perhaps the most emblematic example is the Russet Burbank potato, long used in french fries by the fast food industry. It is a long season variety and historically very demanding of moisture and nutrients, resulting often in significant irrigation, pesticide and fertilizer use. Only about 50% of the potato is used during French fry production due to the standards of the industry and there can also be significant field culling. All these realities have encouraged the fast food industry to explore other varietal options (Escober, 2010). Under the Ontario Farm Products Sales and Grades Act and the Potato Regulations under the Farm Products Marketing Act, it would appear that the authority exists to determine what varieties can be processed and under what conditions . A set of varietal regulations should be developed that favour those with lower resource requirements and waste factors.
The Farm Products Marketing Act would also appear to provide measures that forbid other contract provisions that contribute to resource inefficiencies. The purpose of the Act provides “.... for the control and regulation in any or all aspects of the producing and marketing within Ontario of farm products including the prohibition of such producing or marketing in whole or in part” . With suitable supporting regulations, the Commission created by the Act could govern contracts so as to improve efficiencies. Some marketing boards, governed by the legislation, have already failed to take advantage of such opportunities. The Ontario Processing Vegetables Marketing Board has had opportunities to integrate IPM standards into their contracts and has failed to do so.
Another pertinent existing example is control of clubroot, mostly in canola production (Arnason, 2019). Because many producers are using susceptible varieties and short canola rotations (1 year in 3 or 4 is recommended but often not followed), clubroot is on the rise and there are no chemical controls available. Prevention is the key. Consequently, in Alberta, under the Agricultural Pests Act, municipalities can place mandatory restrictions on canola growing in areas where clubroot has been found. Some counties are using this authority to develop prevention plans with growers (e.g., Smoky Lake County). Saskatchewan counties have undertaken similar initiatives. We know that poor varietal selection and weak rotations are a major factor in many pest problems, so this creates the opportunity to expand the range of pests covered under such legislation to provide wider authority for intervention by governments.
Similar to plants, many fish and animal breeds are also resource inefficient, having very high growth rates, but often requiring high levels of inputs and feed that competes with human consumption (Smil, 2001). Costa-Pierce (2010) compares the feed conversion efficiency and system energy efficiencies of common terrestrial and aquaculture systems and finds significant variability. Many low input farmers and aquaculture producers have already shifted breeds and feeding regimes to reduce resource requirements, in many cases also eliminating or modifying animal housing and fish caging to reduce energy required.
To advance this shift requires alternations to the Animal Pedigree Act. The Act is about breed improvement, but the definition of breed improvement has been rooted in the industrial model of agricultural production. For aquaculture, the federal National Code on Introductions and Transfers of Aquatic Organisms could be used to regulate types of fish permitted (see also Goal 5, Protecting Genetic Resources). Due to divided jurisdiction, the provincial aquaculture leasing and licensing system could also be an instrument to encourage more metabolically efficient fish. A key consideration is which fish species might do well in ecological systems using plant and insect protein sources. Could insect larvae be reared primarily on waste bioproducts and be sufficiently nourishing to provide a significant part of aquaculture diets? (Weidner et al., 2019).
Obviously, this involves complex changes to the entire farming and aquaculture operation with a transition period to implement the changes, but it would appear that the authority exists to make such transitions mandatory. Such changes also have dietary implications, since unfortunately, many of the most popular animals, fish and breeds are the least metabolically and energy efficient (see Sustainable Diets, Goal 2, Demand-Supply Coordination). The more efficient, catfish and rabbits for example, are only favoured in certain regions of North America and amongst a limited number of ethno-racial groups. The ecological conditions of their rearing must also be taken into account as they often differ from the dominant breeds and varieties.
Transition advisory services
Formal advisory services, financed by the state, are a reasonably recent development, with funding generally beginning in the 90s although some private institutes offered services earlier. Several states in Europe and the US federal government have funded such services. The importance of advisory services is generally underreported in the literature (Lamine and Bellon, 2009a), but it appears that they can provide critical information and support during key moments in the decision to go organic and the implementation of the conversion process. Their success, however, is particularly dependent on the quality of the conversion advisors and the degree to which services are provided at low or no cost to farmers.
In Europe, farm advisory services have operated in a more than a dozen nations and typically offer combinations of the following programs:
- telephone helplines
- information packages
- farm advisory visits
- handbooks and manuals
- farmer mentoring programs
The service in Wales was reasonably typical when created. It was first funded by the Welsh government from 1996 and operated by the NGO The Soil Association and the Organic Centre Wales, University of Abersytwyth. It offered three main services: a telephone help line, a conversion information package, farm visits (2 free ones, the first providing an overview of conversion, the second dealing specifically with the circumstances of the farm), carried out by staff of both non-profit and governmental agencies. Farmers wishing more support for conversion paid directly for additional services. Through revisions to the Rural Development regulation, the EC helped defray advisory service costs for eligible farmers (CEC, 2002).
An evaluation of the Organic Conversion Information Service (OCIS), Wales (1996-2001) (Organic Centre Wales, 2001) revealed that most participants had limited to fair knowledge about organic farming when they contacted the service, and that most farmers followed through from initial telephone call to preliminary visit, to second visit. There was generally high farmer satisfaction with the service. Of the 2480 farmers who had called the service in a 5-year period, 56% had the first visit, 30% the second, and 11% had gone on to convert. 61% of farmers surveyed had decided to convert. Of those, 56% said the service was very or fairly instrumental in their decision. Those who decided not convert to organic agriculture cited larger issues around the stability of organic markets and costs as barriers.
A review of the English OCIS in 1997 drew similar conclusions except that the emphasis on marketing information did not emerge. The UK evaluation suggested that information alone is insufficient to advance the transition, finding no connection between information and willingness to convert (Centre for Rural Economics Research, 2002). However, providing information in the context of a free organic conversion information service appears to shift the equation. The study found that such a service launched in the UK was an important source of pre-conversion information. Daughberg et al. (2011), however, did not find in their study that the conversion advisory services had a significant impact on the number of farmers and acres in organic. Some French studies contradict the UK results. In one analysis, 50% of producers reported that information deficiency was a significant obstacle (Sautereau, 2009). Conventional producers will often be more comfortable getting advice through conventional channels with which they are familiar, speaking to the need to integrate organic advice into regular services (Sautereau, 2009).
A 1953-1996 duration analysis (Burton et al., 2003) in the UK revealed that, for organic adoptions in the horticultural sector : (i) the enhanced environment associated with (ii) the creation of a formal conversion advisory service, combined with (iii) strong environmental concerns and (iv) links with other farmer groups, created a higher likelihood of adoption. Interestingly, despite the economic nature of this analysis, the authors found that non-economic forces appeared to be more powerful for the adoption process than economic ones. Age and education, farm size and non-farm income did not appear in the earlier, less supported periods, to be significant. But gender was important, with females more likely to adopt than males. Burton et al (2003:48) note that “[i]t may be that the longer the producer continues as a non-organic farmer, the greater are the costs associated with conversion to an organic system.”
Transition advisory services covering some of the themes addressed here have been offered by NGOs and professional bodies in Canada, sometimes with government grants (e.g., clubs agro-environmentales in QC, Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario, conversion supports provided by British Columbia's Certified Organic Program, Ontario's Farmland Health Checkup), and these provide a base to build from, but no state-led ones exist in Canada. Almost all provincial departments of agriculture have staff people responsible for the organic portfolio, but most do not provide transition advisory services. Quebec does have a program that reimburses organic producers, including those in transition, for 85% of the costs of hiring advisors (Appui à l’utilisation des services-conseils par les entreprises). Though not specifically identified as such, this program could be used for transition advisory support. Presumably, this program should also now be available to aquaculture producers, since aquaculture can now fall under the organic standards.
Advisory services are also important for processors and other supply chain actors although they face a different set of transition challenges. Unfortunately, some of the existing approaches, such as the Strategic Innovation Fund that according to the 2019 federal budget will re-allocate $100 million of its fund to food processing, are not suited to this function.
Compared to farmers, other supply chain actors typically have more resources to hire consultants to advise on transition. The key challenges are converting from conventional to ecological supply chains, shifting processing techniques and processes, and rebranding, which includes certifications in ecological processes.
Mandatory purchasing requirements
In many countries, demand pull has been important, with retailer interest in organic products a significant confidence boost for converting farmers (Sanders et al., 2011). Governments do not directly influence retailer procurement policies, but can contribute to market pull by mandating sustainable purchases in facilitates operating on government funding. The broad elements of a new approach are outlined under Goal 1, Economic Development. This section deals specifically with sustainable food targets.
The limited number of certification schemes for sustainable food is one dimension of the barrier to sustainable procurement, since institutional procurement officials need assurances of the veracity of claims. Another is the limited supply of processed sustainable food and the degree to which many institutional kitchens rely on processed items rather than cooking from scratch, part of a labour saving strategy that effectively means the kitchen is deskilled (Reynolds and Hunter, 2019).
Although there are numerous examples in the industrial world of individual institutions setting 100% sustainable food targets (e.g., colleges, hospitals, parliamentary dining rooms), for system-wide targets at the efficiency and substitution stages, 10-20% targets are more realistic. The presumption here is that sustainable food targets are sub-targets of related procurement targets such as locality, nutritional quality, animal welfare, fair trade (see Goal 1, Economic Development). This is because the state of sustainable supply chains has a major impact on the likelihood of targets being achieved. Failing to set realistic targets has frequently resulted in the demise or weakening of sustainable or local procurement, Toronto's local food procurement policy being a prominent example.
A realistic target also better lends itself to a mandatory approach. Voluntary targets are untenable because it is too easy for procurement officials to proclaim insufficient supply, excessive price, or inadequate quality as reasons to subvert the target. Such realities exist, but a mandatory approach requires creativity, for example, menu changes, food waste reduction, better inventory control, co-operative purchasing, long term contracts with suppliers that help them build supply capacity and invest in quality improvements. Acting on these issues is time and energy consuming and given other pressures, they will be avoided if there is an opt out.
Support for marketing groups, including coops
Agricultural co-ops (marketing, supply, services, production) have been a major part of the food system landscape since the 19th century, but supports for them are modest relative to their significance. Marketing co-ops are particularly strong in dairy, hogs, poultry and horticulture (Cameron and Hanavan, 2014). The demutualization of many high profile co-ops in the 80s and 90s, and the blending of corporate and co-operative approaches in many established co-ops, speaks to the challenges they face in the neo-liberal era.
In the EU, funding is available to support establishment of producer groups that work collaboratively on development and marketing of new products. These funds have been particularly important in regions with an underdeveloped sustainable supply chain. There are also grants for the development of cooperative supply chains. "Contributions are given to administrative costs, including the facilities arrangement, registration, drawing up of common rules on production, purchase of information technology and other equipment, and salary for one full time employee as well as the costs of purchasing the primary equipment necessary for joint marketing of producer groups. The maximum aid rate is up to 5% of the marketable production. No differentiation is made between organic and non‐organic producer groups." (Sanders et al., 2011).
Federal funding programs to which food and agricultural collaborations and co-operatives can apply if they operate in more than one province (e.g., AgriInnovate) typically are very product-focused (and often scaling up and export-driven) without much support for collaborative and co-operative structures and processes. Many are also financed on a reimbursement or repayable loan basis which puts cash flow pressure on new and small organizations and enterprises. Although there are operating loan programs that food co-ops can theoretically access (Farm Credit Canada, Canadian Agricultural Loans Act (CALA)), capitalization (especially seed capital and micro-capital for starts up and small enterprises respectively) remains the key financial challenge for most collaborations in Canada because existing programs are not generally well suited to collaborations. Most co-op structures do not permit traditional venture capital. Traditional lenders, potential institutional members, and many government programs view co-ops as more risky, often because they do not understand co-operative processes and structures (House of Commons, Report of the Special Committee on Co-operatives, 2012). For years, as a result of these difficulties, the co-operative sector has lobbied governments to set up revolving loan funds specifically for co-ops, without any significant success. Other collaborations that use more conventional business models are not considered as risky, but much depends on how investors and lenders view their management structure and prospects.
Provincial support is also uneven. Quebec, Saskatchewan and Manitoba appear to have the strongest supports (see Goal 1, Access to alternative retail, Efficiency, Supporting retail co-ops). Atlantic Canada supports are limited and generally scattered, with responsibilities for co-operatives dispersed across a number (and not necessarily obvious) units, with Newfoundland and Labrador the most collaborative. The positive news in the Atlantic region has been the growth of marketing and service co-ops associated with small scale organic production, which speaks to the potential of the sector with the right supports (Cameron and Hanavan, 2014).
So, Canadian programming must be modified to be more in line with what's happened in Europe as described in the opening paragraph. Since program designers are generally reluctant to design for specific target groups (the approach being that everyone can benefit from the programs), the best approach is likely to create sub-program streams within existing programs that support collaborations and SMEs, including the FCC, the CALA programs and Canadian Agricultural Partnership programs.
Production, processing, market and transport subsidies and regulations
The 2019 federal budget announced more support for food processors through the Strategic Innovation Fund, but this fund is poorly structured to address many of the core problems in the sustainable food processing chain. The fund focuses primarily on R&D and technology innovation. Although there are always needs in this regard in the sustainable food sector, the more pressing problems relate to scale, capital investment in SMEs, sustainable transport and logistics, and product mix and availability. These kinds of problems require more than technological solutions. Although some argue that investors and market conditions can drive solutions to these problems, many investors, in particular institutional ones, are mostly drawn to larger conventional food firms with what they consider lower risk profiles (Rohan, n.d.). The resource efficiency challenges of the modern food system are of a different type, but the degree of inefficiency has grossly increased compared to that period, warranting some extraordinary interventions. Policy, program and regulatory solutions to these problems are found in many other sections, but here the focus is on widening the supply of key processed goods.
During WWII, extensive tools were used to shift production and distribution to assure sufficient supplies of key goods, and in different regions of the country (see Goal 2, Demand Supply Coordination, Lessons from WWII). Payments, price ceilings and floors, and regulations were used to assure availability of specified goods at relatively low resource expenditures. Using the organic market as an indicator since there is more data collected on it than other sustainable foods, the processed food market is expanding but mostly in mature markets of Ontario, Quebec and BC and processors report challenges "sourcing ingredients, the costs of ingredients, technical sourcing expertise, and sourcing ingredients near manufacturing facilities" (Fresh Plaza, n.d.). Many secondary and tertiary processed foods are in relatively limited supply or priced quite highly. Small producers have trouble finding regional processing facilities nearby, particular for meat slaughtering, frozen fruit manufacturing and processing for food service markets, particularly grab and go. Conventional farmers considering a transition are hindered by the equipment and facility changes required, particularly in areas such as hog production
So, at this stage of the transition a more targeted approach is required, similar to developments in Europe. For example, producer supports under their Regional Development Program (RDP) help to modernize barns, equipment and other aspects of the transitioning farm, especially when new barns are required to address animal welfare considerations. There are also agri-environmental subsidies for producers following high standard welfare schemes and since most organic producers exceed requirements, they are typically eligible for these (Sanders et al., 2011). Such types of interventions have been common to the Agricultural Policy Framework programming, so this involves more a different focus for supports rather than a different process.
Grants to construct SME processing facilities in under-served areas are required. This is addressed under Goal 1 Economic Development.
Price setting is addressed under Goal 2, Supply-Demand Coordination, Redesign, Price Setting. However, at the substitution stage, targeted processor price supports will be required for certain sustainable processed foods for which the market is immature and prices very high. This would permit processors to buy from suppliers, manufacturer and not pass on the full costs to food service providers, retailers and ultimately consumers. Sustainable spices, condiments, some meats and some tertiary processed goods would likely fall into this category.
Cross compliance measures
“Cross-compliance refers to producers satisfying minimum environmental management requirements in order to maintain eligibility for government support” (Schmidt et al., 2012:2). The federal government does not formally use cross-compliance, although measures with Environmental Farm Plans have been imposed in some provinces (Atari et al., 2009) and producers with an EFP appear to be more likely to be funded in some federal grant programs. Quebec has been using them since 2004 outside of the EFP process, but in only a limited fashion related to phosphorus management. Saskatchewan Crop Insurance has a type of cross-compliance measure in place regarding crop rotations with chickpeas. Growers are ineligible for coverage if they plant chickpeas more frequently than once every four years in the same field. They are considering something similar for canola rotations in order to reduce the risk of clubroot infections (Arnason, 2019).
Evidence of environmental effectiveness is mixed (Jeffrey et al., 2017), in part because many environmental program have not been well designed and cross-compliance itself can be difficult to design and implement. Advocacy to widen the scope of application to other environmental problems has not been successful (Mundler and Ruiz, 2015), but that is what is required in the early stages of cross-compliance implementation. EFPs and action steps should be a requirement for all other environmental program funding. All provincial crop insurance agencies should require minimum crop rotations for insurance eligibility. Europe has applied cross-compliance measures since 2005 and applies them widely to agri-environmental and some socio-economic programming. Based on their successes, the federal government should ultimately require all producers and processors to be in transition to a recognized and verifiable sustainable system or already converted before receiving funding for other measures. These provisions can be built into funding requirements regarding eligibility.
Transition risk offset and environmental service payments
Direct payments to producers for transition to environmental practices have been criticized in the past because they are difficult to target to those who will generate significant environmental improvements from their funded actions. Evaluations of programs in the US and Europe have found that some are both too expensive and only really taken up in less intensive agricultural production areas where the environmental problems are not as acute (Dobbs and Pretty, 2001; Batie, 2002). Other complicating factors include:
(1) that many farmers and other actors may be contributing to the problem;
(2) that since much of the pollution is non-point source, it is difficult to observe and measure impacts and their sources;
(3) the wide variability in farm types and their economic and ecological conditions;
(4) the unpredictability of negative natural events;
(5) the need for many farms to improve their environmental management to achieve improvements (Batie, 2002).
All these complications can mean considerable costs for government administering the program.
If only one environmental target is sought, then it is more efficient to design a program specific to that. But since many of the most significant environmental problems in agriculture are not related to a specific farming activity, then combinations of changes, or system alterations, are usually required. If multiple environmental improvements are sought, then targeting farms participating in multidimensional environmental enhancements is a much more efficient allocation of policy and program resources then designing programs around each specific environmental target (Batie, 2002; Dabbert, 2003). Organic farming generates multidimensional environmental improvements and direct payments for organic farming mitigate some of these programme design problems. There is some empirical evidence available to support this from Germany (Sanders et al., 2011), but evaluations must assign costs and benefits according to the multiple environmental benefits that result from organic farming, an admittedly difficult task. One study (Jacobsen. 2003) assigned all the costs of organic farming support to one environmental target, suggesting that organic farming support schemes are therefore inefficient. A more appropriate approach would be to examine the main benefits that result from organic farming, for which there is significant scientific support and then determine programme effectiveness and then to contrast it with programs that support very specific measures, as was done in Germany (Sanders et al., 2011).
European states have been supporting farmers through adoption of sustainable practices (e.g., pesticide and fertilizer reduction, biodiversity enhancement, sensitive areas protection, organic, animal welfare) by providing payments, usually on a per area or per animal basis, through the transition period. The rapid increases in organic acreage experienced in Europe owe much to the existence of multidimensional organic aid schemes, of which payments for environmental improvements have been the most significant component (OECD, 2003; Sanders et al., 2011). Over 80% of organic growth in Europe occurred reasonably quickly after implementation of definitional and control measures and support schemes (Stockdate et al., 2001). According to Lohr (2001), “The ability of EU farmers to rely on direct payments for conversion to and continuation of organic enables greater risk-taking in enterprise mixes, including high-value, high-risk crops, faster adoption of practices that require land-use adjustments that improve yields, and broader extensification of organic acreage that increases total output.” Comparing the US and Europe, she found that while dramatic growth rates were the result of the introduction of direct payments in the EU, during the same period, the number of organic farmers and acres actually declined slightly in the US where governments have relied primarily on market mechanisms and some grants. A multiplication of organic support packages through the 2000s across multiple program platforms (rural development, agrienvironmental programs and competitiveness) has increased organic acreage even more rapidly in many countries (Sanders et al., 2011). Many of these measures are not specifically designed for organic farmers, but these farmers are able to take significant advantage of them, as presumably would be able farmers following many other sustainability approaches.
A significant challenge has often been finding the right level of support. A comparative assessment of direct subsidies in Canada and New Zealand (Bradshaw, 1995) indicated that the appropriate level of government support is not so high as to encourage unsustainable financial dependency, yet sufficient to compensate for the market’s inability to reward farmers for being good environmental stewards. Similarly, the European Commission has tried to find levels that do not substitute for the market’s contribution to income generation, but also recognize the broad societal benefits that result from farmer’s delivery of environmental services - benefits that can not necessarily be recouped from the market place. When farmers are learning through the transition process, the benefits go beyond their own finances. It is for this reason that governments began to support the transition in the late 1980s (Lampkin, 1996). The intention, consequently, was to have the payment schemes be neutral - they would replace revenue foregone because of the adoption of environmental measures. The EC believed that small incentives beyond this should only be paid to increase uptake to reach a stated environmental objective (European Commission, 1999). Lampkin (1996) concluded that the payment levels should take account of the costs of environmental improvements farmers are expected to meet, the resulting environmental benefits, the costs of conversion and the potential for savings in public expenditures.
In earlier programme periods, levels of payment in the EU were not sufficient to encourage arable, horticulture, pig and poultry producers. The most common conversions in most countries were low to medium intensity dairying (Lampkin, 1996) and later in some countries grasslands in more hilly regions (Sanders et al., 2011). This suggested that those systems reliant on pesticides were insufficiently encouraged to reduce the application of pesticides. In the late 1990s, Austria (335 ECU/ha/yr for cereals) and Finland (365 ECU/ha/yr for cereals), with the highest payment rates also had the highest uptake, whereas the low rates in the UK (82 ECU/ha for all organic crops) proved to be less attractive (Lampkin, 1996). Certainly, enhanced uptake in the UK was associated with programme and payment improvements in the early 2000s. The responses of farmers to both schemes, associated with programme changes, clearly exceeded projections, and funding was exhausted within six months (rather than 2 years as originally projected). When the programme was altered and reopened, the take-up rates presented the largest wave of conversion to organic farming methods in the UK to that point, increasing the organic area 12-fold from 1997 (Centre for Rural Economics Research,, 2002). On so-called improved land, a tripling of per hectare payments in the first year (to 225 £/ ha) and a near doubling in total payments over 5 years (to 450 £) accounted for the rapid increases (Centre for Rural Economics Research, 2002:Table 1.1). On average, payments ranged from 190 ECU/ha/yr for cereals, 210 ECU for grassland, 280 for vegetables and 540 for fruit trees. Conversion rates in livestock operations were particularly sensitive to available payments. Rates have since been altered again (see Table 2 in Stolze and Lampkin  for 2004/05 and Sanders et al., 2011 for up to 2011). Depending on the region, grassland and arable payments in 2011 covered from 25-100% of additional costs associated with conversion (Sanders et al., 2011).
MacRae et al. (2009) in an examination of programme and policy incentives to encourage organic adoption to 10% of conventional production in Ontario set payment levels at 10% of foregone gross revenue. This level was chosen to be slightly lower than Europe, where such payments have typically ranged from 15 - 20% of foregone revenue. Using a different indicator, Offerman et al. (2009) found that EU payments in the mid 2000s amounted to 3-17% of gross output, for both existing and converting organic farmers. Zander et al. (2008) concluded that in Western Europe, payments amounted on average to 4-6% of gross output and 10-30% of farm family income plus wages. This is less than other non-organic payments. Payments per certified organic hectare, in 2008/2009, varied from €7 (UK except England) to €314 (Cyprus). In the EU27, the average was €163 (Sanders et al., 2011). Organic farmers, because of other environmental improvements associated with adoption, are also eligible for complementary agrienvironmental payments, the amount and eligbility rules varying by region (Sanders et al., 2011).
Daughberg et al. (2011) found that the UK Organic Farming Scheme annual payments had some positive impacts on organic farms and acres after conversion, while some of the Danish permanent and conversion subsidy schemes were drivers of conversion. Based on Swedish data, and comparing a situation with no direct payments to provision of direct payments for conversion, direct payments were estimated to induce a 27% increase in farmers undertaking a conversion (Lohr and Solomonsson, 2000). Arfini and Donati (2013), using positive mathematical programming and cluster analysis with Italian data, found that subsidy payments of 150 Euros / ha for organic cereals were more effective than price premiums at increasing adoption. However, the stimulation of adoption was very dependent on farm and spatial characteristics, with the most significant uptake amongst small to medium farms in regions where organic production is already at a higher level. Offerman et al. (2009) found that at least 56% of Western European farmers felt that organic farming payments were important or very important to the decision to adopt and 76% of Eastern European farmers felt similarly. The Centre for Rural Economics Research (2002), assessing the lower rates of payments in the UK at that time, found that, ”66% of non-organic farmers said they would consider switching if the OFS grants were increased. Our findings suggest that an aid package that offered roughly twice what is currently available would attract 7.8% of conventionally managed land area over to organic production, bringing the total up to just over 11%.”In their analysis, 34% of conventional producers would not convert whatever the level at which financial incentives were set. The Centre for Rural Economics Research data suggest that a further 10% of conventional farmers would convert with rate increases of from 60-120%, but that a significant jump to over 20% would require a 150% payment increase. And they found that “... An aid package offering roughly twice the amount currently available (90% more) would attract 7.8% of the conventionally managed land area over to organic production, bringing the total up to just over 11%. Austria has an aid package similar to this and has roughly 8% of its agricultural land area under organic management.” (Centre for Rural Economics Research, 2002). In some regions, the relative difference between organic and non-organic payments has encouraged conversions (Sanders et al., 2011).
The Centre for Rural Economics Research (2002) study also drew some other conclusions to inform the construction of a program:
- A quarter to a third of farms would have converted without the presence of the scheme, across the main enterprise types. Danish analysis drew similar conclusions (Sanders et al., 2011).
- Reversion to conventional production also had to be considered. They estimated “that for every 100 farmers who enter the Scheme, 79 will retain organic management after 5 years, but only 53 of these can be attributed to the operation of the Scheme, since 26 would have converted anyway. In other words, 79% of the initial benefits of conversion continue to be delivered after 5 years, but only 53% can be attributed to the Scheme.” In their review, Sahm et al. (2013) identified a range of reasons for reversion, but economic factors were typically a main consideration.
- There is an augmented impact the more farms convert in an area: declining unit marketing costs; improved information dissemination; positive network effects; positive learning effects.
Certainly higher payments contribute to more rapid uptake, but many complications related to how schemes were administered, eligibility rules, acceptable practices, and changes in access to other non-organic schemes associated with participation in organic schemes. In many cases, the loss of access to other schemes had significant negative impacts on organic uptake (Lampkin 2003). Kuminoff and Wossink (2010) found that conventional US soybean farmers would need to receive per acre payments over 10 years that exceeded the market price for soybeans (ie., a > 100% payment relative to gross income/acre) to compensate for risks associated with policy and program uncertainties. These kinds of complications, however, do not exist in Canada at present, given that conventional programme payments are far less robust than in Europe and the US. However, interest in financial supports appears to be high, as a survey of Ontario sub-watersheds, including the one modeled in this project (Filson et al. 2009), found that 90% of farmers were interested in receiving payments for ecological services.
Many jurisdictions also provide maintenance payments, usually for the production systems with the highest conversion payments (Sanders et al., 2011).
A 2000-2011 analysis of uptake of organic farming found that payments in combination with advisory support, market development, the presence of an enthusiastic farm organization and farmer attitudes were all elements of increased national adoption rates. In the countries studied, the analysts largely found that changes in area in organic production correlated with increases and decreases in area payment levels, though the results suggested that other factors also had an impact, With maturity of the organic sector, however, it appears that payment levels become somewhat less significant relative to other factors, In other words, payments are particularly important in the early stages of building up an organic sector, though they remain important through the organic adoption lifecyle (Sanders et al., 2011). Payments for other sustainable practices are also significant (in many jurisdictions the same as organic payments) but the relationship between payment levels and uptake is less well studied.
A few Canadian provinces offer transition programs for organic production on which more robust programming can be designed. The most robust program is in Quebec, where farms producing field crops, fruits and vegetables, maple syrup and honey in conversion can receive up to $10,000 and those already certified and expanding operations can also receive up to $10,000 for a $20,000 maximum contribution. Organic livestock operations that require modification to infrastructure to meet organic standards are also eligible for up to $20,000 on a 50% reimbursement basis. Farms can take advantage of both programs up to a maximum of $40,000 in support. Per acre subsidies are $40 for grains and oilseeds, $1000 for fruit and vegetables and $10 for forage and grazing lands. Payments are received during the 3rd year of transition. There is also support to change livestock buildings to make them more compliant with organic approaches. The program appears to be having a significant impact as organic acres increased by 65% between 2017 and 19 while remaining relatively flat in other provinces (Arnason, 2020).
PEI also provides transition payments through its Organic Industry Development Program. Producers in the first year of transition are eligible for per acre conversion payments, variable rates based on the crop, up to $10,000 / year.
Food, agriculture and aquaculture in carbon pricing and trading schemes
Because of their perceived efficiency, economists typically prefer market - based instruments - pricing and cap and trade - to reduce GHG emissions. Some 61 jurisdictions across the world have carbon pricing schemes in operation or development (as of late 2017) (World Bank Group, Ecofys, and Vivid Economics, 2017) . Some of these also involve carbon trading, others are structured more as taxes or regulatory charges. In addition to public schemes, there are also private arrangements, many of them originally established in anticipation of government intervention. Canada is one of the jurisdictions with a scheme under the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, and some provinces are in the process of developing schemes to comply with federal requirements. Others have been fighting the federal government in the courts in a dispute over jurisdiction and attempting to avoid implementing such measures. The Supreme Court has ruled, however, that the federal scheme is valid (March 2021). But most jurisdictions (including Canada) have failed to fully incorporate the food system into their schemes, in some cases actually exempting the sector from them. Although understandable given the often poor state of farm and fishery finances, and the inability of farmers and aquaculture producers to pass on additional costs due to their weak economic position in corporately concentrated supply chains, this is unfortunate, since the food system is such a significant contributor to GHG emissions. In theory, such taxes must include all significant sources of emissions (Aldy and Stavins, 2012), which is not currently happening. While the federal suite of initiatives are projected by the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO, 2021) to reduce Canadian emissions, the program designs will have limited impact on the agriculture and fishery sector emissions, even with tax increases (see below). The premise here is that as other measures (many locations on this site) are put in place to support farm finances and increase producer economic power in the transition to sustainability, including the food sector in carbon pricing and trading becomes more viable.
Typically, this failure to integrate food into schemes is because:
- Most food system emissions are very diffused (and often fugitive), the exception being certain input and food manufacturers. Many of the carbon pricing and trading schemes are focused on big emitters and individual food firms are not typically large enough to fall in this category. The food system is dominated by non-point source emissions and regulators have a weak track record of curtailing emissions of this kind. Some industries that contribute to inputs are included in schemes (e.g., natural gas producers, electricity producers) but only a relatively small percentage of their emissions can typically be assigned to the food system, although that level is often very significant for determining food system behaviour (e.g, natural gas is the main feedstock for synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and the availability and price of such fertilizers have a major impact on the way the food system behaves).
- Schemes often rely on aggregators to bundle together credits (from disaggregated groups like farmers) to sell to large emitters. As with other "middleman" circumstances in the food system, it is easy to create a scheme that disproportionately rewards the aggregator over the farmers who are actually storing the carbon. One way to address this problem is to have farm organizations act as aggregators, especially those with a no-for-profit mission (Ferguson, 2021).
- As discussed across this site, Canada's agri-environmental data collection is poor, making it hard to set baselines and monitor improvements. Many food system actors have little information on their emissions and no incentives to collect it or the costs for individual operators are very high. Equally problematic, food system emissions are often assigned to other sectors so the food system contribution is partly hidden.
- Although agricultural soils can be a significant carbon sink, there is important debate about what constitutes permanent carbon storage, which agricultural practices contribute to it, and how much farming system redesign is required to store enough carbon to generate significant mitigation. This makes the use of agricultural soils for cap and trade a dodgy proposition. A suite of conventional practices, including reduced and zero tillage (see below), may or may not be significant contributors to storage depending on the conditions, but it is fairly well established in the literature that organic farming creates permanent soil carbon pools (Lynch et al., 2011). Even if zero tillage is deemed a legitimate contributor to permanent carbon storage, many of the improvements occurred 20-30 years ago, so there is limited current additive value. Consequently, although many farmers feel they should be rewarded for past practices, it should not be through this mechanism. Many other interventions on this site address farm income.
- Even if there was a consensus on what practices contribute to long term carbon storage, the price for carbon is often too low to make it a viable investment for farmers, and theory suggests this is a significant design flaw (Aldy and Stavins, 2012). In many schemes, farmer investment in soil carbon storage only yields a few dollars / ha in returns from trading. Proposed changes to carbon pricing (Dec. 2020) may help with this problem (see below).
Certain food industry actors are named in the federal scheme regulations as covered facilities, including fertilizer manufacturers, grain ethanol producers for industrial applications, potato and oilseed processing plants, animal vaccine manufacturers, corn wet milling operations and sugar refiners. Apparently in response, many large emitters on this list, including Nutrien, Syngenta, BASF, Corteva, PepsiCo and Maple Leaf Foods, are establishing voluntary schemes with farmers from whom they will buy offsets to reduce their carbon footprints (Cross, 2021). A study conducted for the Canadian beef sector (Schaufele, 2017) on the private costs for beef producers (as opposed to the social costs) concluded that the carbon pricing scheme under a range of scenarios would shrink the beef sector and reduce beef consumption to varying degrees depending on the scenario. Although for the purposes of the conventional beef sector that is undesirable, it is warranted to achieve sustainability and health objectives (positive for social costs).
The federal scheme, a default backstop for provinces that do not put in place an equivalent approach, focuses on non-renewable fuel taxation. British Columbia, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador have their own carbon pricing systems deemed equivalent, but with certain elements of the federal scheme in place. The other provinces have more significant pieces of the federal scheme. With BC and Alberta, the federal scheme exempts on-farm fuel. Direct emissions from livestock are not included in the scheme and as of late 2017 no countries in the world did so (Schaufele, 2017). Most food system firms are not part of existing cap and trade schemes, either as emitters or sellers of credits except in Alberta which uses a hybrid model of carbon pricing and caps. However, the federal government is supposed to announce a carbon trading program in 2020 (presumably delayed by COVID-19) that will work with carbon pricing and into which farmers can sell carbon credits. It will be starting operations in Ontario, New Brunswick and Manitoba, as the federal government recognizes their schemes and heavy emitter regulations, but could then spread to other provinces. The details are yet to be finalized but it will apparently use January 2017 as a baseline date for the implementation of emission reductions (Brethour, 2019). In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, Sask. claims it will have a carbon trading scheme involving farmers and ranchers.
Soil sequestration, primarily associated with reduced or zero tillage, has been recognized since 2003 as an offset (Alberta Emissions Offsets Registry) and the registry also includes several composting projects involving organic waste diversions from landfill. Soil sequestration projects must comply with Alberta's Specified Gas Emitters Regulation Quantification Protocol for Conservation Cropping. This protocol is set to expire in 2021, with no indication yet of what will replace it. The recent change of government might result in the elimination of this model. Saskatchewan is supposed to be developing a carbon offset program similar to Alberta's in which farmers could participate, but has announced that practices adopted by at least 40% of the farm base will not be eligible, presumably because of concerns about additionality. This means most minimum and no-till practices will not participate in the scheme (Cross, 2021). The federal government is supposed to be developing protocols and should base it's system on recognized and operational protocols for which permanent carbon storage is recognized, such as organic production.
The federal backstop will require carbon tax increases, from the current $20 / tonne in provinces without an equivalent scheme, to $50 / tonne in 2022. The federal government proposed in Dec. 2020 to accelerate the price increases by $15/tonne each year for the next 8 years from 2022-2030, reaching $170 / tonne. As incentives for agriculture it also announced a $98.4 million Natural Climate Solution for Agriculture Fund and a $361 million fund to preserve wetland and grassland areas and sequester soil carbon, both to roll out over 10 years (Cross, 2020). The 2021 federal budget announced an additional $200 million to Agricultural Climate Solutions for improving nitrogen management, increasing adoption of cover cropping, and normalizing rotational grazing. An additional $60 million over the next two years will come from the Nature Smart Climate Solutions Fund to target the protection of existing wetlands and trees on farms, using a reverse auction pilot program. As well, the federal government will allocate $10 million over the next two years, from the Agricultural Clean Technology Program toward powering farms with clean energy and moving off diesel (see also Goal 5 Energy Efficiency). Unfortunately, all these programs represent early stage transition approaches, focus on BMPs rather than systems change (see Instruments for elaboration on the weaknesses of these approaches), and are a very passive approach to addressing these pressing problems. How on-farm implementation emerging from these programs might connect to selling carbon credits as described above is unclear.
The federal government believes these initiatives will allow Canada to meet its international commitments. However, the Ecofiscal Commission (2019) has concluded that carbon prices, in combination with specified regulations and standards, will have to rise to $210 / tonne by 2030 to achieve reduction targets. At this price level, combined with other measures on this site, it becomes more likely that food system behaviour will shift and farmer investments in sustainability can be rewarded if they are included in cap and trade schemes. To make this viable, scheme regulations will have to be amended to include more food system actors as covered facilities, and also to cover livestock emissions. The most straightforward way to address this is to include conventional livestock, aquaculture and fowl production facilities (e.g, industrial style feedlot and barn production facilities) as covered facilities. Other conventional producers (e.g., cow - calf operations, small independent pork producers, specialty fowl producers) would remain exempt. Certain conventional greenhouse and mushroom operations might also be covered. Those with sustainable certifications (see discussion under Efficiency, Protocols) would be exempt.
Other important concepts are additionality and permanence. Producers eligible to sell carbon offsets into a carbon trading system have to be following production systems that add permanent carbon, above and beyond an established baseline. Only those following approved sustainable protocols and authentication regimes should be eligible. In this way, carbon trading becomes another measure to help finance the transition to sustainable approaches.
Although many countries are moving in similar directions on carbon pricing, there is still the problem of leakage when trading partners do not establish the same regimes. The resulting international negotiations in Madrid (late 2019) on a global carbon trading system failed to reach agreement Until one is reached, it is appropriate to apply border taxes to level the playing field. Although Canada might lose export sales to countries without a carbon tax, because we are also significant importers, it creates the opportunity for import substitution based on higher prices generated by the border tax. As long as domestic and imported goods are subject to the same tax, they are consistent with the trade agreements (see Goal 10). And of course at this stage in the transition, the shift to sustainable practices is well underway and the dynamics of that market place are different from the conventional one. The federal government has recently indicated interest in using such border adjustments to buttress it's carbon pricing scheme, perhaps in part because the EU has proposed a carbon border tax as part of its most recent climate action plan and there is a suggestion the US might follow suit (Radwanski, 2020; Erlanger and Sengupta, 2021; Jones, 2021), although there have been some contrary signals from the new Biden Administration. The EU border tax, if approved, would start gradually and with products that are inputs to agriculture and other sectors, including cement, ammonia, iron, steel, aluminium, fertiliser, and electricity, with full implementation in 2026.
Several tax instruments and programs can facilitate the transition. See Instruments, Taxes for details on tax provisions.
- Remove HST/GST zero rating and Provincial Sales Tax exemptions/zero ratings from pesticides with an Environmental Impact rating above 20 on the Cornell system scale. On this scale, pesticides with a 20 or lower inherent toxicity are typically lower impact pesticides. The purpose of this measure is to shift price signals to favour lower impact pesticides relative to higher impact ones. This is important because the new low-dose, lower impact chemistry is typically more expensive than the old chemistry.
- Remove HST/GST zero rating and provincial sales tax exemptions / zero ratings from bulk synthetic fertilizers containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. All organic materials sold as fertilizer and soil amendments, regardless of quantity, should have a zero rating. Currently, many organic fertilizers and amendments are taxed. See also Goal 4 Fertilizers for more on how changes to the federal Fertilizer Act would shift consumption to organic fertilizers.
- Three years after these changes are adopted, if use has not fallen by at least 10%, place an additional retail sales tax on these synthetic chemicals in the 10-30% range, depending on degree of change to that point.
- Maintain HST/GST zero rating on farm and aquaculture equipment that facilitates the transition, and does not require excessive capital investment. A schedule of approved equipment would need to be constructed and could be facilitated by the Organic Value Chain Roundtable. The schedule would likely include such items as rotary hoes, flame weeders, flail choppers and mowers, sod seeders. On all other equipment, the zero rating would be removed.
- Adjust ACCA on farm and aquaculture equipment so that items that support transition have preferred rates. For example, cultivators, tillers and weeders are Class 8 under Schedule II of the Income Tax Regulations with a depreciation rate of 20%, but in sustainability terms, not all have positive impacts. Those that are more favourable to soil health should have their rating doubled and should be part of a class 8 sub-category. Greenhouses are class 6 with a depreciation rate of 10%, but many are highly energy inefficient, so a class 6 subclass should have a double rate for those that surpass a minimal energy efficiency rating.