Session 3

These notes include mostly unattributed comments by participants who attended the March 26, 2018 session.

Overall Workshop Question: “What are potential policy options for the agri-food sector to maintain or improve healthy soil?”

Question 1 - If we achieved soil health in 40 years, what would that look like?

-Better integration between urban and rural: Food sheds where smaller holders feed into local food shed. Trade not out of the picture, but less reliant. Small holder farming is growing.

-Small farmers are economically viable and supported.

-Biotic life is better integrated into farms.

-We have gotten our act together globally around soil mining.

-Soil seen as a public resource

-Market incentives necessary for soil replenishment, and/or public intervention into multifunctionality, environmental goods and services.

-If we are serious about building soil health, need to grow perennial forages: 25% land in total should be in perennial forages

-The ideal farm would mean consumption would change dramatically: much less chicken and pork. Much less meat; meat is grass fed. Pollinator habitant is far larger.

-Technology: ramping up. Will accelerate. Lab grown foods and meats.

-Not mining soil in 40 years, at least maintaining, and increasing SOM by then.

-It will only get harder to gain access to soil and land by then.

-Thinking about the tipping point: Would want to see that from kindergarten to postsecondary kids are farming, gardening, learning about food and soil. Same with climate change: Look at shifts in climate change and Indigenous rights content. What if that was the same for soil? Could have much deeper content across society on soil and soil health.

-Need to address farm scale and peasant and farmer dislocation in Canada and globally.

-Can’t take conversation about soil health away from economic piece. Need to make sure that small and medium sized farmers can make a living. And be incentivized to be ‘efficient’ beyond the economic. Not measured by economic efficiency.

-How can eaters demand foods that benefit the soil?

-agroforestry and perennial polycultures.

-Young farmers: more excited about agroecology and alternatives

-Government in Canada has finally realized that they need to intervene in land ownership: that they simply can’t leave it to the market. Public intervention. Small and medium sized farmers incentivized to do the right things.Meaningful nation to nation relationships: which would have substantial impacts for soil health.


-Demand: important but its hard for eaters to get the info at the retail.

-The genetics of corn have made it easier for farmers to not address soil health: because we now have drought tolerant varieties, which mean farmers can push the soil harder, and not pay attention to soil.

-Farmers in 40 years would have soil health tied to yield in some form

-Education: we would know what local foods are. Children would be engaged in food growing. Would have food literacy. Part of curriculum, and in community as informed eaters. Plant-based eating style. ‘Sustainable diets’ addressed and observed and would mesh with the food policy.

-We would know the value of food in decreasing diseases and link our health with the health of the planet.

-Hydroponics: more water based growing, in the north, to increase access to healthy food. Combination of tools and technologies.

-I see the value of the diversity, of the landscape. Diverse production systems.

-From diets reliant on annuals to perennials. Encourage producers to rely on perennials that flow through animals and are grown directly for humans.

-Carrots will not get us where we need to go. Need much more intervention. Will be driven by elite actors, driven by self-protection. Elites will act out of self-protection. Maybe can’t be a revolution from below.

-Need regulatory instruments that are punitive: people won’t like it, but it is what it is.

-We would know what soil health is in 40 years: it is being measured on every farm.

-Soil health is being integrated into property taxes. This could be the carrot and the stick. The money would go to the municipal revenue stream though: Not accessible to province.

-Price of food should be much higher.

-Want to see Guaranteed annual income, low food prices shouldn’t be subsidizing poverty.

-Bad foods are more expensive.

-Link access to business risk management revenue to particular practices: could link it to SOM. What is the real purpose of business risk management programming? What is it supposed to be doing? What is the rationale? Is it to supplement farmers? How? For what?

-Look at younger people: to train for particular skill sets: linking diverse issues.

-Property tax: would be abused. Locals see property taxes as income taxes.

-Could we do soil quality on all property? Not just farmland. We should all be responsible for soil health.

-Property taxes: What about for those who did it already? Built their SOM?

-Need a stick: Some farmers will never change: risk management is directed toward larger farmers. Should cap those programs.

-When we use a stick, farmers get creative.

-“I like sticks for other people”

-If we could achieve soil health measures that are good for the earth, would people care about whether ten corporations farmed the land? Can we meet ecological goals under a corporately concentrated agriculture system?

-Are you lowering or raising property taxes? Could be carrot or stick. Could be about the amount, and whether its maintained, rather than growth of SOM. The tax adjustment must not defund rural communities.

-Foreign buyers buying land but not farming it. How do we influence farmers who own land but don’t farm it? How do we influence their practices? E.g. neonics and pollinators helped to push pollination education forward.

-Settler-Indigenous relationships to land: what conversations will have to move ahead across cultures?

-How does soil health messaging specifically become integrated into broader conversations. What are the key messages? It needs to be more than just soil is important.

-Extension services: how do we expand them? i.e. soil health specifically.

-What is the role of social media?

-Price of food should be different: If the price rises, it shouldn’t go into the pockets of retail. How high prices for which foods?

-The biggest issue is that few jurisdictions have moved very far

-Programs are directed toward larger farmers.

-Voluntary stewardship: Don’t want to see creativity focused on how to get around regulation, but rather finding solutions.

-Messaging: soil isn’t a medium, but is alive, dynamic, and complex. It’s about a relationship.

-Support for farmer training. New farmers who haven’t grown up on farms: extension services. Training: OMAFRA has moved away, should build that up.

-Don’t need more ‘innovative’ foods. Or more foods that carry vitamins. How are we looking at innovation that will make us healthier?

-We lack a management and governance culture in Canada, which is causing a lot of our problems. Affects everything from how farms are designed, to regulations. Institutions scope the analysis and consultation. The design of which is faulty. Until we address how governance is designed, we will keep designing policy that has all sorts of negative impacts.

-Need to create an effective design culture.

-How do we make soil organisms as attractive as pollinators.

-How do we measure what we want? SOM seems to be the best measure. We should leave it up to farmers to know how to get there, rather than regulate BMPs. We need to measure the outcome. The property tax would help owners. It will be important to be fair to municipalities; it is difficult, but should still get it done.

Question 2 - How should we honour the capacity for each farmer to manage their farm agroecosystem, while also respecting the public good for healthy food, soil and clean water?

-Shaping the space that something happens: give the space a certain form. Traditional role of government is to smooth the rough edges off capitalism. When done well, we create a space where private actions are undertaken in creative ways. But the space is shaped so that it does a better job of reflecting the public goods dimensions of that space. So, food: over history, food was traditionally much more of a public space than it is now. What are the instruments that reshape the space?

-Needs to start with a national conception of food policy.

-Will have to fundamentally address the food space. To still allow for entrepreneurial activity, but with different endpoints. How do we navigate this tension? Incrementally, in a transitional way, so that the perturbations can be corrected?

-Voluntary measures don’t typically work well.

-The things we’re looking after, we only are doing so temporarily. How do you look after it during that time? Recognize that they are temporarily responsible for caring for the land.

-And also need to have the rights and autonomy to make a living. Greenbelt: if they are a property owner, what is the value?

-Who gets to govern? Who gets to control? Creating a space where we have ecological outcomes, and goals: especially around climate change and diversity. And then designing a system of governance where power doesn’t equate to governance and control.

-Value creation: Do we actually value water and soil collectively? If we did we would be acting differently. How do we create value for the things we want to see? Env goods and services, ALUS model? A fairly good model.

-Messaging: how does local relate to ecological? Now that we’re conscious of local, are we more receptive to local ecologies?

-Confidence: how do you get farmers to trust and have confidence in making a shift in their system, and have it be successful. For government: we are often too reactive: focus on the immediate needs. What is our public vision?

-How do we focus on the vision?

-How do we have a right to make a living, while also still respecting the public good? It is offensive what many farmers are doing in terms of taking windbreaks out etc? E.g. how long has the EFP been in place, it has made a marginal difference.

-There’s been much more on water so far. More on water because water moves from farms to taps.

-now looking at unintended and passive contamination: phosphorous etc.

-But with soil, contamination will only be penalized if it contaminates the water table. So maybe we need to treat soil contamination more in its own right. Soil now is deemed as private, could it be seen as a public good?

-Land purchases: SOM become a part of land values?

-What about collective spaces for action: union and collective gathering and sharing, adapting. Engaging with local policy.

-What is the influence of the larger geopolitical context?

-Property rights: main pillar underpinning our problem. People believe that private property is so inviolable that you can kill another for violating.

-Property rights is the biggest baseball bat to shift how we act on the land, and how we are accountable.

-There used to be local systems of accountability: informal or formal: what do those look like that aren’t colonial/religious? It could be nation to nation territorial governance.

Question 3 - What broad policy or program options (PPO) (see below) could you support/not support, what changes would be required to support an option?

PPO 1) supporting more soil testing, and require audited performance on soil health in lease agreements

PPO 2) changing how we support perennial agriculture, including fruit and nut bearing trees

PPO 3) designating compost and mulch as farm products

PPO 4) implementing WWII style government interventions that are updated for soil health, today (What does this mean practically?)

PPO 5) measuring SOM, on every field, every 5 years

PPO 6) paying experienced farmers, with good soil health on their farms, to mentor inexperienced farmers or those who need to improve soil health

PPO 7) paying farmers to sequester C in soil

PPO 8) finding a way to recycle nutrients in sewage


Polling results of group

PPO 1) No – mixed opinions, without agreement to recommend

PPO 2) Yes – agreement to recommend

PPO 3) Yes – agreement to recommend

PPO 4) No – mixed opinions, without agreement to recommend

PPO 5) Yes -– agreement to recommend; some suggest combining it with option 1

PPO 6) Perhaps – cautious support

PPO 7) Yes – agreement to recommend

PPO 8) No – mixed opinions, without agreement to recommend


PPO 1) what are we targeting? -It’s about the details and design and purpose.

-It sounds like we have narrowed to carbon sequestration, farming and soil health.

-What’s missing: sludge. Huge leak of phosphorous. We are way past peak phosphorous.

-How do we get back onto the farm what farmers are sending to the city.

PPO 4) Equivalent to a ministry of food. How do we transform what they did then to make it pertinent to the soil health question.

-Focusing on soil health, politically we need to focus on something more human. How can we bring it back to more immediate human needs.

-Cuba: Soil institute: national vision and strategy, with soil health field schools. Federally funded, intensive extension services.

-Setting a long-term goal of soil health and then prioritizing public supports around that.

Setting a vison for agriculture, and where can the sector agree. Then setting measures based on the vision.

-Tools need to be multifaceted.

-Soil plays a role in mental and gut health: how does soil integrate with physical health. Don’t limit to farmers, but whole population, interdisciplinary.

-What is the motivation in France and Germany?

-How do we demonstrate the depth of the problem to encourage change.

-Should base farmer consulting on building soil health.

-Encourage lease agreements to include soil health.

-How do we use tools differently than the WW2 period.

-Are these already covered in OMAFRAs soil strategy?

PPO 5) A list or history of SOM over time, along with a current measure. Would at least like to have a common number.

PPO 6) SOM mentorship and peer support. If we don’t have extension, we should pay farmers to mentor. Nearby farmers paid to mentor.

-Maybe the focus should be on more efficient nutrient cycling. Currently aren’t bundled and tied to a soil health strategy, builds on what we are already doing. A possible starting place.

-We do things in other domains but don’t apply to soil health: pesticide labelling is guided by SOM because it will impact the metabolism of the pesticide. Not much thinking about SOM in fertilizer regulation. Currently SOM isn’t part of how we regulate.

-Policy around costing retailers to throw out food.

-RE: PPO 1) Who has the responsibility to care for soil? Who is responsible for soil health? Is it just farmers or everyone? Collectively we have a responsibility.

-Fruit and nut trees should be a part of farm support.

-Climate change seems to be a main driver of soil health and agroforestry policy in France, Germany and India.

-How do we build mutual accountability in a different way than in the past? We aren’t/shouldn’t be accountable to colonial systems any longer.

It’s the relationship that comes first:

-so how do we define jurisdiction in partnership with indigenous governance models.

-Property: how do we define ownership and management from a nation to nation perspective?

-Data and technology: what does this data mean, can it be sold, transferred for commercial purposes? Is big data just another mode of driving larger stakeholders and consolidation?

-If all decisions were put through a soil health lens, what would the implications of that be?

-How do we bring soil health problem into the lives of many?

-Policy is all based on export currently. Pushing for more exports and GMOs. Argument: “To feed the world”

-Make the prairies into perennial forages, bring back the Bisons.

-It’s rarely government that come up with ideas, its social movements and collective action. Whether it’s ready to or not.

-Soil and water are being pressed upon already at the government level, so keep pressing.

-NPK gone up 5-7 times, and yields have only doubled.

-Resilience: Were in a pickle in NA because we don’t have a sense of our own fragility. We’re looking for strategies that build resilience through soil. We can’t use traditional processes for designing instruments to focus on resilience because we have a legislative approach based on anti-fraud, which doesn’t prioritize resilience. Need a soil resilience act. Could partner with someone who works on food law to re-write the fertilizer act to be more focused on resilience.

-GMOs banned in Europe and yields have risen alongside U.S. and Canada levels. Meanwhile, chemicals have risen in NA and fallen in Europe.

-EFAO Farmer mentor program. Farmers can get paid to mentor already.

Question 4- Is there a policy or program option that we are most inclined to all support, that you are most/least inclined to support?

-Policy is more of a menu, or package than a one-shot deal

-What is the holistic comprehensive package and policy outcome and timeframe? Then build the policies, and test them out.

-Focus on the timeframe, then build out the policy: focus on process.

-We are far more focused on water. For those reasons, PPO 5 is most important. We need to start with measurement.

PPO 7) Covers the other ones: if you pay farmers to sequester, you encourage them to measure SOM, use mulch, compost, etc. It is a more holistic approach.

(PPO 1 + PPO 5) To be effective in getting farmers to sequester carbon, we need to ensure permanence and we need to measure SOM.

PPO 5) Is an easy sell. But would also be interested in expanding supply management system, which might be PPO 4.

PPO 7) I agree in theory but am very concerned about how it rolls out. How do we encourage permanence and validation?

-I’m most inclined to support a governance mechanism itself. I don’t think we can talk about instruments without talking about the development process.

PPO 5) Is something that we should all be tracking.

PPO 6) Resonates with the importance of a training mechanism.

-Is our role to propose a plan and then shop it to other organizations and groups. What can we get onboard with the soil health strategy, and then build on the strategy?

PPOs 5, 6, 7, 8)

PPO 8) Can we address the nutrient issue further upstream before it becomes sewage?

-The 4R program has implemented mandatory testing of SOM in the private sector.

PPO 2) Would require very little funding to have a big impact on that area of the sector.

-Grassland stewardship

PPO 2) There’s a lot of opportunity for fruit and nut bearing trees, and to create supports for farmers.

PPO 1 fits under PPO 5

PPO 4) could be addressed if we had a comprehensive soil strategy.

PPO 2) is an opportunity to develop a plan that is a demand supply coordinated strategy from the beginning: coordinating diet transition work with support for nut and fruit trees, and perennials. This could create the possibility of a project that thinks through the supply and demand side together and to move forward in a coordinated fashion.