The challenge of translating complex soil carbon science into functional policy

(Kara Oosterhuis/RealAgriculture)

The Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI) recently released a report focusing on soil health, including soil carbon sequestration. The report takes a step past data collection and looks at how to effectively turn soil science data into usable policy across the nation.

Lisa Ashton, CAPI doctoral fellow, is a part of the cohort who was tasked with navigating through the data and coming up with a framework on how to successfully translate the findings to farm-level practices that enhance carbon sequestration.

To do this, the team evaluated the foundational science, the different beneficial management practices ,and the broader socio-economic and policy challenges that producers may face.

Outside of the complexities of the research and data, there exists additional complexities of working with several different organizations, ministries, and getting those bodies on the same page, while also coming up with policies that make sense and are able to be adopted by farmers at a ground level.

With bringing all of these components together, naturally, there will be barriers and items that need to be addressed, and Ashton says they identified what they found to be the most important issues, but also many benefits to adopting these practices as well.

“At a high level, some of the barriers we found were: potentially high upfront costs in adopting new practices and producers are taking on some risks and uncertainties as they introduce new practices that they may not know the full extent of their implications for their farms.” says Ashton. “Some opportunities to address that is to advance research around the return on investment that producers may experience as they adopt these practices in terms of productivity, improve soil health, and then how the different programs may offer that financial support to transition as well.”

She says the returns on investment could be coupled with greater extension and technical support as producers adopt these practices as she says “they are really at the cutting edge of of research and development.”

Producer involvement in this process is crucial not only for the adoption of the policies and practices once they are put into place, but also for the testing and development of those practices as it relates to different geographical regions throughout Canada.

“There isn’t the same carbon sequestration potential across Canada or even between an individual producers’ field and not all producers are experiencing the same agri-environmental conditions or economic conditions are obviously not growing the same crop. So integrating that regional variability within policy and program designers is definitely what we found to be crucial,” says Ashton.

To think about the overarching goals Canada has in the way of environmental initiatives for 2030 and 2050, it can be quite overwhelming to articulate how to get there. Ashton says she encourages producers to think about these goals and initiatives from a personal standpoint for their own farm. To look at how they envision their operation being economically and socially viable as they may be looking to transition down to the younger generations, and how it will be environmentally viable in the future.

The next steps will involve the cooperation of multiple groups and will require a high level of organization as Ashton says, “collaboration across agencies is really important in collaboration between public and private entities, because they’re both are developing really innovative solutions. But to make sure that they’re currently aligned, I think, is really important”.

Related: More demonstration trials needed on carbon sequestration