Increased 4R adoption could reduce fertilizer emissions by 14%, says new report

A new report commissioned by Fertilizer Canada and the Canola Council of Canada shows increased adoption of 4R stewardship practices could result in a 14 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from nitrogen fertilizer — approximately halfway to the Canadian government’s 30 per cent reduction target for 2030.

The study, released September 6, compares the impact of 4R (right source, right rate, right time, right place) practices on emissions and farm economics, depending on the level of adoption and whether crop yields increase between now and 2030.

“The way I view it is the government put out this aspirational goal of 30 per cent,” explains Karen Proud, CEO of Fertilizer Canada, in the video below. “Our study shows with today’s practices, today’s technology, and what we know about the adoption of the 4R nutrient stewardship program, we believe we can get about halfway there by 2030, which to me is a great news story.”

The report looks at three scenarios: 1) no yield increase, with aggressive adoption of 4R best management practices (BMPs) by farmers across the country; 2) yields increase, with aggressive adoption of 4R practices; and 3) adoption of 4R practices to the point where emissions are reduced by 30 per cent.

The absolute 14 per cent reduction is based on the middle scenario, with “aggressive, but attainable” levels of 4R BMPs adopted by farms across the country, and yields increasing.

Reaching the government’s proposed 30 per cent reduction without compromising yields would require “an unrealistic level of adoption of multiple advanced 4R BMPs on nearly every acre of N fertilized crop and would cost $4.6 billion,” write the reports’ authors, Rob Gamble and Dan Heaney.

They also note the level and type of BMP adoption needed — and therefore the cost of adoption — varies by region of the country.

Karen Proud, CEO of Fertilizer Canada, joined Shaun Haney on the Sept. 6 RealAg Radio “After Show” to discuss the new report on how adoption of 4R practices could reduce emissions and affect farm income, next steps the federal government could take, and more:

Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau responded positively to the Fertilizer Canada/Canola Council report in a statement shared with RealAgriculture while she attended the Liberal cabinet retreat in Vancouver, BC.

“I welcome the findings of the Fertilizer Canada report that nearly half of this target can be achieved without reducing yields with greater adoption of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship program. This program saves money, produces more and reduces emissions all at the same time. While this industry report focuses on its own nutrient management initiative, there are several other ways to reduce emissions from fertilizer application,” said Bibeau, without expanding on what she meant by “other ways.”

“I think it’s very, very positive…I’d like to see the details about those other practices,” says Proud, after hearing Bibeau’s statement.

She notes Canadians have shown they want the government to focus on food security, referring to a public opinion poll conducted by Abacus Data in late August that showed 64 per cent of Canadians agree the country should focus on food production, even if it means not reaching a 30 per cent reduction in fertilizer emissions.

Given the priority on food security, Proud says the requirement that crop yields not be reduced should lead the government to focus on achieving the 14 per cent reduction outlined in this report.

“I’m hoping we’re not having a fight on the other half. I don’t think there is another half at at this stage necessarily. I think we have put forward a very comprehensive look at what can be achieved using current farm practices at the more advanced levels,” Proud says, noting ultimately, it comes down to whether farmers adopt these practices. “We can have a report that says we’d love to get to 50 per cent adoption in in advanced practices, but that goes nowhere if the farmers are not engaged. And so I think the real challenge now is working with government on engaging at that farm level to find out what’s it going to take. How do we support the farmer? What sort of incentives get us there? Because otherwise, this is all just academic.”

Read the executive summary of the study here.

Related articles:

“No intention of going in a regulatory direction,” says Minister Bibeau, regarding fertilizer emissions target

Trying to wrap our heads around the federal fertilizer emissions plan — a timeline of how we got to this point

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