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How Canadian Farms Are Changing

Canadian Farms See Major Gains in Eco-Stewardship

By Jean-Paul McDonald

Buried in some data released in April, Statistics Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada had some positive things to say about Canadian farming and how it has become more sustainable in recent years. 

In the Statistics Canada Census of Environment data portal, the facts and figures about farming showcased positive changes made in agriculture since the 1980s.  As the agriculture industry is often portrayed negatively when it comes to sustainability, it is important for farmers and others to understand these changes. 

A recent report from Statistics Canada indicates that Canadian agriculture has seen considerable strides in environmental stewardship, with a decrease in soil erosion and a shift in land usage patterns across the country's vast agroecosystems. 

As of 2021, agroecosystems in Canada cover nearly 57 million hectares. The landscape is primarily divided into annual croplands and sown and semi-natural pastures, with a small percentage dedicated to perennial croplands.  

Over the decades, these ecosystems' total area has reduced by about 3.9 million hectares. This shift reflects a decrease in annual croplands and semi-natural pastures, while sown pastures and forage areas have expanded. 

One of the most significant environmental improvements is the decrease in the risk of soil erosion, which has declined in 86% of the ecoprovinces since 1986. What is an ecoprovince you ask?  According to Wikipedia “An ecoprovince is a biogeographic unit smaller than an ecozone that contains one or more ecoregions.”  The top 4 ecoprovinces are Central Grassland, Central Boreaal Plains, Parkland Prairies, and Great Lakes-St Lawrence Lowlands.   

This positive change is crucial as soil is a vital component of agroecosystems, serving as the foundation for food production and ecosystem services. 

Moreover, while the use of herbicides has increased to control weeds, it is noteworthy that the areas under such chemical interventions have also become more targeted, aiming to reduce impacts on non-target organisms and the surrounding environments. 

Agroecosystems are not just about food production; they provide a multitude of services including climate regulation, water flow regulation, and soil retention.  

In 2021 alone, these systems produced approximately 109 million tonnes of crops and 11 million tonnes of forage, underscoring their critical role in both the Canadian and global food supply chains. 

This transformation towards more sustainable farming practices illustrates the commitment of Canadian farmers and agricultural policymakers to not only sustain but enhance the quality and health of the environment while continuing to feed a growing global population.  

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