Lynne Lund

A special committee of the legislature established to study the impacts of climate change is recommending the province move to a mandatory four year crop rotation.

The committee, chaired by Wilmot-Summerside MLA Lynne Lund, tabled its final report during the spring legislature session. The report calls for an amendment to the Agricultural Crop Rotation Act to make the four year rotation period the industry standard by 2025. It also recommends a temporary incentive be provided to producers to help with the shift.

Lund said the recommendation is in line with a report prepared by the PEI Federation of Agriculture on recommended actions to increase soil organic matter content. The report notes the barrier to making this change, for producers, is financial; decreasing the frequency by which a more profitable crop may be planted decreases the return on harvests.

"A change to the Agricultural Crop Rotation Act could be implemented without delay, but it could leave producers with a sudden and unplanned financial shortfall," the report notes. "Phasing in this change instead, and assisting producers to incorporate new crops with potentially new markets into their rotations, would allow the best management practice to be implemented without undue financial hardship. "

The committee also recommends incentives for the purchase and use of chisel plows be provided to producers in order to promote conservation tillage, noting "In tilling, a chisel plow is less soil disruptive than a traditional mouldboard plow. The PEIFA report recommends the use of chisel plows, as well as plowing in spring instead of the fall, as part of an overall effort to reduce the depth and intensity of tillage.

Lund and her fellow committee members also call on the Department of Agriculture and Land to work with producers to identify shorter season, more nutrient-efficient potato varieties that will grow well in PEI, and identify marketing opportunities for them. The federation report indicates planting shorter season varieties would contribute to better nitrogen fertilizer management and allow more time in the fall for planting cover crops, and thus help to lower emissions.

"The barrier to doing this is lack of demand for these potatoes; major buyers still favour the Russet Burbank variety," the report notes. " However, this could be overcome by emphasizing the environmental benefits of shorter-season, more efficient varieties in marketing, to appeal to consumers looking for more sustainably produced food. Alternatively, further testing of these varieties could be carried out to find types that meet the specifications of major buyers but also grow more quickly and with less fertilizer dependence than Russet Burbanks."

As well, the committee suggests the department partner with industry associations and organizations to evaluate ways to increase the production, distribution and land application of compost within the industry. Island Waste Management Corporation produces 7,800 – 10,800 tonnes of compost per year, which is mostly used for agricultural purposes. The PEIFA report estimates that over 70 kt of CO2e emissions, over a five-year period, could be reduced if 45 tonnes of compost per hectare were applied on 5,000 hectares.

"This significantly exceeds the typical annual supply of IWMC compost," the report indicates. "Some individual producers have on-farm compost production systems, and your committee suggests that Government and industry work together to examine how compost production could be increased and overcome any barriers to its distribution and application as well."

The MLA's also suggest an incentive for the purchase and use of commercial compost turners be provided to producers in order to promote composting of solid manure windrows. The PEIFA report identifies different practices that can improve on-farm manure management, and some of these are addressed in BMPs of the Climate Solutions Program and the Agriculture Stewardship Program. "However, one practice that is not addressed by the programs is the management of solid manure stored in field windrows, and the PEIFA report indicates that there is a good composting opportunity in these. Some farms in PEI employ a windrow turner machine to do this, with good results," the document reads. "To promote more solid manure composting, your committee recommends that an incentive for the purchase of commercial compost turning machines be provided to producers. The report notes that manure windrows do not need to be turned overly frequently, which means that several producers in close proximity could partner to jointly own and use a turner. Any incentive in this regard should also be available in such cases of joint ownership."

Increased oncentives are also suggested for the installation of Liquid Manure Storage Covers, as well as the necessary legislative or regulatory changes be made to require construction of any new storage containers to include a cover.

"The Climate Solutions Program features incentives to assist with the cost of this best management practice," the report notes. "Your committee is concerned they may not be enough, however, given the substantial cost of covering storage containers, especially if a permanent concrete cover is to be constructed. While producers may well understand the environmental benefit of this BMP, it does not appear to have direct or indirect monetary benefits that can offset the capital cost."

To allow for greater uptake, the committee suggests increasing the Climate Solutions Program incentive for this particular BMP to at least 50% of costs (from 35%), to a maximum of $45,000 (from $30,000) over the life of the program.

As well, the committee wants the Climate Solutions Program expanded to include demonstration projects for the inclusion of feed additives in ruminant livestock diets, but support to expand use of locally produced, seaweed-based additives.

"There are many options for feed additives to reduce methane emissions caused by ruminant livestock digestion, and they are likely to have a range of effectiveness," the report notes. "Trials and demonstration projects are thus in order. That said, seaweed-based additives, such as those produced by North Atlantic Organics in western PEI, have already been shown to reduce emissions by 20% when added to feed at a rate of 5%, according to the PEIFA report. Your committee sees no reason not to promote widespread use of these additives in ruminant livestock operations now, rather than waiting for further information on additional additives. "

Finally, the committee is calling for a multi-year funding commitment for the PEI Agriculture Climate Solutions Program in order to maximize the GHG reduction potential of its best management practices. The Climate Solutions Program has been announced as a pilot program, with $215,000 in funding for the current year and the department is expecting approximately 30 applications.

The committee is recommending a budget of at least $1 million annually for five years. It suggests the additional funding could be used to increase the number of producers participating, add further best management practices and/or increase the assistance rates for practices that are remain out of the financial reach of producers.

The program is jointly funded by the federal and provincial governments and the committee concedes finding the extra dollars will not be easy. It suggested asking Ottawa for additional dollars as well as considering the prospect of putting levies agricultural activities that are counterproductive to emissions reduction, such as fertilizer sales.

"There are many co-benefits to agricultural best management practices that reduce emissions, which accrue to the farmer, the industry, the environment and Islanders," the report concludes. "These include increasing soil organic matter content, preventing soil erosion, raising water quality by preventing nutrient leaching, improving crop yields and livestock health, boosting the sustainability of farms and farming as a livelihood, and raising the profile of one our most important industries and the Island itself as an agriculturally sustainable province."

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