Soil essential to Canada’s economic, environmental, human and social health

Climate change, extreme weather events, pollution and urbanisation are damaging Canadian soil, and are threatening food security, the environment and millions of livelihoods, according to a new report by the Canadian Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.

‘Critical Ground: Why Soil is Essential to Canada’s Economic, Environmental, Human, and Social Health’ digs deep into the critical role of soil in mitigating climate change, contributing to biodiversity and putting food on tables. The committee is urging the federal government to lead the way in protecting this vital national resource.

Senator Rob Black, Chair of the committee, said, “Soil is often overlooked, yet it’s essential to all life. It grows our food and purifies our air and water. We must act now to preserve this valuable national resource, which is increasingly susceptible to climate change, floods, droughts, wildfires and the loss of farmlands. Canadian soil was at risk 40 years ago when the Senate released its first report on soil health. We don’t have another 40 years.”

Soil is the foundation of Canada’s agriculture system and a key economic driver. In 2022, agricultural and food product exports totalled nearly $93 billion. However, the committee heard that there is a lack of awareness of the value of soil, and that education is crucial to changing perceptions of farming in Canada.

The report highlights concerns from farmers, ranchers, producers and soil health experts about the unprecedented challenges to growing food. Floods, droughts, wildfires and the loss of farmland are among the many causes of soil degradation across the country.

The committee learned of many soil management practices that can help maintain soil health, but there is no “one-size-fits-all approach,” as soil and climate vary across the country. It is also difficult to analyse soil health data because governments, academic institutions, organizations and industry groups do not have a common means of gathering and sharing this information. The committee is recommending long-term funding for soil mapping and data aggregation across the country.

Senator Paula Simons, Deputy Chair of the committee, said, “Healthy soil doesn’t just grow better crops and trees. Regenerative ranching and farming practices can moderate climate change, by sequestering more carbon in the soil itself. And carbon-rich soil is better able to withstand drought and flood. Today, we need ranchers, farmers and environmentalists to see themselves as partners in the fight against global warming, soil loss and soil pollution.”

The report makes 25 recommendations to the federal government to work with the Canadian agricultural and forestry sectors, as well as municipal, provincial, territorial and Indigenous governments, to tackle soil degradation and preservation aggressively. The committee strongly believes that soil must be a national policy priority to help fight climate change and feed future generations.

Senator Marty Klyne, Member of the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure, said, “During our study we learned that Indigenous peoples have been left out of soil science and agricultural education, and that Indigenous farmers still face barriers when trying to access funding programs. It’s crucial that we close these gaps and incorporate Indigenous knowledge into our soil health practices.”

Read the report, Critical Ground: Why Soil is Essential to Canada’s Economic, Environmental, Human, and Social Health

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