July 3, 2006

Best management practices gain ground in Canada's agriculture sector

Results of a recent Ipsos Reid survey indicate that Canadian farmers are embracing environmentally friendly practices for growing crops. Fully 98% of farmers surveyed said it was important to manage their farms in a way that protects the environment, and most reported using at least one recommended beneficial management practice (BMP) to manage crop nutrients (fertilizer and manure) in an environmentally responsible manner.

Soil testing and minimum tillage (reducing soil disturbance) were the most commonly cited BMPs used, with improving soil quality and making more efficient use of fertilizer given as the main reasons for using BMPs.

While protecting the environment is a priority, many farmers believe the use of BMPs can also yield net economic benefits, the survey found. At the same time, however, the cost of adoption was one of the main reasons cited for not undertaking a specific BMP. Of the farmers who were concerned about the cost of using BMPs, about eight in ten said they would like some financial assistance from government to improve their environmental stewardship.

"Farmers who use beneficial management practices protect the environment by applying fertilizer at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place," said Chris Moran, executive director of the Grain Growers of Canada and chair of the Crop Nutrients Council (CNC), an industry group on whose behalf the survey was done.

"This study confirms that farmers are good environmental stewards, working hard to manage nutrients for their crops in a responsible manner," agreed Brian Besley, farmer and chair of AGCare (Agricultural Groups Concerned About Resources and the Environment).

The survey also found that manure is a commonly used source of nutrients on Canadian farms. Six out of ten farmers surveyed apply manure to their fields, with about four out of ten reporting that they follow a manure management plan. Only about one-third of farmers who primarily grow field crops said they use manure.

Those who use a manure management plan listed more efficient use of manure/fertilizer, government mandate, and/or maximizing yields as the main reasons. Only a small percentage indicated that they receive any government financial incentive to assist them with their manure management planning, the majority of those using these plans favoured government provision of financial incentives in this area.

"Manure nutrient management planning is an important practice being increasingly adopted by livestock producers across the country. Not only do producers see an improvement in environmental performance on the farm, a major driver for change, they also recognize that good nutrient management keeps costs down and profits up," said Cedric MacLeod, environmental programs co-ordinator for the Canadian Pork Council.

Bob Friesen, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, pointed out that "Canadian farmers have been engaging in environmental stewardship for a long time because they believe it is the right thing to do. But they have been bearing the cost of those initiatives mostly alone.

"It is time for consumers and governments to recognize that agricultural environmental stewardship is a public good that benefits everyone, so the costs must be shared by everyone," he added.

Ipsos Reid surveyed 1,000 crop farmers across Canada early this year in order to gain a better understanding of Canadian farmers' attitudes toward BMPs related to managing crop nutrients, particularly the economic costs and benefits. The results are considered accurate to within +/- 3.4%, 19 times out of 20.

Created in 2003 in response to rising public interest regarding nutrient use in Canada, the CNC works to promote science-based BMPs for crop nutrients so as to enhance the economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture. More information on the survey is available from CNC executive director Clyde Graham, 613/230-2600, ext 5, E-mail cgraham@cfi.ca, or Kent Goldie, senior research manager at Ipsos-Reid, 204/949-3123, E-mail Kent.Goldie@Ipsos-Reid.com, Web sites www.cropnutrients.ca and www.ipsos-reid.com.

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