Canada’s agriculture sector should be proud of its environmental performance. According to a recent study, this sector performs far better than many competing high-income OECD countries with respect to environmental impact. Simply put, from an environmental perspective, Canada’s agricultural sector is world class.
It’s important to recognize that Canada ranks 12th overall (including in agriculture) out of 33 high-income countries on a wide range of environmental measures that relate to both human health and the protection of ecosystems.
Among the main environmental concerns raised about the agriculture sector are the excessive use of fertilizers (nitrogen and phosphorous) and the intensive use of pesticides. In particular, runoff from fields where there has been excessive use of fertilizers can have negative impacts on air and water quality.
Similarly, pesticides used in agriculture can pose threats to human health and the environment by polluting water resources, degrading habitat and contributing to loss of biodiversity. To measure the impact of these factors on the environment, the study uses two measures—nitrogen-use balance and average use of pesticides.
Nitrogen-use balance estimates the potential surplus of nitrogen on an agricultural system by calculating the difference between the nitrogen inputs entering a farming system and the nitrogen outputs leaving the system (the uptake of nitrogen for crop and pasture production). Overall, the lower the nitrogen surplus, the better the management of nitrogen resource for agricultural production.
Canada ranks 4th on this indicator with a score of 90.2 out of 100. Only Iceland, Australia and Estonia rank higher than Canada. With 26.6 kilograms (kg)of nitrogen surplus per hectare in 2015 (the latest year of available data), Canada’s performs much better than the OECD average of 67.5 kg/hectare over the same period. The worst performer for this indicator is South Korea with 192.9 kg of nitrogen surplus followed by the Netherlands (189 kg/ha) and Japan (172.3 kg/ha).
Then there’s pesticides. While protecting crops against insects and bacteria, pesticides can also be potentially toxic to humans depending on the quantity and ways in which a person is exposed. Overall, the less a country uses pesticides, the more environmentally responsible it is when treating its crops.
Between 2008 and 2017, Canada used (on average) 1.89 kg of pesticides per hectare of cropland (kg/ha), ranking 11th and receiving a score of 88.6 (out of 100.0). Canada’s average use of pesticides remains well below the average of 4.1 kg/ha for the 33 countries. Top performers were Iceland with an average use of 0.03 kg/ha, Sweden (0.70), Finland (0.71), Estonia (0.86) and Norway (0.89). The bottom five countries were Israel, Japan, South Korea, Netherlands and New Zealand.
Clearly, Canada has an excellent environmental record when stacked up against the world’s richest, cleanest and most developed countries. And the agriculture sector deserves credit for its strong environmental performance.
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