Activity 29

Net life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of Canadian organic field crop production systems

Summary

Taken together, food systems contribute a large share of global greenhouse gas emissions. Identifying and disseminating strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with activities along food supply chains - in particular at the level of agricultural production – will be critically important in climate change prevention and mitigation efforts.

Organic agriculture continues to be among the fastest growing sub-sectors of the agri-food industry in Canada and around the world. Currently occupying over 300,000 ha, the production of organic field crops is of central importance in the context of Canadian organic agriculture as well as the production of a wide-range of secondary organic products (e.g. breakfast cereal, bread, animal feeds, etc) derived from field crops.

Though not established to address climate change, organic agriculture is often perceived to be, and promoted as, a climate-friendly alternative to conventional agriculture. However, farm size, production practices, yields and efficiencies can be much more heterogeneous than in conventional agriculture in Canada and while some specific organic practices may be relatively climate friendly, others may not be. The implications of this heterogeneity for the GHG emissions of Canadian organic field crops are not well understood. Moreover, a robust comparison of the GHG emissions from organic products to those from conventional, non-organic field crop production systems in Canada, taking into account regionally-specific production conditions and efficiencies, has not been possible to date.

The goal of this research is to evaluate the net GHG emissions of major Canadian organic field crops across the major producing regions from the Maritimes to British Columbia, taking into account unique differences between eco-regions regardless of where they occur, all sources of GHG emissions resulting from both on farm and all associated upstream activities (e.g. equipment and fuel production and delivery, nutrient procurement strategies, management of crop residues, etc.), and potential sinks of carbon on farms. A common approach will be used to characterize farming activities and estimate emissions in each region for each of six major field crops. Our study will provide the first, nation-wide profile of greenhouse gas emissions across the organic field crop sector that also reflects, where possible, distinct settings of production defined both in terms of similar eco-regions and/or farming practice. Importantly, through comparing and contrasting differences in the carbon footprints of organic crops resulting from specific regional conditions and organic production strategies, we will also attempt to identify best management practices for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in this sector and in conventional production where these practices are relevant.

Through knowledge translation and outreach activities, our research will support organic certification bodies and farmers in identifying regional and production system-specific strategies for continuing to improve the climate performance of organic agriculture in Canada. In turn, this will contribute to both helping Canada meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, and to improving the competitiveness of Canadian organic products in emerging markets for climate friendly food products.

Activity researchers

Name   Organization/Location
Peter Tyedmers (Activity Leader) School for Resource and Environmental Studies, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS
Goretty Dias School of Environment, Enterprise & Development, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON
Nathan Pelletier Faculties of Management & Arts and Science, UBC-Okanagan, Kelowna, BC
Roland Kroebel AAFC- Lethbridge, AB

 

Contributing Partners

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Grower participants