The Best Way for Landowners and Industry to Protect the Environment?
Published in February, 2019
Sound science and respect for property rights are key, says a young agrologist
By Andrea DeRoo
“Agricultural and environmental research continues to develop better practices, technologies and resources for land management.”
“Because of their connection to the land, farmers do more to protect and preserve our environment than almost anyone else. They are some of the best environmentalists around.” – Ike Skelton
It is my belief that farmers are arguably some of the best environmentalists around. How could they not be when they live where they work, drink the water and depend on healthy landscapes to support their families?
The 2011 Census of Canada shows a mere two per cent of Canada’s population are farmers. While there is a growing trend amongst growers to rent land over purchasing, many are still passionate about environmental issues affecting the land, their business and the local community. Additionally, farm demographics on the Prairies show we have a greater percentage of young farmers (under 40 years old) than the eastern and Atlantic provinces combined; 39.3 per cent versus 27.3 per cent, respectively. Enrollment in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan has also increased significantly over the years, suggesting the opinion of the younger farm generations should be heard.
As agricultural research provided better information on improving land quality, farmers adapted new practices such as no-till and manure management systems to improve soil health. No-till practices alone increased from seven per cent in 1991 to 56 per cent in 2011. Statistics have also shown growers are continually adopting best management practices when it comes to pesticide and fertilizer use, water management and land use. Many facets of agricultural and environmental research continues to develop better practices, technologies and resources for land management and I have no doubts farmers will continue to use this information to better their land.
From a business perspective, the co-operative efforts of both landowners and energy corporations are ideal for the formation of effective agreements. Energy companies need use of the land for safe transportation of commodities like oil and gas, and most landowners depend on their land for the production of agricultural goods. The loss of crop yield after pipeline disturbance is common. Our own farm experience with cropping land disturbed by a pipeline has shown up to 30 to 40 per cent yield loss in some crops in extreme cases (Note: This is a yield-monitor observation estimate, and not scientifically proven yield loss. Numbers vary on land characteristics, environment and farm practices). While some loss is not surprising due to disturbance to soil properties, the loss of potential yield when inputs are blanketed across the field can influence the bottom line of income on that land. Understanding what limits exist on the land and the proposed use can ease concerns on both sides.
Today’s farmers face many new challenges, but their continued dedication to the health and security of the land is unwavering. For other organizations and businesses to think otherwise and show no respect for property rights is disheartening.
As a young farmer and ag scientist myself, I feel the best way to ensure good environmental practices from landowners and pipeline advocates is through sound science with respect for property rights. Including the voices of new generations in line for their family farms is also imperative, so continued civil discussions can take place as the landscape of agriculture, oil and gas and mining industries grow.
Public scrutiny in agriculture and energy production is increasing. Meaning both groups—landowners and energy producers—need to take care of the land to maintain positive relationships, with the understanding food and energy systems depend on each other to advance.
Andrea farms with her family on a mixed grain and cattle farm in southeast Saskatchewan. She defended her master's thesis in May of 2016 and obtained her professional agrologist designation in September of 2015. She is currently working at the Indian Head Agricultural Research Foundation, while continuing to farm.
Published in PIPELINE OBSERVER WINTER 2016