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The call for a national soil health strategy needs closer inspection

By: Lara de Moissac

April 29, 2021

Opinion

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The recently announced Bill C-290, the Soil Conservation Act, has many steps to pass through before becoming an act.

The premise of the bill — supporting efforts to create a national soil health strategy, that soil is the foundation for sustainable food production, enhanced biodiversity, cleaner air and water, and are at the root of the agriculture and agri-food value chain — is well-founded. These are facts that we already know and that we know need to be worked on.

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I’m sure MP and NDP ag critic Alistair MacGregor has good intentions for the bill, but as a Private Member’s bill of a party not in power, it’s unlikely that this bill will move forward.

But if it can garner support and it passes, then what?

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Some of the goals laid out in the first reading are lofty; collecting data, on an ongoing basis, on soil health (using what parameters? what methodology?) including carbon content and sequestration potential, will take massive collaboration on scientists’ parts.

It perhaps comes down to wording, but defining the scope of this work and recognizing previous work done can easily ease that burden.

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It begs the question: who will MacGregor consult with after the bill passes and how will previous work be recognized? For example, there’s a report initiated by the Saskatchewan Soil Conservation Association, readily available on their website, on soil organic carbon and carbon sequestration research, that Brian McConkey helmed and many others worked on since 1996.

There are aspects of the initiative that I do agree can be done, like supporting research programs on regenerative soil management, since the principles of regenerative agriculture need to be fleshed out and explored in this country, in order to have clear expectations (i.e. in regards to carbon taxation).

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If passed, however, the act should not disregard any previous work done on cover cropping and grazing, and the effect of these practices on soil organic carbon.

On appointing a national soil health advocate, where would that advocate come from: industry or policy? What would their qualifications be?

Finally, declaring World Soil Day and National Soil Conservation Week to be recognized in Canada, is simply a feel-good measure. Plus, we already have a National Soil Conservation Week — it happened just last week.

I’ll admit, it’s a rare occasion when policy catches my eye, but since this is soil related, I’ll be watching to see where this goes.