This section describes actions that local governments can take to help reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.
Reducing Agricultural GHG Emissions in Your Community
Local governments have the ability to create plans and policies that help farmers make emissions reductions at their operations. These plans and policies can:
Examples of plans and policies that can serve this purpose include Official Community Plans, Regional Growth Strategies, Agricultural Area Plans, Urban Containment Boundaries, and zoning bylaws. The website, A Guide to Green Choices and its document (from the Ministry of Rural and Community Development), provides more ideas on actions local governments can take.
However, be sure to keep existing legislation and regulations in mind such as the following:
These help define how local governments can influence agricultural activities and detail policies related to encouraging the business of farming within the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Preserve Agricultural Land
Taking advantage of the GHG mitigation opportunities that agriculture offers requires preserving farmland. This is also an important component of food security. BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) is one of North America’s most effective methods of preserving agricultural land.
Local governments have a key role to play in preserving ALR land by carefully evaluating the need for exclusion, subdivision or non-farm use applications. It is important to carefully plan transportation routes through the ALR to minimize impacts on farm vehicles, to ensure access to sufficient drainage and irrigation water, to encourage farmers' markets (in BC and across Canada), and also to minimize urban-rural conflicts about normal farm practices in the communities on the ALR edge.
The Agricultural Land Commission’s publication ALR & Community Planning Guidelines provides advice for local governments preparing and adopting plans that recognize the provincial interest in preserving lands for agriculture and encouraging farming. Refer to these guidelines when developing plans or zoning which may affect ALR land.
Balancing Goals and Policies
As explained in the What section, actions you take towards reducing agricultural GHG emissions may not be reflected in your community’s official CEEI, but they may still be worth doing. In many cases, these measures can lower production costs or create new revenue streams for farm operations by opening new markets. They often yield other environmental co-benefits as well. See the Why section for more information.
However, keep in mind that in some communities, the goal of reducing agricultural GHG emissions may conflict with the goal of creating a sustainable community. Some mitigation measures have the potential to reduce local economic activity, shifting it to other locations. This will carry consequences, so communities will need to balance the desire for local food production and employment with environmental impacts and concerns.
Food Miles & Carbon 'Footprint'
Many communities in BC have a strong interest in reducing 'Food Miles,' a measure of how far food travels from the field to the plate. If they can be reduced, will GHG emissions drop?
This is not a simple question, as there are many factors that make up a 'carbon foodprint':
- On-farm energy used to run farm equipment
- Nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizer application
- Methane emissions from manure storage and manure spreading
- Water heaters and pumps for washing, processing, packing, etc.
- Refrigeration and freezers for cold storage
- Transportation to wholesalers
- Wholesale and retail storage and handling
- Heating, cooling, lighting in retail outlets
- And much more!
It's not obvious how the 'foodprint' of field-grown produce from California will compare with local greenhouse-grown vegetables or apples that are kept in refrigerated storage for several months. There are no universal answers because results will vary significantly by region and crop.
Another challenge with calculating the impact of food miles is the complexity of agricultural markets. While some fresh commodities like sweet corn or pumpkins are likely picked and shipped in containers directly to a single destination, others are sent to processing plants, mixed with products from other locations, and shipped to retail locations which may be near where they were grown. Other products are made of ingredients from many sources. If a broiler chicken lives next door but is raised on grain from the prairies, is it low miles?
Several studies have been done (see below), but none are directly relevant to BC.
- UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: The Validity of Food Miles as an Indicator of Sustainable Development
- Food Miles: Environmental Implications of Food Imports to Waterloo Region
- Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States
- Food Miles – Comparative Energy/Emissions Performance of New Zealand’s Agriculture Industry, claims that sheep meat produced in New Zealand and shipped to the UK is far less energy and GHG intensive than sheep raised and consumed in the UK.
Agricultural GHG Emission Reduction Opportunities
In general, GHG emissions from agricultural activities can be reduced through more efficient management of the carbon and nitrogen flows within agricultural systems. The farm management practices best suited to emission reduction are region and site specific.
However, some practices are commonly recognized for minimizing greenhouse gas emissions. These include:
- Energy conservation and fuel switching
- On-farm energy production
- Soil conservation and sequestration
- Livestock and manure management
Energy Conservation and Fuel Switching
Each farm operation has different opportunities for energy conservation and fuel switching. Some examples include:
- Conducting an on-farm, all-fuel energy assessment to highlight opportunities for greater energy efficiency
- Ensuring that all heating and cooling systems are the most efficient possible and in good working order
- Using timers, sensors or variable speed drives on ventilation, heating, cooling and lighting systems that don’t need to run all the time
- Replacing fossil-fuel powered equipment with electrical pumps and motors when possible
More information is available at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs website.
On-farm Energy Production
Opportunities for on-farm energy production and generation will depend on the type and scale of operation and its location. Some agricultural producers may decide to generate energy or energy feedstock for sale, while others may generate small quantities of energy in the interest of self-sufficiency and reduced energy costs. Renewable energy technologies suitable for on-farm use include:
- anaerobic digestion
- solar thermal
- solar electric (photovoltaic)
- biofuel production from crops or crop residues
- combustion of wood or crop residues
For more information visit the Integration of Renewable Energy on Farms website.
Soil Conservation and Sequestration
Cropping management practices that increase carbon storage include:
- Utilizing crop rotation
- Decreasing summer and bare fallow
- Cover cropping
Nutrient management practices linked to GHG emission reduction include:
- Reducing the use of excess fertilizer (manure or synthetic) and other inputs
- Adjusting fertilizer applications to the precise needs of each crop
- Timing applications to minimize losses through runoff, etc.
Tillage and residue management practices that increase carbon storage include:
- Utilizing reduced or no-till practices
- Leaving plant residues on the soil surface to build soil carbon
- Avoiding burning of residues, as this releases carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide
Five main agroforestry systems that can increase carbon storage include:
- Shelterbelts and timberbelts
- Integrated riparian management
For more information visit the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs - Soil Management
website or the BC Agroforestry Industry Development Initiative
Livestock and Manure Management
GHG mitigation methods related to livestock include:
- Selecting appropriate forages for pastures and grazing lands. The forage best suited to a specific micro-environment will have the highest plant productivity and consequently, sequester more CO2. This also results in more digestible feed, which decreases methane production, particularly in ruminants.
- Utilizing rotational grazing. This keeps pastures at their most digestible stage and prevents overgrazing. Allowing vegetation to recover also improves CO2 sequestration potential, prevents erosion, and improves pasture productivity.
- Changing feeding practices to decrease methane released through enteric fermentation in ruminants. This could include using higher quality feed or adding supplements such as lipids to the diet of ruminants.
- Managing manure to reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions. Methods include covering manure storage, improving the efficiency of manure as a nutrient source by adjusting the timing and rate of application, and collecting and combusting methane
For more information visit the Ruminant Livestock website of the US Environmental Protection Agency.