Farmers and climate activists share a love of the land


When it comes to climate activists and farmers, history can be a lot like a daytime soap opera. On one side are the farmers who have been stewards of the land for so long. They have this undeniable and burning passion for the landscape they inhabit and for keeping this land healthy for generations to come. Then, entrance on the courtyard side, there are the environmental activists. You can immediately tell that they are not farmers, of course, but they also have a lot of that same love for the land, even if for different reasons.

So everything should go smoothly.

Or maybe not. After all, there’s a disconnect that could heat up a lot of dramatic tension, much like having rival siblings onscreen. Farmers don’t always like being told how to do their job (who does?), and the situation is further complicated by the stark urban-rural divide in Canada. It’s hard to work together when we live in such different worlds; farmers in the countryside and climate organizations often based in cities.

Just like how farmers don’t have always receptive to the ideas of climate organisations, climate organizations have historically not always understood the values ​​of agriculture and the idea that farmers are often price takers rather than decision makers.

It all depends on when you start the story. Ten or even five years ago, these discrepancies were quite striking. In fact, they seemed to define the interaction. But fast forward to today and there is certainly hope.

country guide wanted to know: what do climate activists think of farmers? Is there the same kind of divide that farmers often have with consumers?

So we asked them, and here’s what we found. For example, climate activists from the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and Environmental Defense Canada (ECDC) are pleased with the bridges being built.

So where are the shared common interests? And where are the gaps that the two groups still have to overcome?

Find shared values

There’s a lot written about the feuds between farmers and climate activists, but at the end of the day, it’s undeniable that farmers and climate activists have a lot in common, including the fact that they know that they will be more effective if they work together.

“There is a lot more alignment between the two communities than there are differences. and hopefully we can continue to build on that,” says Keith Brooks, Director of Programs for Environmental Defense Canada.

According to Brooks, it’s taken time, but farmers and climate activists have come a long way, and they can work together on a lot of things. Environmental Defense Canada (EDC) works to facilitate productive conversations with many farm groups across Canada, including the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Christian Farmers and Farmers for Climate Solutions.

At EDC, most members are interested in sustainable food systems, which means they are interested in supporting their local farmers and pushing to eat more locally. Granted, for many members that means plant-based food, but Brooks is quick to point out that this is a market many farmers are growing.

Also a connector – both groups want to protect farmland, and as evidence Brooks points to how farmers and environmental activists have worked to protect farmland in Toronto’s greenbelt. Instead of selling to the highest bidders, farmers focused on protecting their land and keeping it productive. And environmentalists were impressed.

This work to protect farmland from development continues across the country today, which often means the two groups work together. Although this is not always successful, it is often the case.

Kevin Teneycke.


For Kevin Teneycke, Regional Vice-President of the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) in Manitoba, liaison with farmers is an important part of his daily work. Through an agricultural work group at NCC, most of the work they do is on developed land. In much of the country, that means farmland.

For Teneycke, the main shared value that farmers and environmental organizations need to work on is the aforementioned love for the land and the need to increase biodiversity.

So what does this sharing look like in practice? There are many partnerships NCC has with farmers, including a conservation agreement program that allows their organization to acquire interests in land from private landowners (usually farmers) so that the land can be used for conservation projects without the owner having to sell the rights. It can look like anything from converting land to native grasses to draining wetlands and many other initiatives. Often it’s just a matter of finding ways to increase biodiversity on farms.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of making the financial justification. Farmers have a lot to gain from their land being a healthy ecosystem. “Biodiversity conservation can help sustain agriculture-based economies,” says Teneycke. He notes that thriving pollinator populations and healthy grazing strategies can boost farmer productivity. Sometimes it’s all about making it practical and finding other farmers who come up with innovative options.

EDC hosts farm tours to showcase best practices in agricultural sustainability, and CNC works with a wide range of farmers, from small-scale to nationally-recognized large-scale agricultural productions.

However, perhaps the biggest step forward for EDC and NCC is their ability to work with agricultural groups. Although EDC works closely with OFA, Christian Farmers and Farmers for Climate Solutions, it doesn’t stop there. CNC also works closely with many nationally and provincially recognized breeding councils. He even worked as a founding group of the Canadian Roundtable on Sustainable Beef.

“There will always be 10% on either side that we (farmers and environmentalists) disagree on, but we try to focus on that 80% in the middle,” says Teneycke.

stumbling blocks

Of course, what would this story be without a little tension? While there are clearly a lot of things the two groups can agree on and goals they can work towards together, there are obviously points of tension.

One of the most difficult is this. While EDC and NCC try to develop effective conservation strategies and policies, each is made up of so many different people with very different attitudes and backgrounds.

While most farmers are responsible stewards, some are less so. And while not all climate activists are closed-minded, some are when it comes to agriculture.

For EDC, Brooks isn’t shy about certain things he’d like to see farmers in general working on, but it’s clear he knows many farmers are already thinking and working on these things. Neonicotinoids continue to be a hot topic for both groups. Changes towards protecting water quality in our rivers and lakes are also a flashpoint.

EDC’s work with the agricultural community on nutrient loading in Lake Erie, for example, is progressing, but there is still work to be done.

Conservation groups say they try to see both sides. “The farming community is also monitoring themselves from what I understand and will let people know if they think someone is doing something wrong, but there is always a challenge that there are too many nutrients going into Lake Erie every year,” Brooks says of this.

For CNC, in general, it is a sign that the relationship is maturing and can continue to improve. So, for example, when Teneycke is pushed to ask what has historically made it difficult for the two groups to work together, his answer is simple:

“Relationships hadn’t matured and there was a lack of understanding,” he says. “There was this idea that conservation associations were anti-farm, but it’s not one or the other. Part of this comes from organizations themselves realizing that the work is too important to do alone. »

On the next episode…

So what’s the takeaway? It is safe to say that there is much more in common between climate organizations and farmers than previously thought. Canada’s climate organizations seem not only open, but eager to work closely with farmers. The question is, where can farmers start?

At NCC, they are encouraged by the signs that farmers are developing and adopting sustainable practices that are good for the farm and good for the environment. They are also impressed with farmers who focus on biodiversity on their farms.

What else would environmental groups like to see to be convinced that farmers and conservationists can be allies and not adversaries? Brooks and Teneycke encourage farmers to make sure their neighbors and industry colleagues know they support climate initiatives, both privately and governmentally.

The more united and vocal they are, the more farmers and conservationists can accomplish together, the two say.

For EDC, Brooks suggests farmers contact groups such as Farmers for Climate Solutions to see what kinds of programs they can get involved in on their own farms. There are many programs and tools available to learn about manure management, neonicotinoid reduction, and, if financially possible for the farmer, to research renewable energy sources. Also, the more farmers talk about land use planning and its impact on rapidly shrinking farmland in Canada, the more the two groups can work together.

The future will not always be easy. Farmers and climate activists will inevitably hit the road. But in a country where agriculture is so poorly understood, there is a glimmer of hope.

– This article originally appeared as “Best Friends” in the March 29, 2022 issue of Country Guide.


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