Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary By Suzanne Armstrong, CFFO Director of Research/Manager of Board & Committee Services
On May 5, I attended a symposium hosted by the Ontario Climate Consortium entitled “Climate Resilient Food Systems in the Greater Golden Horseshoe Region.”
Despite its title, the conference in fact looked more broadly at the food system in Ontario and globally.
Policy makers are looking to agriculture to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and sequester carbon, all while dealing with the potential impacts of climate change on growing conditions.
How best to feed the global population in the face of these challenges is the underlying question.
The morning keynote speaker was Dr. Evan Fraser, the Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security at the University of Guelph. He was very positive about the prospects for agriculture to meet the future food needs of a growing population, and to adapt to the varying impacts of climate change on the agricultural sector.
He raised the issue of how that global population might be fed in the future, and the question of providing suitable sources of protein. He gave an analysis of the GHG emissions associated with different production methods of different sources of protein from beef, through pork, fish, chicken and eggs down to pulses.
He suggested, however, that one future food trend may be to look at insects as a source of protein. Insects could either be used for human consumption in forms that are more visually palatable, for example as a flour added to things that look like cookies, or used as a source of protein to feed to livestock.
The question of protein in global diets of the future came up in the presentation from the keynote speaker over lunch as well, who was Dr. Hank Venema from Centre for Climate Risk Reduction on the Prairies.
Dr. Venema examined climate modeling that projects changes in the Prairie Provinces over the next 50 years. With increasing heat units expected, he noted that seed companies are eyeing these provinces for additional potential acreage of corn production.
However, currently these provinces provide a significant amount of the global supply of pulses.
This being the UN Year of Pulses has of course reminded us of the vital importance pulses play in providing protein in the diets of many of the world’s population. He asked the audience to consider whether it would really be beneficial to reduce these acres of pulses in favour of corn.
Pulses are an excellent source of protein, and also beneficial for improving soil, but animal manure is another beneficial soil input, associated with agricultural production of a dietary source of protein as well. Dr. Fraser pointed out that in our current system, the potential benefits of manure are often wasted.
At CFFO, our Policy Tour discussions on soil health illustrated that going forward, we will need to ensure the full benefits of our livestock production are being implemented through the most efficient management of manure as a soil input.
When looked at holistically, and when managed optimally, the environmental impact of animal agriculture may not be as detrimental as many models currently suggest.