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Environmental Sustainability of Canadian Agriculture: Agri-Environmental Indicator Report Series – Report #4

Summary

This report, Environmental Sustainability of Canadian Agriculture: Agri-Environmental Indicator Report Series—Report #4, presents agri-environmental performance results and trends for the 30-year period from 1981 to 2011. The report provides a snapshot of the health of the Canadian agriculture and agri-food system using data from the 2011 Canadian Census of Agriculture. The indicators in this report have been developed using internationally established methodology and are shared with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development where they are used to compare Canada's agri-environmental performance with that of other member nations.

The report is intended for readers who want to learn about the environmental issues most important to the agriculture sector, and want to know whether the agriculture sector is moving towards or away from environmental sustainability. This information can be used as a report card for producers, consumers and the international community, as it points out areas where further efforts are required. It also provides valuable information to assist decision-makers in developing and evaluating agricultural policy.

To complement the report, each indicator also has its own web page, where the trends are explored through the use of interactive maps. Links to each indicator web page are provided in the highlights section.

The report begins with an introductory section with chapters on methodologies for the assessments and the forces driving change in the indices. Section 2 presents indicators relating to Farmland Management and species habitat. Sections 3, 4, and 5 present indicators relating to Soil Quality, Water Quality, and Air Quality respectively. Section 6 discusses Applications and Future Directions for these indicators.

Highlights

Farmland Management indicators

Biodiversity compound index

The Soil Cover Indicator and the Wildlife Habitat on Farmland Indicator contribute to the Compound Biodiversity Index below. The overall trend from 1981 to 2011 for biodiversity shows steady and consistent improvements across Canada, moving from a "Poor" status in 1981, to a "Moderate" status in 2011. The improvements are largely due to changes in tillage practices reflected in the Soil Cover Indicator.

Figure 1: Biodiversity index

Description of this image follows.
Figure 1 - description
Biodiversity compound index
Year Index Value Status*
*Status: desired, good, moderate, poor, at risk
1986 37 poor
1991 36 poor
1996 39 poor
2001 41 moderate
2006 43 moderate
2011 44 moderate

The index tends to aggregate and generalize trends and so should be viewed as a policy tool to give a general overview of state and trend over time.

Soil Quality indicators

Soil quality compound index

The Soil Erosion, Soil Organic Carbon and Soil Salinization Indicators contribute to the Compound Soil Quality Index below, in addition to the Trace Elements Indicator (values extrapolated from previous years, not reported here). Considering various aspects of soil quality together, agriculture's environmental performance has a "Good" status, and has significantly improved over the 30-year period preceding 2011. These improvements can be directly attributed to improvements in land management practices, such as increased adoption of reduced tillage and no-till practices, and the reduction in area under summerfallow.

Figure 2: Soil quality compound index

Description of this image follows.
Figure 2 - description
Soil compound index
Year Index Value Status*
*Status: desired, good, moderate, poor, at risk
1981 64 good
1986 66 good
1991 67 good
1996 70 good
2001 73 good
2006 76 good
2011 77 good

The index tends to aggregate and generalize trends and so should be viewed as a policy tool to give a general overview of state and trend over time.

Water Quality indicators

Water quality compound index

The Compound index for Water Quality is composed of the Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Coliforms and Pesticides Indicators. Considering various aspects of risks to water quality together, agriculture's environmental performance currently has a "Good" status. It does however represent an overall decline from a desired state in 1981. This overall declining performance is mirrored by the individual indicator performance indices, which moved from "Desired" status in 1981 to "Good" status in 2011, with the exception of the Phosphorus Indicator, which moved from "Desired" status to "Moderate" status. The deterioration in the index can be attributed to increased application of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) as fertilizer and manure as well as an increased use of pesticides across Canada.

Figure 3: Water quality compound index

Description of this image follows.
Figure 3 - description
Water quality compound index
Year Index Value Status*
*Status: desired, good, moderate, poor, at risk
1981 92 desired
1986 87 desired
1991 85 desired
1996 83 desired
2001 89 desired
2006 82 desired
2011 74 good

The index tends to aggregate and generalize trends and so should be viewed as a policy tool to give a general overview of state and trend over time.

Air Quality Indicators

Air quality compound index

The Compound index for Air Quality is composed of the Agricultural Greenhouse Gas, Agricultural Ammonia and Particulate Matter Indicators. Considering various agricultural atmospheric emissions together, agriculture's environmental performance in air quality is "Good", having been relatively stable between 1981 and 2006, and then significantly improving to 2011. This improvement is mirrored by improvements in all the individual performance indices within this theme. Improvements in land management practices such as increased adoption of conservation and no-till practices, reduced use of summerfallow, and increased forage and permanent cover crops were primarily responsible for the improved agri-environmental performance for air quality.

Figure 4: Air quality compound index

Description of this image follows.
Figure 4 - description
Air compound index
Year Index Value Status*
*Status: desired, good, moderate, poor, at risk
1981 57 moderate
1986 58 moderate
1991 58 moderate
1996 54 moderate
2001 57 moderate
2006 58 moderate
2011 64 good

The index tends to aggregate and generalize trends and so should be viewed as a policy tool to give a general overview of state and trend over time.

Request a copy of the full report

Visit the Departmental Publications Service to request an electronic copy of the full report, or contact:

Departmental Publications Service
Telephone: 613-773-1444
Fax: 613-773-1498
E-mail: aafc.publications.aac@canada.ca

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