Getting the dirt on soil at Senate Agriculture Committee

Office of Senator Robert Black
May 10, 2019
By Office of Senator Robert Black
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry recently heard from witnesses with expertise in soil health. The Honourable Robert Black, who joined the Senate last year after a 30-year career in the agricultural industry, proposed that the committee undertake a study on soil health.

Agriculture and soil use have changed dramatically during the past few decades and reliable, sustainable, and environmentally friendly food production should matter to Canadians now more than ever.

The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, under the Chairmanship of Senator Herbert O. Sparrow, completed a landmark study in 1984 entitled, “Soil at Risk: Canada’s eroding future”. This study proposed a number of solutions to address the issue of soil degradation and has been widely referenced within the industry ever since.

As an advocate for soil health, Black has concerns about the status of Canadian soils. “Today’s soil continues to face threats of erosion, salinization, and loss of organic material,” says Black. “In 2016, only about seven per cent of Canada’s land mass was determined to be suitable for agriculture. Protecting our soil will be crucial for the continued success of our agricultural industry.”

One of the witnesses at the meeting, Don Lobb, is a farmer who has done extensive work on soil protection. He provided a written testimony during the Senate’s soil study under Senator Sparrow.

“Soil is really where it all starts,” Mr. Lobb told the committee on May 9. “It’s soil productivity that determines food availability, and food availability determines the price of food, and that determines whether you can have a holiday or buy a boat or not. The whole economy is dependent on the productivity of our soil. Nothing else matters until that’s in place.”

Black hopes that these testimonies will spark further interest on this issue. Examining the current state of Canada’s agricultural soils and charting a responsible and sustainable soil care and protection path into the future is something he will continue to push for. The five witnesses present at the committee stressed the importance of the Senate’s role in tackling this critical challenge going forward.

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