Feds provide $54 million to expand “Living Labs” agriculture innovation program

Mark Lowey
July 20, 2022

The federal government is investing $54 million to expand its Living Laboratories research initiative in the agricultural sector by creating nine new facilities across Canada where farmers, scientists, and other collaborators will develop innovative practices and technologies.

Marie-Claude Bibeau, minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, announced the funding — under the Agricultural Climate Solutions program — in Calgary on July 14.

“Across Canada, farmers are on the front line of climate change,” Bibeau said at a news conference. “They are storing carbon and providing habitat for wildlife, including many endangered species.”

Launched in 2019, living labs were initially established in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island. New sites will be established in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. The list also includes the first Indigenous-led living lab, which will be operated by the Mistawasis Nêhiyawak First Nation and Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.

Existing living labs have tackled a wide range of environmental issues, while the next set will identify practical innovations that can be adopted by farmers nationwide to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada wants the resulting solutions to help protect biodiversity on farms, improve water and soil quality and, through the efficient management of resources, strengthen farmers’ bottom lines.

“It’s a made-in-Canada approach that gets research out of the lab and onto real working farms. Farmers and scientists work side-by-side in the fields,” Bibeau said.

Cattle producers want access to federal carbon credits

However, Melanie Wowk, chair of the Alberta Beef Producers, said while grain producers are able to obtain federal carbon credit payments for sequestering carbon in soil, cattle producers do not yet have access to such payments. She noted that cattle producers have always been sequestering carbon by having grazing species on the landscape and keeping those habitats protected.

“We’ve been doing this for hundreds of years, and the carbon tax has hit us pretty hard,” she said. “I know that there’s models out here — there’s some in the United States that are being used. So it would be nice if we could get some of those models implemented and allow our producers some benefit of what we’re doing for the environment."

Bibeau said she is working with colleague Stephen Gilbeault, minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada, on improving the federal carbon offsets program. Among the challenges in making such improvements is the lack of data to quantify the actual carbon sequestration rate, according to Kim Cornish, director of the Food Water Wellness Foundation, which is dedicated to promoting regenerative agriculture.

“So producers have not been able to maximize the value of the carbon they they’ve been sequestering in the soil,” said Cornish.

Through the new living lab in Alberta, Food Water Wellness and the Alberta Conservation Association will partner on a project using predictive soil mapping to collect data on best-management practices.

“This is a very important project for that reason, to help build out the data to actually make good soil carbon credit offsets a viable approach going forward,” Cornish said.

Another living lab project, led by the Alberta Beef Producers, will target six key areas: crop rotations and cropping systems, land use changes, grazing management, livestock feeding, nutrient management, and increasing carbon storage on the whole farm.

Wowk described this project as a multi-sectoral coalition with 16 partners, including agricultural commissions, Indigenous communities, non-governmental organizations, research institutions and private industry. She added that the work will identify financial and non-financial barriers agricultural producers face in adopting beneficial management practices.

Bibeau noted that the $54 million for the nine new living labs is additional funding to the $70 million initially committed to the program in Budget 2017.

The $54-million is part of a total $185 million, allocated in the fall 2021 economic statement by Ottawa, for the Living Laboratories Initiative.

“There will be further announcements, further living labs across the country that will be announced in the coming months,” Bibeau said.

The Farmers for Climate Solutions, a national farmer-led coalition, has been calling for a $300-million investment plan in agriculture-related environmental projects, to be included in the next agricultural policy framework being negotiated by the federal and provincial governments. The plan would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 million tonnes.

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