This article originally appeared in The Hill Times on November 28, 2022.
Feeding ourselves can be a task out of necessity, or an activity we look forward to. Something we share with loved ones, or in solitude. What we eat can occupy much of our thought, but how many Canadians stop to think about the food for our food?
Just like humans need nutrients to allow our bodies to grow and perform our essential functions, so do plants. To survive and grow plants require a balanced supply of nutrients such as nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), and sulphur (S) in the soil. As plants extract these nutrients from the soil, they must be replenished through fertilizers, manure, and compost.
Fertilizer helps farmers grow the food necessary to feed our growing population by increasing yields, playing an important role in food security. Since 1960 the world’s food production has more than doubled thanks to modern fertilizer. It is estimated that half of global food supply is directly linked to the use of fertilizer. The world’s population just hit eight billion and is expected to grow to 9.7 billion by 2050. We cannot feed these mouths without fertilizer.
There are not a lot of things we can say we are number one at, but we are the number one producer of potash fertilizer in the world. It is a critical mineral only found in a few countries and we have 45 per cent of the world’s potash reserves in Saskatchewan. We also produce a significant amount of nitrogen fertilizer making us the third largest producer of fertilizers in the world. We trade our fertilizer with over 75 countries, representing two per cent of all Canadian exports.
Over the last few years, we have seen several issues impact the trade of fertilizer – COVID-19, trade disputes, the war in Ukraine, to name a few. As a world that has become reliant on globalization tries to overcome the impact of these events the idea of friend-shoring has emerged. Celebrated by deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland, it is a trade philosophy that aims to insulate global supply chains from external disruption by strengthening trade with countries who have shared values. It’s no secret that this is aimed at reducing Russia and China’s sway in the global market. The two countries who also happen to be the number one and number two global producers of fertilizers. Canada is in a unique position to provide our allies with valuable fertilizer products that protect global food security while also strengthening our economy.
Canada’s fertilizer sector contributes over $23 billion to the economy. Employing over 73,000 people across the supply chain, our fertilizer is ethically produced by hardworking Canadians. We also boast one of the most sustainable fertilizer industries. Our manufacturing facilities are some of the most technologically advanced, energy efficient, and safest in the world. Our potash is made with 50 per cent fewer GHG emissions in comparison to our competitors and our nitrogen facilities rank first, as the most feed-and-fuel energy efficient plants in the world. We are also investing in innovative, green advancements like carbon capture and utilizing blue and green ammonia.
The federal government recently announced their plan to expand strengthen ties in the Indo-Pacific, including opening a Canadian Indo-Pacific Agriculture and Agri-Food Office. This is a great step in bolstering trade in the region, which have many key agricultural districts that would benefit from Canadian fertilizer.
As an industry that touches on and is impacted by many sectors, we need an approach from government that recognizes our industry does not strictly fall under agriculture. While a cornerstone of the agriculture sector we are also a part of the natural resource industry, impacted by supply chains and environmental policies, and a science-based sector that invests in research and development.
To ensure precious fertilizer products can get to their global destinations, it is important Canada has strong, reliable supply chains. Fertilizer manufacturers are reliant on rail, ports, and trucking to get products to domestic and international markets. Labour shortages and disputes threaten our supply chain’s reliability. The federal government must support investment in jobs within the transportation sector to strengthen our supply chains and demonstrate to our trading partners we can be a reliable source of fertilizer.
To continue to be a world leader in fertilizer exports we need investment. To make Canada an attractive place to invest we need a consistent, reliable regulatory environment. For example building a nitrogen production facility can take 10-20 years and billions of dollars. To attract that investment our regulatory regimes must be predictable and harmonized where possible with our largest trading partners.
Fertilizer is a resource Canada is fortunate to have and fortunate to have the ability to increase. We need governments at all levels to work with the fertilizer sector and stakeholders to further strengthen this vital input to protect domestic and global food security while growing Canada’s economy. The world needs more Canada.