The Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA) was favourable in its reaction to the Sustainable Agriculture Plan (PAD), which was unveiled today by André Lamontagne, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
« The PAD contains a number of elements from the Agricultural Green Plan proposed by the UPA over two years ago. Quebec farmers share the concerns of their fellow citizens and have long been calling for a medium- and long-term action plan to help us continue improving farming practices and making progress on environmental issues. As we had hoped, the PAD puts farmers at the heart of the action by placing the emphasis on advisory services and knowledge transfer », stated UPA President Marcel Groleau.
Note that during the 2018 election campaign, the UPA put forth an Agricultural Green Plan, which was developed in consultation with farmers, affected government departments, and community stakeholders. Today’s PAD addresses a number of requests made at that time, including compensating farmers for environmental practices, further investing in research and knowledge development, and providing more farmer advisory services to support both training and knowledge transfer. The PAD also directly aligns with discussions and workshops that took place at the October 2019 Sommet agroenvironnemental Agriculture, nature et communauté (Agriculture, nature, and community agri-environmental summit), which was organized by the UPA and the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Economics at the University of Quebec in Outaouais. « The agricultural green plan we put forth called for $60 million per year in additional investment for the next ten years, so the $125 million over five years announced in the budget speech in March is good news. Agri-environmental investments have been fairly rare in recent years, and I am confident that if extra money is needed to meet the targets set by the department, the government will commit the necessary funds », Marcel Groleau continued. In the UPA’s view, considering the business environment in which Quebec farmers operate is essential. Quebec’s health, social, and environmental standards are among the strictest in the world. Our farmers willingly accept their role in addressing these societal expectations and meeting the standards, but much of the imported food on our grocery store shelves is not subject to the same rules. Our producers also have to compete with foods imported from countries with much less stringent social standards, such as China and South American countries.
The PAD also calls for a significant reduction in pesticide usage. Again, it is important to note that Quebec farmers are already proactive on this issue and that environmental protection practices are increasing in numbers and effectiveness. Significant gains have been made. The findings published in the MAPAQ’s reports this past spring indicate that Quebec fruits and vegetables have very high pesticide compliance rates—higher than those of imported products—which confirms that pesticides are being used properly and according to instructions. Finally, pesticide use per hectare fell by 43 percent between 2014 and 2018, and the province’s pressure index is one of the lowest in the world.
The PAD also needs to place more emphasis on the province’s network of 62 agri-environmental clubs, which collectively serve some 8,900 businesses. The network encourages knowledge transfer among farms while motivating farmers to improve their practices. These clubs should receive more support and be considered a major component of the strategy. “The PAD sets numerical objectives that are difficult to calculate at present. They were established without much consultation. Are they realistic? Too ambitious? Not ambitious enough? We are going to take the time to analyze them. The objectives will probably need to be adjusted to take into account climate change and its associated challenges. The UPA seeks to fully contribute to the PAD and be involved in its implementation and roll-out”, Marcel Groleau concluded.