The recently announced compensation program for Quebec farmers is a step in the right direction for the province, as it redefines the government’s view of farmers regarding environmental protection and the fight against climate change. The forward-looking program offers farmers access to research, training, education, and direct incentives to go above and beyond current environment standards and regulatory frameworks with their practices. In doing so, our government is positioning farmers as potential drivers of change.
On the whole, farmers have taken a great deal of heat over the years as easy scapegoats when it comes to the environment. They have been blamed for environmental issues ranging from polluted rivers to pesticide abuse and elevated carbon emissions. No one is denying that farms have environmental impacts, but instead of treating farmers as miscreants, the government is affording them long-due respect in recognizing them as partners and as part of the solution.
It would have been possible for the government to impose such practices, but there seems to be an implicit understanding within this program that we can’t ask our farmers to do way more than their international competitors when it comes to protecting the environment. The standards here are already very high, and our farmers haven’t much leverage when it comes to footing the bill for new initiatives. At the same time, our farmers find themselves in a unique position to improve Quebec’s environmental footprint as stewards of large tracts of land throughout the province.
Perhaps the government took a page from the book of its Bavarian counterpart, which, after identifying its farms as biodiversity deserts, began to pay farmers generously to plant biodiversity corridors on farms. This blossomed into what is now widely regarded as one of the world’s best examples of the state directly compensating farmers for eco-system services provided to the general population.
The situation in Quebec is not as dire, but there is work to be done, and this program recognizes the government’s role in helping farmers to absorb these costs. It’s true that reduction programs are nothing new, but this is the first time in Canada that farmers will be offered an incentive for doing more than the minimum. It is a bold move on the part of the government. Let’s hope our farmers will be equally as ambitious in taking them up on the offer.