A yellow canola field stretches out under a crisp blue sky, dotted with fluffy, white clouds.
A canola field (credit: iStock)

Sask. farmers produce some of the world’s most sustainable crops: GIFS at USask study

SASKATOON – Saskatchewan farmers are producing some of the least carbon-intensive crops in Canada and the world, as highlighted in a carbon life cycle analysis commissioned by the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask).

The two-part study commissioned in 2022 examined the carbon footprint from the production of five Canadian field crops – canola, non-durum wheat, field peas, durum wheat, and lentils. It compared these footprints, including their supply chain emissions, to some globally competitive regions across the world that export the same products, including Australia, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States. The results demonstrate that Canadian producers, particularly in Saskatchewan and Western Canada, are producing crops with the least amount of greenhouse gas emissions or carbon dioxide equivalents among regions compared.

“These impressive results are driven by the widespread adoption in Saskatchewan of agricultural innovations and sustainable farming practices that have significantly reduced the amount of inputs and emissions needed to farm each acre of land,” said GIFS Chief Executive Officer Dr. Steve Webb (PhD). “The sustainable practices include reduced tillage, the adoption of herbicide-tolerant canola, the variable-rate application of fertilizer, a robust crop rotation system, and the production of nitrogen-fixing pulse crops.”

The study, conducted in partnership with the Food Systems PRISM Lab in the University of British Columbia, followed established protocol for measuring the carbon life cycle of agricultural production. It compiled and reviewed data on the carbon dioxide equivalent emissions for the various activities that go into crop production including transportation, seed, fertilizer and manure inputs, crop inputs, field activities, energy emissions, and post-harvest work.

The carbon life cycle analysis also considered and reviewed important data about the ability of the agricultural landscape to support soil-based carbon sequestration and showed Saskatchewan has the smallest carbon footprint across all crop types and regions studied – when soil carbon sequestration is accounted for.

Some highlights of the study’s results show that Saskatchewan’s carbon footprint to produce one tonne of canola is 67 per cent lower than the global weighted average. As well, Canadian growers, led by Saskatchewan farmers, are shown to be the most sustainable producers of non-durum wheat. The results of the carbon life cycle analysis also show that no-till farming and reduced fertilizer applications in Saskatchewan field peas result in a carbon footprint that is more than 95 per cent lower than any other region studied. For lentils, the carbon footprint is 130 per cent lower.

“We are not surprised by the results of this study as we have always known Saskatchewan is one of the most sustainable producers of the safe and nutritious food the world needs,” said Saskatchewan Minister of Agriculture David Marit. “The world-leading agronomic and sustainable farming practices being adopted by our world-class producers are the driving force behind these results.”

USask, founded as an agricultural university, has long been dedicated to developing crops, processes, and education to strengthen the province's agriculture and food sectors. This study demonstrates how USask has been supporting ag producers through research and discovery for more than a century.

“USask has empowered Saskatchewan researchers and ag producers for over 100 years through new science, technology, and policies that sustainably feed the world. We are very pleased with the results of this study, and I know our faculty, students, and researchers will continue to lead and create innovative solutions for the environmental and agricultural challenges the future will bring,” said Baljit Singh, vice-president, research, at USask.

The extensive carbon life cycle analysis and comparison to regions across the world provide a detailed understanding of the contributions and impacts of agronomic practices and innovation to sustainable food production. By analyzing crop production, sequestration, and emissions, it helps provide a more holistic picture of the sustainability of Canadian agriculture. The data points can be used to inform the creation of science-based regulations for the sector.

“While these results are remarkable, there is always room for growth and to scale sustainable farming practices even further. However, it’s important to understand that one size does not fit all, and regenerative farming practices must always be suited to regions,” said Webb. “Our regulatory landscape should also recognize differences at the regional level. We hope that the insights gleaned from this study, which are a win for Canada, will inform science-based decisions at the national and international level for Canadian agriculture and the producers involved.”



For more information, contact:
Dan Yates
GIFS Communications