Sustainable Farming in Canada: taking care of Mother Earth and generating carbon credits

by admin October 18th, 2023

Sustainable Farming in Canada: taking care of Mother Earth and generating carbon credits

The surface of Canadian agricultural land is vast, covering 39 million hectares or 4% of Canada’s land area, globally positioning Canada at rank 6th, behind other countries such as USA and India (158/156 M hectares) and Russia/China (122/120 M hectares) and Brazil (56 M hectares), but over three times the size than Germany with 12 million hectares farmable land.  (Source:

Sustainable farming practices are gaining ground due to their positive impacts on key parameters such as soil health, biodiversity, and water quality. Such practices can also result in earning carbon credits for CO2 sequestration and for the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The potential of agriculture for generating carbon credits

As the recent study by the BCG Centre for Canada’s Future and the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph from February 2023 pointed out, the carbon credits generated by agriculture represent only 1% of all carbon credits, while greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by the agricultural sector account for 18% of total emissions. As a result, there is a huge opportunity for farmers to increase their share of carbon credits globally, especially in Canada.

Sustainable farming practices have been widely adopted by Canadian farmers

Data from the latest edition of the  2021 Census of Agriculture demonstrate the progress of sustainable farming practices in Canada. According to this report,

  • Almost 65% of farms across Canada reported using sustainable farming practices like rotational and winter grazing, planting cover crops and using shelterbelts and windbreaks, up from 53.7% in the previous Census five years ago.
  • As well, farmers are turning to more drought-tolerant crops, like barley, which saw an increase of almost 25%.”

Currently, there are no statistics available for the implementation of specific drivers of sustainable farming by Canadian farmers such as Soil Organic Carbon (SOC), Biodiversity, and Water Quality – which are also key for obtaining carbon credits. Let us analyse why these drivers are so important for carbon credit certification.

Soil Organic Carbon (SOC)

Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) is a fundamental component of healthy and productive soils. It consists of organic materials such as decaying plant and animal residues, microorganisms, and other organic substances. SOC is critical for several reasons:

  1. Improved Soil Structure: SOC helps improve soil structure, making it more resistant to erosion and compaction. This allows for improved water infiltration and root penetration.
  2. Nutrient Retention: SOC acts as a reservoir for essential nutrients, releasing them gradually to plants as they need them. This reduces the use of synthetic fertilizers and minimizes nutrient runoff into water bodies (see also water quality).
  3. Carbon Sequestration: Another significant role of SOC is its capacity to store carbon. As farms increase SOC levels, they help mitigate climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or by avoiding CO2 emissions through sustainable farming practices.

SOC is also the most important indicator for carbon credit certification since it represents the level of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that have been avoided by being captured in the soil.

In fact, carbon credits are given when soil organic carbon (SOC) levels have increased over the years. To obtain carbon credits, annual SOC measurements covering a period of at least 5 years need to be registered and submitted to a third-party organization for evaluation, approval, and crediting.


During the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit, its Convention on Biological Diversity proposed the conservation of biological diversity (or biodiversity) and the sustainable use of its components as key goals of a multilateral treaty. In fact, this treaty is often seen as the key document regarding sustainable development.

Thus, the objective of sustainable farming practices is to increase the biodiversity on the farm. Best practices include

  1. Natural Pest Control to reduce chemical pesticides: Hedgerows and wildflower strips provide habitat for insects and predators that help control pests in crops.
  2. Pollination: many agricultural crops need bees and butterflies for pollinating. Since populations of bees and butterflies are decreasing, pollinator services might be the answer to efficient crop (and wildflower) pollination.

Studies have shown that diverse ecosystems are more resilient to stress such as extreme weather and storms. They also provide a buffer against crop lossesStudies have shown that diverse ecosystems are more resilient to stress such as extreme weather and storms. They also provide a buffer against crop losses. latest technological innovations permit the measurement of changes in biological diversity, for example by taking infrared images and comparing the results over the years. Advances in biodiversity contribute to carbon credit calculations since they enhance the overall sustainability of a farm.

Water quality

Canada’s lakes and rivers represent 20% of the world’s global freshwater supplies, and freshwater covers 9% or 891,163 km2 of Canada’s land. Maintaining water quality is another critical aspect of sustainable farming in Canada. Possible water pollution can come from the runoff of fertilizers, pesticides, and soil particles into nearby water bodies.  Sustainable farming practices address these issues by

  1. Implementing Riparian Buffers: Planting vegetative buffers along watercourses helps filter out contaminants and reduces the risk of nutrient run-off. Recent studies in Quebec have also shown a positive impact on the biodiversity of plants and animals (see article in La Presse, October 2023).
  2. Precision Agriculture: Initially introduced in Israel to address important water shortages, this farming technique is now adopted in Canada, where climate change has resulted in either unusual amounts of rainfall or long periods of drought. Using precision technology for irrigation and nutrient application reduces excess water usage and nutrient leaching.
  3. Conservation Tillage: Adequate tillage practices prevent soil erosion and decrease sediment runoff in water bodies.

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program
Eckerd College Service Learning Project | Robinson Preserve | Photographer: Joe Whalen, Unsplash

Carbon Credit Certification in Canada

One of the significant incentives for Canadian farmers to adopt sustainable farming practices is the opportunity to obtain carbon credits through certification programs.

Carbon credits represent a quantified reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) or an increase in carbon sequestration in soil (SOC). Farms that implement the practices mentioned above can reduce their carbon footprint and earn carbon credits.

The certification process involves verifying and quantifying the farm’s carbon reductions through third party organizations. These credits can then be sold in carbon markets, providing an additional income stream for farmers – as well as an incentive to adopt sustainable farming practices.

While Agriculture Canada’s objective is to promote sustainable farming practices, there is no nationwide carbon credit certification program in place so far. Individual Canadian provinces, such as Quebec, have targeted specific agriculture subsectors, such as milk farms, to develop provincial carbon credit certification programs.

As far as cash crop farming is concerned, Canadian farmers cannot yet generate carbon credits, neither on a provincial nor on a national level; contrary to farmers in the US (see article on Indigo Ag) raking in thousands of dollars of additional revenues through carbon credits.

Carbon Credit Certification for cash crop farming – a pilot project

In order to get the ball rolling, FIAN and Logiag are teaming up to develop the parameters of such a carbon credit program for cash crop farmers in Canada. The pilot project will start with analyzing Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) levels over the years, at a plot in South-West Ontario.

In order to facilitate the soil sampling, the in-house developed technology of Logiag will be used to collect soil samples and analyze the soil composition. These tests will be done at regular intervals to compare progress after the introduction of sustainable farming practices such as presented above.

In fact, Logiag’s GPS system, as part of its in-house developed soil sampling machinery, allows it to collect samples at identical locations with 99.5% certainty, making sure that soil samples taken over the years are truly comparable. The soil samples collected in Logiag’s customized pods will then be treated by Logiag’s LaserAGTM technology allowing the analysis of a large number of specific soil components including soil organic carbon (SOC).

Picture 1: Jacques Nault and Hermann Miehe are discussing the machinery developed by Logiag to collect soil samples.

Picture 2: The machinery developed by Logiag to collect soil samples in customized pods.

Picture 3: LaserAgTM by Logiag in action – analysis of soil samples for a multitude of parameters, such as soil organic carbon (SOC).

 This pilot project will require several years to culminate in official carbon certification for cash crop farmers. But please stay tuned since we will report regularly on our progress. Should you be interested in learning more about the sustainable farming practices of FIAN’s partner farmers, please contact Hermann Miehe at

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