Risk to Soil and Water Quality from Agriculture

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Between 1981 and 2011, changes in farm management have helped improve agriculture's soil quality performance. The Soil Quality Agri-Environmental Performance Index results for Canada's farming regions are good and getting better.

While still rated as good, the Water Quality Agri-Environmental Performance Index has fallen below the desired level.

Agri-environmental performance indices for soil and water quality in Canada, 1981 to 2011

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Long description

The chart shows changes to the soil quality and water quality agri-environmental performance indices between 1981 and 2011. The indices range from 0 to 100, with scores of 80 or greater representing the desired level.

The Soil Quality Agri-Environmental Performance Index results presented are good and getting better. The Water Quality Agri-Environmental Index results are still good, but have declined to below the desired level.

Data for this chart
Agri-environmental performance indices for soil and water quality in Canada, 1981 to 2011
YearSoil Quality Agri-Environmental Performance IndexWater Quality Agri-Environmental Performance Index

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 772 B)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: The graph's solid horizontal line corresponds to the lowest index value for the desired category. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has set a goal for the soil and water quality indices to achieve this level by 2030.
Source: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (2016) Environmental Sustainability of Canadian Agriculture: Agri-Environmental Indicator Report Series – Report #4.

Since the end of World War II, market demand and new technologies have changed Canadian farming. Farms are now fewer and larger with more cropland and livestock. Coupled with these changes is an increased awareness among producers and the public of the pressures agricultural production places on the environment. Protecting soil quality ensures a farm continues to produce abundant and healthy crops. A well-managed farm ensures harmful chemicals do not enter surface and ground water.

The Soil Quality Agri-Environmental Performance Index combines information about the risk of soil loss, contamination by trace elements, the buildup of salt and the reduction of organic matter in the soil. The index's improvement has largely occurred through the adoption of reduced-till or no-till farming practices and a decline in summer fallowing particularly in the western provinces. In eastern Canada, higher rainfall supports more intensive crop production. When coupled with a higher, but declining, reliance on conventional tillage practices, soils in this region may be more affected by agriculture.

The Water Quality Agri-Environmental Performance Index combines information about potential water contamination by nitrogen, phosphorus, bacteria and agricultural pesticides. Some of the index's national variation can be attributed to weather conditions during the year data were collected. As well, greater application of fertilizers and manures on farms in recent decades has increased the opportunities for agricultural nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as bacteria, to reach water bodies. Since 2006, declines in livestock populations have led to a decrease in perennial crop area and an increase in annual crop area. This change has resulted in an increased use of herbicides, pesticides and phosphorus fertilizer, increasing the risk of water contamination in some areas.

The index results show that producers are responding to environmental concerns and that progress has been made towards environmental sustainability. Further expansion and intensification of cropping and livestock production due to an increasing demand for food and fibre, or changing business conditions, could increase the environmental pressure from farming unless appropriate actions are taken to mitigate them.

Related indicators

Related information

This indicator is used to measure progress towards Target 3.10: Agri-Environmental Performance Metrics – Achieve a value between 81–100 on each of the Water Quality and Soil Quality Agri-Environmental Performance Metrics by 31 March, 2030 of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy 2013–2016.

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