Making farming more sustainable by helping farmers to decide rather than telling them what to do


Kröbel, R., Stephens, E.C., Gorzelak, M.A., Thivierge, M.N., Akhter, F., Nyiraneza, J., Singer, S.D., Geddes, C.M., Glenn, A.J., Devillers, N., Alemu, A.W., St. Luce, M., Giardetti, D. (2021). Making farming more sustainable by helping farmers to decide rather than telling them what to do. Environmental Research Letters, [online] 16(5),

Plain language summary

We are describing how scientists in the Canadian public service attempt to ensure that agricultural production in Canada remains both competitive and sustainable. Starting with an overview about what has been achieved in the past, we detail different categories of environmental impact agriculture causes in the concurrent context, and some prime examples that have been successful in addressing some of the impacts to some extent. We finalize with showcasing what mechanisms of outreach and tech transfer are generally employed by public service scientist in an attempt to sway the farming community and general public.


In Canada, the agricultural sector has long held a prominent economic, social and cultural position, from substantial evidence of extensive fishing and farming since the times of the first human settlements, to currently accounting for over 100 billion dollars of production and employing 2.3 million people. Steady growth in agricultural production in the country over several decades, supported by strong investment in public agricultural science, has allowed an increasing supply of a wide variety of food and agricultural goods to be available both within the country as well as allowing for substantial exports abroad and deep integration of the Canadian agricultural sector into global markets. Along with securing continued productivity growth in agricultural output for the future, policy makers and public sector agricultural scientists in Canada have become increasingly concerned with managing environmental externalities associated with agricultural production in order to achieve the objective of sustainable intensification of the sector. However, the process of identification of the best tools and practices to improve the sustainability of the agricultural sector in Canada has evolved over time due to shifting research priorities and dynamic changes in the problems facing the sector. In this paper we discuss applied and direct-to-farmer agricultural science research initiatives that are focused on identification and implementation of best environmental management practices at the farm level. We believe that involving farmers directly in scientific research and communication of scientific results provides for a deeper understanding of agro-environmental externalities. It also allows farmers to find greater adoption potential in their specific farm system, thus combining both environmental and economic sustainability. We trace the history of public agricultural science engagement with Canadian farmers to address economic and environmental problems in the sector. We then provide examples of successful public sector projects based in applied agricultural science research that foster effective farmer/scientist collaboration, leading to improved agriculture sustainability in Canada.