Spatio-Temporal Patterns of Crops and Agrochemicals in Canada Over 35 Years
Frontiers in Environmental Science
In an effort to feed a growing world population, agriculture has rapidly intensified over the last six decades, relying heavily on agrochemicals (fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides) to increase and maintain desired crop yields. Despite environmental concerns in Canada's agricultural regions, long-term patterns of changing crops and the associated trends in the proportion of cropland treated with agrochemicals are poorly documented. Using the Canadian Census of Agriculture, we
... of Agriculture, we compiled historical data over 35 years (eight census periods: 1981-2016) on agrochemical applications, measured as the proportion of cropland treated with pesticides and fertilizers and the associated crop classes, to identify and interpret spatial and temporal trends in Canada's agricultural practices across 260 census units. Due to differences in agricultural practices, soil, and climatic conditions across the country, the Pacific (British Columbia), Prairie (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba), Central (Ontario, Quebec), and Atlantic (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland/Labrador, Prince Edward Island) regions were analyzed separately. Most of the agrochemicals in Canada were applied in the Prairie and Central regions, which combined comprise 97% of the total cropland. Fertilizers were the dominant agrochemicals across Canada applied on 48% (Pacific) to 78% (Prairie) of the total cropland area, followed by herbicides, which were applied on 30% (Pacific) to 81% (Prairie) of the total cropland area in 2016. Notably, we observed significant changes between 1996 and 2016 in area treated with fungicides and insecticides, which increased by 412% and 50% in the Prairie region and by 291% and 149% in the Central region, respectively. The proportion and distribution of crops shifted in favor of more oilseeds and soybeans in the most intensive Prairie and Central regions, whereas cereals decreased over the same time period. Our analysis of past and current trends of agrochemicals and cropping patterns within Canada indicates a rapid and systemic increase in chemical use, and policies that promote a shift toward lower chemical reliance through sustainable agricultural practices are urgently needed.