Why we measure this
By area, agriculture is the dominant form of land use in southern Saskatchewan. Agricultural lands – or lands used for the production of crops and livestock – occupy most of the province south of the commercial forest. Agricultural lands encompass a great deal of land not exclusively dedicated to production, including wetlands and woodlands. Some types of agricultural lands, such as hay and pasture lands, provide forage and grazing for livestock but also reap important benefits such as wildlife habitat and carbon storage. Good management of agricultural lands keeps them healthy and productive, while also sustaining biodiversity, helping maintain a stable climate and providing other important benefits for Saskatchewan residents.
Good agricultural land management contributes to biodiversity, soil conservation and habitat availability for wild species. While the main intent of farming is food or forage production, land management impacts biodiversity and natural processes necessary to sustain clean adequate water supplies, a stable climate and other values that are important to people and the economy.
Saskatchewan's Growth Plan sets out ambitious objectives for growth in the agricultural sector, while promoting the quality and sustainability of Saskatchewan's agricultural and natural resource exports. Monitoring trends in agricultural land management over time allows us to evaluate whether we are keeping agricultural landscapes healthy and productive, and sustaining joint biodiversity benefits.
What is happening
The amount of farmland devoted to annual cropping has steadily grown since the 1970s, while summer fallow has declined. The change is associated with a growing awareness of the risk of negative environmental effects such as soil erosion, depletion of organic matter and increased soil salinity that can be exacerbated by summer fallowing. Some of the increase in the area of annual cropland can be attributed to decreases in summer fallow. However, increased cropland area also appears to have come at the expense of wetlands, woodlands and permanent cover such as tame hay, pasture and native rangelands.
Note: Due to abnormally wet growing seasons in 2010 and 2011, land that couldn't be seeded because of excess moisture was reported to the Census of Agriculture as "too wet to seed" and is categorized in this figure as "all other land.&"
Grassland is land dominated by native prairie or tame forage (cultivated land seeded down to non-native grasses and forbs – or herbaceous plants – and used as forage for livestock production).
Temperate grasslands are one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. Most estimates suggest somewhere between 19 and 24 per cent of grassland cover remains in Saskatchewan. Many grassland wildlife species are experiencing population declines and many federally-listed species in the province rely on remaining patches of managed grassland. Grasslands also support Saskatchewan's beef industry. As such, it is important to conserve remaining grassland habitat for wildlife and people alike. Increasing the area of permanent cover, including grasslands, is a component of the Government of Saskatchewan's Prairie Resilience Framework. This measure will increase resilience and help mitigate climate change.
Most deforestation in the Prairie, Parkland, and Boreal Transition areas occurred in the 1930s and 1940s, mostly for agricultural land use. Between 1966 and 1994, only 0.89 per cent of forest cover was converted for agriculture annually across the Boreal Transition with rates two times higher on private land (-1.13 per cent) compared to public land (-0.54 per cent). As a result, from the point of European settlement to 1994, 73 per cent of the Boreal Transition zone was converted from tree cover to agriculture. Conservation of tree cover provides important habitat for forest-associated wildlife species, including economically important species such as white-tailed deer. Like other natural land covers, trees in agricultural landscapes retain stored carbon and improve resilience to climate change.
Natural tree cover is the percent loss of natural tree cover per quarter section between 2012 and 2017.
Removal of woodland patches for agricultural production tends to fragment movement corridors for wildlife. The closer neighbouring patches are together, the more readily wildlife species can travel to find food, mates and living space. Conserving movement corridors helps facilitate dispersal and maintain resilience among populations of wide-ranging species.
Pollinator-accessible cropland is the proportion of cropland within 200 metres of natural land covers in landscape areas dominated by agriculture.
Flying insects such as bees and flies are responsible for pollinating several crop species popular in Saskatchewan, including canola, flax, mustard, buckwheat and coriander. Cross-pollination by insects can increase crop yields by up to 30 per cent. Natural land cover patches adjacent to cropland facilitates cross-pollination by providing nesting and foraging sites for insect pollinators. This is especially important in agriculture-dominated landscapes where the maximum benefit of cross-pollination is jeopardized by increasing isolation from natural patches where insect pollinators reside. Maintaining natural patches dispersed across agriculture-dominated landscapes will continue to facilitate cross-pollination by insects.
What we are doing
Under the province's 10-year Growth Plan, Saskatchewan will work with agricultural producers to achieve targets identified in its Prairie Resilience climate change strategy and Climate Resilience Measurement Framework for preserving natural lands, enhancing soil organic matter, promoting nutrient stewardship and achieving economic resilience and crop diversification. Additionally, the province will strive to deliver on its Game Management Plan, develop and implement a Habitat Management Plan, and align regulations, policies and programming to support and reward agricultural producers who provide habitat by maintaining natural areas.
Government also continues to support positive land management through programs such as the Fish and Wildlife Development Fund, the Environmental Sustainability and Climate Change component of the Federal-Provincial Canadian Agricultural Partnership, the Agricultural Water Management Strategy and through lease arrangements with private Agricultural Crown Land lessees and pasture patrons.