Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay says the environment remains a top priority for the government in 2024.

He says it was also a key priority and challenge for 2023 as the weather and environment impacted the agriculture sector right across the country from the wildfires to drought and the viciousness of storms like Hurricane Fiona.

"As far as the highlights were concerned. The investments we made in agriculture, that's what that was all about to help farmers expand and produce more. Of course, we have continually been producing more over the years. But as you know with direct seeding, and all the things that agriculture has done over the years has helped, but we have to deal with the environment."

He notes farming is never without difficulty noting they continue to make investments to help and improve the industry through their Sustainable Agriculture Strategy.

Federal MP's are set to return to Ottawa later this month and when they do, one of the issues on the table will be Bill C-234 which relates to the carbon tax and the agriculture industry.

The bill was amended in the Senate to remove any reference to removing the carbon tax exemption from barns and farm buildings.

Farm groups and organizations have been very vocal about their disappointment in the amendments noting that the carbon tax is costing many producers tens of thousands of dollars just to do the basic jobs on the farm from heating barns to protect young livestock to putting the crop in the ground and using grain dryers to get grain into condition for storage.

"It (farming) is never without difficulty. But as you know, 97 per cent of the fuels that are used on farms, not all, but 97 per cent of them are exempt from the tax on pollution. And as you're aware,  we have a sustainable agricultural strategy and they're focused in five areas and of course, climate change is a big one.  We hope that the report will come out early next year."

He notes they are trying to address the problem as appropriately as it should be.

Another key issue for farmers and consumers has been the increasing cost of food and food inflation.

MacAulay says the government has been working with industry on the issue with the first step being the development of a voluntary Grocery Code of Conduct.

He sees the Grocery Code of Conduct as being a way to bring fairness, transparency, and stability to the grocery sector and supply chain. 

"Families right across the country are struggling with the cost of food, everybody is. Over the last two years, there's been a working group developed to produce the Grocery Code of Conduct. As you're fully aware it was industry-led and in fact that's what we wanted to see happen. That's what the industry wanted to see happen. But as you're no doubt fully aware, there have been some problems and a number of the people involved in this attempt have asked us to look at government involvement. And we are doing that, including looking at legislation. But again we would like to see this code of conduct be done by the industry if that is possible. We just want fairness in the system, stability, and prices."

Last month, MacAulay noted that after years of work, broad consultations, and unprecedented engagement across the grocery supply chain, it is disappointing to see that supply chain partners are hesitant to move forward.

He notes at a time when Canadian families are struggling with the cost of food, we need the major grocers and all supply chain partners to adopt and adhere to the Code.

Some supply chain partners, including two of the five major retailers, have indicated that they will not sign on to the Code. 

MacAulay adds that while the public wants to see stability in the prices, he doesn't think there'll be major reductions.

"There's so many things that need to be looked at, and that the grocery code could look at what would be important and hopefully we can put something together as I said previously. Hopefully, it's the industry, but if not, we're certainly looking at other options."

When it comes to climate change and producing the crop, the government also announced a voluntary 30 per cent fertilizer emission reduction target.

He says they simply want to make sure that it's not done in a way that will harm production, we just want efficiency.

"There's so many things we can do and we hope when the Sustained Agricultural Strategy comes out next spring there'll be more to say on this. But we want to make sure that number one, that we are as sufficient as possible."

He stresses it's not a program to reduce, we want to increase production and everything they can do to increase production will be done.

MacAulay says trade is key for Canada's agriculture industry.

In just a few weeks, he'll be heading to Manila to open the new Indo-Pacific Agriculture and Agri-Food office.

"I think that's a great move. This was in the works when I arrived back at agriculture, but it's something that I fully agree with. When you look at the growth in that area, the economic growth it's so important that we're there."

Overall, MacAulay says he's optimistic about the agriculture industry in 2024 and beyond.

"What we have to do is produce more and make sure farmers and ranchers get more dollars for what they produce."