The coalition of 14 farm organizations that want a greater conversation with the government about carbon has released its three main priorities.
The Agriculture Carbon Alliance says Ottawa has to implement on-farm exemptions for natural gas and propane used to dry grain, irrigate, and heat and cool barns and greenhouses, recognize past practices in carbon offsets, and get more money out the door through rebates and research.
Keith Currie, first vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, said the alliance wants government to better understand what farmers do and need in a new green economy.
“We can only do what the tools allows us to do,” he said. “What frustrates me about this is the government doesn’t want to take baby steps to get to their end goal.”
He said the carbon tax has added onerous expenses to farmers’ costs. He cited a turkey producer who said the year-over-year increase from 2019 to 2020 for his barn was $30,000.
Currie said the northern climate dictates fuel use.
“We don’t have a lot of options. For grain drying, we are as efficient as we can be right now until new technologies are developed,” he said. “The same thing when you look at livestock. For the most part they’re modern facilities.
“It’s unfortunate the government didn’t see that when they were developing the program.”
The rebate announced in the recent federal budget is welcome but adds paperwork and administrative cost to something that could have been much simpler, he said.
The alliance said the Climate Action Incentive Fund, which returns a portion of carbon tax to small- and medium-sized businesses including farms, hasn’t taken applications since 2019, mostly due to COVID-19.
“But we’re 14 months into it now and we have a handle on how things need to run, so yes, now there’s opportunities to move things forward,” Currie said.
The alliance also wants to engage on the budget’s Nature Based Solutions for agriculture and the expansion of the Living Labs project to develop model farms in each province.
“It is critical that these initiatives engage with farmers to ensure that critical innovations in sequestration are developed into offset protocols as soon as possible,” said the alliance.
Currie said early adopters of practices such as no-till must be rewarded in protocols. It’s not fair if they aren’t, he said, because they created carbon sinks.
“If you don’t reward them you’re not going to get access to those carbon sinks,” said Currie. “You can’t use those numbers in your overall picture if you don’t want to reward farmers for doing what they’re doing. You will tempt people to go out there and start pulling plows out of the line fences and greasing it up and ripping up and starting over.”
He believes the government misses the fact that farmers don’t operate in isolation and can’t carry the full cost of climate mitigation. They’ll do their part, however.
He tells farmers that the green economy isn’t in their rear-view mirror but in the back of the pickup.
“We better figure out how to be part of the green economy because it’s real and it’s here,” he said.