Agriculture a solution to reducing carbon

Carbon and climate change policy have been hot topics since the federal government announced its policy on carbon taxation last October.

This is especially true in Sask-atchewan with the provincial government’s refusal to participate in the national carbon pricing plan.

Agricultural producers have a lot at stake in this discussion, both from carbon pricing policies and from the impacts of climate change on our business.

The demand for increased food production is an essential consideration. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that world food production must increase by 70 percent by 2050 to support a growing world population.

Western Canada is a major export supplier of grains, oilseeds, pulse crops, and meat products, particularly to regions that face production shortages due to climate change

The message from our industry must be heard. Carbon taxes do not work for agriculture.

Producers cannot pass along added costs. There is no effective price signal in current carbon policy that will achieve the intended results.

Agricultural producers do not set prices for their products, operate on thin profit margins and endure high levels of risk from fluctuating market prices and unpredictable growing conditions.

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Exempting farm fuel is not enough to shelter agriculture from the negative impacts; when you add in the impact of all inputs, costs could go up between $15-$20 an acre at $50 per tonne.

Because energy and input costs are such a large factor in farm profitability and can’t be passed along the value chain, producers have a lot of incentive to reduce operating costs by operating as efficiently as possible.

When more efficient technologies, crops and management practices are available, they are rapidly adopted. More crops and livestock are now being produced than ever before, with a lower energy footprint.

Another consideration is that agriculture is already a key sector in addressing carbon emissions through management of our landscape.

At the signing of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, it was recognized that if we increase the sequestration of carbon in agricultural soils by four parts per thousand, the world’s farmers can halt the increase in CO2 in our atmosphere.

Nobody knows more about how to sequester carbon through agriculture than prairie farmers and ranchers.

As stewards of 40 percent of Canada’s cultivated land and 35 percent of Canada’s pasture land, Sask-atchewan producers are key players in Canada’s land use and carbon cycle management.

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Saskatchewan crop producers currently sequester an additional 8.5 million tonnes of carbon through improved management practices every year, and prairie pastures sequester more than two billion tonnes.

As the largest group of private sector land managers, farmers and ranchers also provide sequestration through forages, trees and wetlands.

So, our message to government decision makers is clear: Don’t impose taxes that make it harder for us to do our work.

Policy that recognizes agriculture’s role in addressing the carbon problem is essential.

Policy questions that require urgent attention include the following:

  • How to design carbon offset policies that provide real financial benefit to producers.
  • How to provide and recognize the existing carbon sequestration benefits provided by landscape features like pastures, trees, and wetlands and enhance these features through positive incentives.
  • How to dramatically increase research on plant genetics, cropping rotations and management practices to support even greater sequestration in agriculture.

The Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan plans to host an agricultural carbon summit in Saskatoon on July 13 and 14 to launch discussions on these important issues.

Todd Lewis is president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan.

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