Carbon pricing sparks frustration at CFA meeting

Western Producer reporter Karen Briere attended The Canadian Federation of Agriculture annual meeting in Ottawa and filed this report

Frustrated farmers lined up at a microphone during the Canadian Federation of Agriculture annual meeting last week to vent about provincial carbon policies.

One delegate noted Saskatchewan, which is staunchly opposed to any scheme, probably has it right by waiting to see what works and what doesn’t.

Those already affected by new costs say competitiveness is at risk.

“For those of you who don’t have the distinct pleasure of having a cap-and-trade system, take ours please,” said Mark Wales, a director of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.

Since new taxes were imposed Jan. 1 Wales said diesel, both clear and coloured, has gone up 5.4 cents per litre, gasoline is up 4.6 cents, and natural gas and propane are each up 3.3 cents.

The average greenhouse operator is facing new annual costs of $6,500, he said, and this new revenue is all likely to go toward transit in Toronto and subsidizing electric vehicles.

“The challenge is we’re being downloaded everybody’s climate tax costs as of Jan. 1 and we cannot collect back one penny of that from the marketplace ever,” Wales told a carbon policy panel. “That’s what a cap-and-trade system will do to you unless there is some offsetting benefit.”

He said vague government promises of carbon offset benefits are unlikely to materialize, and if they do, the government wants sequestration guarantees of 100 years.

British Columbia agriculture council delegate Lynda Atkinson, who raises cattle and horses, said farmers there do get a rebate on diesel but use other fuels for which they aren’t compensated.

Andy Kuyvenhoven, an Ontario greenhouse grower who represents the Canadian Ornamental Horticulture Alliance, said he can’t square the challenge to grow more food with the penalty of carbon tax.

The meeting heard that farmers around the world will have to produce more food in the next 40 years than in the preceding 10,000 years.

He said some greenhouse vegetable growers from Ontario are moving to Ohio, where there is no carbon policy.

“That’s not reducing global carbon,” he said. “All we did was pack up our bags and go somewhere else.”

In his cut-flower business, competition from South American or African production is taking shelf space at lower costs but Kuyvenhoven said the carbon required to fly the product to Canada isn’t recognized.

“How do I manage? Where are my tools?” he asked, referring to the fact that there are no rebates or exemptions, or recognition for carbon aggregation in Ontario’s policy.

Susan Wood-Bohm, executive director of Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions, said Alberta began its carbon regulations in 2007 and is only now getting it right.

“You’re going to have to grow up a bit in this world and it’s not easy, but there are some tools that you should really keep an eye on,” she said.

The decision to take money from large final emitters such as oil and gas companies and put it in a fund to help others reduce emissions was “brilliant,” she said.

“Agriculture in Alberta is booming from the perspective that they do have new technologies coming on,” she said, citing perennial crops and feed additives to reduce methane emissions.

Marion McBride, an organic producer representing the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, said carbon taxes appear to be a method of shuffling money rather than dealing with carbon itself.

She said she is concerned about Wood-Bohm’s comment that offset rewards will come from doing something beyond business as usual on the farm.

“I’m not going to go to zero till and I have increased the organic matter on my farm enough to have to pay more taxes on it,” McBride said. “I didn’t do it with the typical methods that most of you here are accustomed to.

“We’re doing everything we can right now to be sustainable. We’re not going to take the bus,” she added to applause.

Panel member and Claresholm, Alta., farmer Dean Hubbard said he has calculated that since his operation moved to zero till in 1995 he has doubled soil organic matter.

He also calculated this his family has sequestered its responsibility for 563 years, based on the average person’s carbon footprint.

The carbon policy in that province will push his costs up by six percent, he said.

Meanwhile, Dale Beugin, research director of Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, an independent economics organization, said carbon pricing is the lowest-cost way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

He said over time people will make choices all through the economy that will change their behaviour.

Competitiveness is a real concern, he said, and good policy will ramp up the carbon cost slowly and predictably.

“Alberta has put a lot of thought into this,” Beugin said. “Their policy is explicitly designed to try to manage those effects.”

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