Few financial gains for carbon reduction in agriculture

Canadian farmers are already efficient producers and have a small carbon footprint: Canadian Federation of Agriculture

GUELPH, Ont. — Agriculture’s ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in the soil is gaining traction among climate change policy makers.

“No other sector has this ability, and it is being recognized globally,” said environmental consultant Karen Haugen-Kozyra, head of Iresco Solutions in Alberta.

The next step is to find ways to pay farmers for improved production practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Alberta has had a carbon market for 10 years, and 50 million tonnes of offsets have been registered. About 12 million tonnes have been sequestered under the no-till protocol in Alberta, worth about $150 to $200 million, she said at the recent Canadian Forage and Grassland Association annual meeting held in Guelph.

Ongoing research shows about 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon are held in the soil supporting grasslands and pasture. The estimated value of this storage is $82.5 billion, but there has been no real financial gain for landowners.

Successful carbon programs must be practical and have a strong science basis so that farmers might consider them.

“If you start out too complex, you are not going to get projects. If the rules are too loose, you lose credibility,” she said.

Financial gains for sequestering carbon may be limited because Canadians are efficient producers and already leave a small carbon footprint, said Drew Black of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, which is a member of the World Farmers’ Organization’s climate change working group.

The Paris international climate change agreement has set Canada’s target at 30 percent below 2005 emission levels by 2030. The agreement includes provisions for emissions trading, but details are still being worked out.

The Paris agreement addressed the need to safeguard food security and agricultural production. Ninety percent of countries within the agreement included agriculture as part of their solution to re-duce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We finally had a bit of a breakthrough in agriculture discussions at the international level,” said Black.

France launched the Four by 1000 initiative, which said a four percent increase of carbon in soils not only creates more fertile soils but also would account for all new carbon released into the atmosphere. This has not received much policy development.

A lot of this is already done in Canada, but other nations do not have the technology or expertise to carry it out, he said.

“Those who have been doing really great practices for a long time show that there is less room to sequester carbon,” he said.

“The financial opportunities for producers are likely to be mixed.”

The push may come from big global brands that have endorsed climate smart agriculture and internalized the price of carbon within their supply chain.

There is a patchwork of programs in Canada and internationally. Some are intensely bureaucratic, said Black.

Forty-two countries have implemented a carbon price that ranges from $1 per tonne in the Ukraine to $126 per tonne in Sweden. These programs can be an administrative burden for producers, who may have to deal with complicated paperwork and verification for relatively low compensation for offsets.

“Smaller producers simply do not have the time or the acreage to make it worthwhile,” he said.

The forestry sector is further ahead because countries are willing to pay to stop deforestation.

A patchwork of carbon pricing exists in Canada, but 80 percent of Canadians are probably living under some form of carbon pricing.

Canadian agriculture represents about three percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Some agriculturally relevant offsets are:

  • conservation cropping
  • nitrous oxide emissions reduction with more precise fertilizer management
  • beef production that emphasizes low residual feed intake, reduced age at slaughter and lower methane emissions from fed cattle

Sustainability initiatives in Canada that provide specific requirements to be more environmentally friendly include:

  • national environmental farm plan
  • roundtable on sustainable beef
  • roundtable on sustainable crops

These are good initiatives but the CFA has said climate change policy must not create a perverse disincentive for food production.

CFA policy calls for:

  • an exemption from carbon pricing on all farm fuel including diesel. natural gas and propane
  • offset programs designed to encourage producer adoptions
  • better understanding of agriculture among environment ministries
  • more investment in clean technology, innovation and opportunities in the bioeconomy
  • increased investments to help producers adapt to climate change and build resilience

Offset protocols could provide a new but likely small revenue stream for farmers, especially as new ones are developed. As the price of carbon rises, the payouts may be greater and may be an in-centive for producers to sign on.

However, the higher costs of production for some commodities may wipe out any potential benefits from the offsets, said Black.

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  • Dayton

    Sainfoin, the bloat free legume is a good place to start. I know where there will be some seed available too. April 16,’18 RB Auction

  • Joe Hueglin

    CFA policy calls for:
    an exemption from carbon pricing on all farm fuel including diesel. natural gas and propane
    Would trucking and other uses other than on land be included?

    • Harold

      What about the bigger questions; Canada’s contribution will drop the climate temperature by exactly what degree – guaranteed? How much of the economy, wealth, and jobs, do we strip away from Canadians for that temperature degree? Prior to the Carbon sequestering, Humans were responsible for precisely what degree of climate change? What level of carbon (Co2) emissions are precisely acceptable for the globe to maintain a healthy planet. We know that without C02 all life on the planet would cease to exist. Science has been incredibly stupid for answers haven’t they? How many tonnes of Co2 must be produced by countries including Canada to prevent an Ice age from occurring? Carbon pricing; what the hell is that? Prior to the Industrial era, what was responsible for the climate changes in the past? Have those heating and cooling elements disappeared and now man controls it all? What about the pesticide footprint? What about the Chemical footprint? What about the Industry animal overproduction foot print to feed the globe? You don’t take the money away from the corporate Elite do you; just the tax payer right? . If Canadians become energy starved and wealth starved, who then becomes Canada’s master? Who is the beneficiary of our drained wallets and aren’t they the same beneficiary preaching Climate change? No climate change – no money; interesting. Society has forgotten or have not learned from the corrupt in History and we now are doomed in repeating it. In the past it was not science – it was gods wrath that the climate changed and except for the elite – all sinners were persecuted. Who are the sinners today and at whose say so? Is science the god now? The god that cannot answer questions? Science has been transformed to the God of today only because society has become Literate from illiterate in the past. Now they can read the BS for themselves rather than to congregate in illiteracy in public halls to listen to it. As secret as the Elite so is science their god; the god of their money, wealth, and power; the same god that punished the illiterate in the past. If we are filthy in soil and sweat and produce all things and poor in wealth and health but yet the Elite are filthy in riches, who then is the slave and who then are the naïve and who and what keeps us that way?


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