Farm groups lobby for carbon offset

Now is the ideal time to be lobbying the federal government for a carbon offset program for agriculture, says a canola industry official.

Tracy Broughton, policy and producer relations manager with SaskCanola, is the point person for a group of provincial commissions and other farm organizations on the carbon tax issue.

She recently returned from a trip to Ottawa where she met with officials from Agriculture Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada to discuss the possibility of establishing a carbon offset for farmers who have increased the amount of organic matter in their soil.

Broughton said it is a good time to raise the issue because the federal government is beginning to develop protocols for carbon offsets.

“They are starting in early 2019 on agriculture and waste,” she told delegates attending the association’s annual general meeting at CropSphere 2019.

“This is a really good time to be communicating with them and reminding them of the importance of what you guys are doing as farmers.”

How that message is being received depends on who she was speaking with in Ottawa.

“On a staffing level, they are concerned with agricultural sinks. However, on a political level they are a little more flexible at the federal government.”

SaskCanola chair Doyle Wiebe said there seems to be more support for the idea at a provincial level.

“Saskatchewan hasn’t abandoned the idea of an offset program coming out at some point. Right now their target is 2021,” he said.

Broughton said the province is currently focused on getting performance standards in place to help the province’s large-scale emitters avoid the federal backstop program.

Wiebe said the Prairie Soil Carbon Balance Project should help their cause.

It has been measuring soil carbon changes from direct seeding in over 130 fields in Saskatchewan since 1997.

Those sites have been sampled four times, in 1999, 2005, 2011 and 2018. The data from the 2018 sampling will be available in the summer of 2019.

Wiebe hopes it confirms what farmers have been telling bureaucrats and politicians, which is that growers have indeed been sequestering carbon with their modern farming practices.

He said it is one thing to tell policymakers what farmers are doing and another to back it up with scientific evidence.

Former SaskFlax director Dave Sefton said he would prefer an offset program to exemptions, such as the exemption on farm fuel.

“Because an exemption looks like we’re getting something for free when in fact we’re doing something,” he said.

Sefton has lobbied for an offset program for years and is beginning to get fed up by government’s inaction.

“It put a burr under my saddle and it’s starting to get very sore,” he told canola growers attending the meeting.

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