Giving carbon credit its due

Canada’s coming carbon tax hike has made farm-sequestered carbon is a hot topic and along with it, the question of giving credit where it is due.

Stuart Smyth at the University of Saskatchewan is leading a survey project aimed at capturing data from the province’s farmers — information that he said wasn’t properly considered when the federal government signed onto the Paris climate accords.

The year 2005 was used as a baseline. This was after most western Canadian farmers had transitioned to minimum till and no-till methods.

“We’d already removed 80 to 90 percent of our summerfallow acres and I think, a little bit, the Canadian government threw agriculture under the bus,” Smyth said. This allowed the feds to ignore the substantial contributions over the previous decade.

Saskatchewan’s provincial government and various producer groups have argued more credit should be given to the agriculture industry for its carbon sequestration efforts, but their position has been weakened by lack of data.

“Most of the existing estimates are based on theoretical models,” Smyth said. “There’s no one data set or data sets that are using farm-level data to be able to quantify the sequestration capacity”

The U of S Crop Rotation Survey aims to fill this gap with the help of farmers themselves. Farmers are asked to provide pre-1995 data on their crops, as well as information from the most recent rotation on the same fields. Typical questions include what equipment was used, how many passes, and fuel use per hour.

Smyth said the provincial governments can use the information to lobby at the federal level. It could also guide their own programs to reward farmers for sustainability improvements they’ve made over the past 30 years.

“Alberta has a market where they put a value on carbon sequestration provincially. Maybe that’s something the Saskatchewan government could possibly consider,” Smyth said.

While the work to complete the survey can be substantial and the $200 participation fee is modest, Smyth hopes farmers will see broader value in the project. With word out of Ottawa that the carbon tax is slated to hit $170 a tonne, there’s much frustration among producers that the agriculture industry is being hit unfairly.

“If you’re frustrated, then please participate in our survey,” Smyth said. “We believe that what’s lacking in this is quantified information. We believe we’ll be able to do that.”

So far, the researchers have received data from about 100 farmers and are looking for more to fill out the 250 to 300 they need to complete the study by the time it closes in early April.

A follow-up study is planned for Alberta and Manitoba farms next year. Interested producers can participate at www.surveymonkey.ca/r/CRSregistration2020.

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