Alberta farmers lose carbon credit program

Provincial government does not plan to renew a program that compensates producers for beneficial cropping practices

Alberta grain farmers will soon be losing an opportunity to generate carbon offsets under the province’s greenhouse gas reduction strategy.

Alberta’s conservation cropping protocols are set to expire at the end of this year, and the Alberta government has indicated that they will not be renewed.

The protocols outline cropping practices that grain and oilseed producers can follow to generate a carbon offset or credit.

From the farmers’ perspective, the expiry of the protocols couldn’t have come at a worse time.

The value of a market-ready carbon offset, based on federal carbon tax pricing, is currently set at $30 per tonne and is scheduled to rise in increments to $170 a tonne by April 2030.

With the carbon offset market gone, grain and oilseed producers would be expected to pay carbon taxes on non-exempt farm fuels while no longer being able to recoup their costs through beneficial cropping practices, such as low soil disturbance crop production.

A grain farmer near Edmonton, who did not want to be identified, said the revenue-earning potential from producing and selling carbon offsets was never huge.

But with carbon taxes set to increase by more than five times their current level over the next 10 years, the revenue that could have been earned in the future would have been significant.

“It was never really big dollars.

“I’d have to look at the last statement but I think it roughly translated to $1.25 or $1.30 an acre last year. That’s ballpark. But if you look ahead to $170 per tonne for carbon taxes — so five or five and a half times higher than what it currently is, then all of a sudden it becomes pretty significant.

“I don’t think it would have ever offset all of the extra expenses from the carbon tax but at least it would have covered some of them.”

This farmer and other Alberta growers will be able to generate credits in the 2021 growing season but starting in 2022, that opportunity will cease. Alberta’s conservation cropping protocols are based on the fact that reduced soil disturbance during cropping creates a carbon sink.

The current protocols allow for up to two subsurface tillage passes each production year with soil disturbance not to exceed 38 percent per pass. Disturbance is measured as opener width divided by shank spacing.

Under that formula, a three-inch opener on 10-inch shank spacings would account for 30 percent soil disturbance.

Surface passes with implements such as heavy harrows do not count as soil disturbing activities.

Bill Dorgan, business unit leader for carbon and sustainability services with Trimble, said farmer participation in the province’s conservation cropping protocol has been “robust.”

Over 12 years, Trimble and its grain farmer contractors have generated more than four million tonnes of compliant-quality offsets. Trimble, one of several aggregation companies in the province, works with about 1,500 farmers who produce credits on more than a million acres of cropland annually.

The average farmer contractor is a large producer who is looking for ways to reduce the farm’s carbon footprint while creating an additional income stream.

“Certainly not everyone has been involved, either because they don’t want to be or because they don’t qualify,” said Dorgan.

He said it is disappointing that Alberta crop producers will no longer be recognized for their contributions to greenhouse gas mitigation. But he is optimistic that a similar system will be introduced in Saskatchewan in the future.

“We are certainly looking forward to the government of Saskatchewan initiating a similar type of greenhouse gas mitigation strategy so that we can get our producer partners involved in Saskatchewan as soon as possible.”

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