Feds tout biomass-burning grain dryer

The $50 million fund announced by federal special representative for the Prairies, Jim Carr, on June 16 is part of a $165 million Agricultural Green Technology Program, but is focused specifically on funding farm grain drying systems that reduce the use of fossil fuels like propane and natural gas. | Screencap via Twitter/@mclaudebibeau

Ditching carbon taxes and giving grants for greener grain drying is evidence of a federal government that listens to farmers, said federal special representative for the Prairies Jim Carr.

“It’s a day when the government of Canada shows that it has heard from producers. It has taken action that is meaningful and impactful,” said Carr on June 16, unveiling a $50 million fund to subsidize more efficient grain-drying system constructions and refits.

The $50 million is part of a $165 million Agricultural Green Technology Program, but is focused specifically on funding farm grain drying systems that reduce the use of fossil fuels like propane and natural gas. The program is now open for farmers to apply for grants.

It is part of a government attempt to deal with farmers’ grain-drying needs while trying to achieve its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

An earlier reluctance of the federal government to remove carbon taxes from grain drying fuel sparked upset across farm country, with farmers feeling they were being penalized for something they had no choice but to do.

Carr, as the minister responsible for communicating prairie concerns to the rest of the Liberal government, has been vocal in his advocacy of a more co-operative approach with farmers on climate change issues.

“There was a significant unhappiness with how the (carbon tax) was administered, and we heard them,” said Carr.

“We listened to their objections and we believe we’ve met it head-on.”

As an example of the sort of technology farmers could employ to qualify for green grain drying projects, Carr introduced the biomass-burning system manufactured by Triple Green Products of Morris, Man.

It uses farm waste such as corn stover to produce heat that can be fed into grain dryers, virtually eliminating greenhouse gases by burning the material at 1,800 degrees.

“Our system is able to considerably reduce the cost of grain-drying,” said Lyall Wiebe of Triple Green.

While the systems begin at $100,000 for a small unit, by using waste materials to replace fossil fuels, farmers can quite quickly pay off a new system, Wiebe said.

For example, one large farmer in 2019 paid $150,000 to dry 180,000 bushels of corn with conventional fuel, but slashed that cost to $3,200 in 2020 because of using heat from the waste-burning system. That year was extra costly because of very wet conditions, but the 2020 savings were large regardless, Wiebe said.

For the farms using the heat system, it has taken two to five years to cover the cost of the investment.

“Our system makes sense with or without a carbon tax,” said Wiebe.

“We can save farmers a great deal of money regardless of the carbon tax issues associated with grain drying, and we do it in a carbon-neutral way.”

Carr praised the system as an example of creativity in meeting an emerging need.

“I just think this partnership between the innovators, the producers and the government of Canada is one to be celebrated,” said Carr.

Not only will greener grain drying meet a government objective while saving farmers money, it will set up farmers to produce grain that will be desired by a growing world market for sustainable food.

Farmers can now apply for the grants. Those that appear to most reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be favoured, Carr said.

Young farmers have been particularly interested in embracing greener technologies, Carr said, and that willingness along with Canadian innovation should allow Canada to further improve its impact on climate change challenges.

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