Producers ask for climate change budget initiatives

A national farmer coalition is asking the federal government for $300 million to fight climate change by establishing programs to cut agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

Although producers are on the front lines of climate change, they are falling behind other sectors when it comes to the energy transition, said Ian McCreary of Farmers for Climate Solutions (FCS). “And that’s going to affect Canadian agriculture’s competitiveness in the long term if we don’t catch up.”

As a farmer from Bladworth, Sask., McCreary co-chaired a task force involving climate scientists, policy experts, producers and agricultural economists.

It produced a report recommending $300 million be set aside in the upcoming federal budget to create six national programs to reduce emissions by 10 million tonnes. They range from improving nitrogen management to protecting wetlands and trees.

FCS is an alliance of agricultural organizations involving more than 20,000 farmers and ranchers across Canada.

Although producers as a group have been nervous about “getting wrapped up in the silliness that is the political divide over how to fix the problem” of climate change, the practice of farming is itself informed by science, said McCreary.

“And we’re now at this point of the discussion of saying, ‘how are we going to do our part to solve this problem?’”

A major part of agricultural emissions is nitrous oxide from nitrogen fertilizer, said McCreary, adding it is 297 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The problem is largely due to excessive use of such fertilizer, he said.

The task force recommends creating a $115-million program to provide things such as soil mapping and residual soil nitrogen testing, with agronomists working on a cost-sharing basis with farmers to maintain yields while using less fertilizer, said McCreary.

It also recommends cutting other emissions by providing $115 million for a per-acre payment program to encourage the planting of cover crops, along with $25 million for a cost-sharing program for planning and infrastructure to boost rotational grazing.

The task force is also asking the federal government to create a $30-million reverse auction pilot program to conserve wetlands and forests on working farms, as well as providing $10 million for pilot programs to transition on-farm energy beyond diesel to clean energy.

It also wants Ottawa to set aside $5 million to create award programs and awareness campaigns to celebrate “climate champions” among producers, said McCreary.

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