Report paints agriculture as part of climate change solution

An Ontario research organization says Canada’s policies have failed to capitalize on important opportunities in agriculture, placing the country’s producers at risk of falling behind those in other food-exporting nations.

A new report from Agri-Food Economic Systems says the Canadian agri-food sector “remains isolated as a remote priority of Canada’s overall policy agenda” and calls for bold and innovative policies that support the sector.

The report also slams federal policymakers for failing to understand agriculture’s role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, saying current climate change policy recognizes agriculture only as an emitter and lacks the vision that would reward the sector for helping Canada to meet its overall mitigation targets.

The report, entitled “A More Robust, and Still Possible, Vision for Agri-Food and Climate Change,” was authored by Al Mussell, an agricultural economist from the University of Guelph and past-president of the Canadian Agricultural Economics Society.

“Canada’s agri-food policy direction is lacking the bold ambition appropriate for this moment and misses a critical opportunity for agri-food policy to assimilate climate change with other strands of important public policy issues into a cohesive strategy, Mussell writes in the report.

Treating agriculture “solely as an emitter … is akin to focusing on just half of the balance sheet,” counting the emissions but ignoring the carbon sequestering activities that have already been adopted by the country’s producers, the report adds.

Mussell points to direct seeding technology and its widespread adoption in Western Canada as an example of the sector’s unrecognized contributions to greenhouse gas mitigation.

“The understanding of agriculture’s role in greenhouse gas emissions in Canada has proven to be limited to technical (experts) in industry, government and academia and this is borne out in federal climate change policy in which agriculture is treated primarily as a user of fossil fuel and a GHG emitter,” the report states.

“The primary federal government guidance document for climate change policy, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy (2020), makes only passing reference to agriculture as other than a source of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Mussell’s report is the latest voice calling for farmers and ranchers to be recognized as a potential solution in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions.

According to Ottawa, the federal government is in the process of developing a GHG offset system that could generate additional economic opportunities for agriculture. But so far no details of the plan have been released.

In the meantime, the federal carbon tax requires agricultural producers to pay $30 plus GST per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) on the consumption of non-exempt fuels that are used to grow agricultural crops.

The tax will rise to $40 plus GST per tonne in April and will continue to rise until it reaches $170 plus GST per tonne by 2030.

Methods used to calculate greenhouse gas production in Canada’s livestock industry have also been “badly misconstrued,” Mussell’s report contends.

The lack of a co-ordinated climate change policy in Canada that recognizes agriculture’s positive contributions will ultimately put Canadian producers at a competitive disadvantage, the report says.

South of the border, U.S. President Joe Biden has acknowledged that America’s farmers, ranchers and foresters have an important role to play in combatting climate change “by sequestering carbon in soils, grasses, trees and other vegetation, and sourcing sustainable bioproducts and fuels.”

“Other countries are rapidly grasping agriculture as a solutions provider in mitigating climate change, and ambitious policy initiatives may soon follow,” Mussell writes.

“Canada could find itself suddenly left behind.”

On a year-over-year basis, American net farm incomes are forecast to rise by 48 percent in 2020, due partly to record U.S. farm subsidies in 2020, the report adds.

Canadian farm incomes, even with strong prices in many markets, will not keep pace.

In a Feb. 18 interview with The Western Producer, Mussell said Canada’s economy faces immediate challenges, including post-pandemic recovery, meeting ambitious greenhouse gas mitigation targets and maintaining trade in a volatile geopolitical environment.

“We’ve got quite a number of problems that we’re trying to work through…,” he said.

“Our difficulties with market access in an environment in which … the institutions that deal with trade disputes and so on have been at least temporarily sidelined — that creates a big problem for us as a small country because without those sorts of protections in place, you always run the risk that you’ll be pushed around by the big economies of the world.

“And we have very fresh experience, of course, with that, particularly with regard to China and to some extent with the U.S. as well.”

In that context, the importance of domestic policies that support Canada’s agriculture industry is magnified.

“Specifically, on the climate change front, there’s a whole lot of that we have to bring to the table that really, as of yet, has not been recognized in the government’s carbon policy.”

Mussell also mentioned western alienation as a growing concern that could divide the nation and undermine an effective and cohesive national policy for agriculture.

“Western alienation? I was a kid in the Pierre Trudeau era,” Mussell said.

“I remember what it was like then. I think it could be worse now.”

Mussell’s full report can be viewed online at www.agrifoodecon.ca.

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