Sask. zero-tillers brace for offset snub

The Saskatchewan government is considering a carbon offset program that would exclude minimum tillage farmers from the emerging and potentially lucrative market for agricultural offsets, The Western Producer has learned.

Officials with Saskatchewan’s Ministry of the Environment outlined elements of a proposed offset framework this week in a conference call with members of a provincial offset panel.

A leaked recording of the call was sent to The Western Producer by an anonymous source.

Under the proposed framework, a set of so-called offset protocols will be developed and implemented in Saskatchewan, allowing farmers, ranchers and land managers to produce and sell offsets in exchange for adopting environmentally friendly management practices.

However, minimum-till or low-soil-disturbance cropping systems will not be eligible under the proposed program framework.

The province is seeking feedback on the framework by mid-April, say sources familiar with the process.

“Offset protocol developers will have to provide evidence and rational arguments to demonstrate that the activity on which (a) protocol is based is below a 40 percent adoption rate,” said a senior official with the ministry’s cumulative impacts and science branch.

“The proposed (framework) will ensure that offset credits generated in the program will get Saskatchewan closer to net zero (greenhouse gas) emissions,” the official continued.

“However, it means that some types of activities, such as zero-till cropping practices, will not be eligible for the program because (they already exceed) the 40 percent adoption rate.”

Farm groups contacted by The Western Producer on March 18 did not respond immediately when asked to comment.

However, one grain and oilseed grower described the framework as a slap in the face of Saskatchewan producers who have already made significant contributions to greenhouse gas reductions.

“Whoever was supposed to be representing farmers on this file has dropped the ball. They literally dropped the ball,” said an un-named source close to the subject.

“Somebody’s going to benefit financially from the carbon that’s being sequestered in Saskatchewan’s farmland. But it won’t be grain farmers. It will be someone else.”

The source said excluding minimum-till systems from provincial or federal offset markets will leave Saskatchewan farmers at a competitive disadvantage to grain growers in other parts of the world.

American farmers will be involved in a United States offset system, although details have yet to be finalized.

In addition, American grain and oilseed producers are not subject to a national carbon tax.

In Canada, the federal carbon tax on non-exempt activities is set to increase to $170 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030, up from $30 a tonne currently.

According to Saskatchewan’s general farm organization, the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, that will add at least $12.50 per acre to annual production costs for an average Saskatchewan grain farmer.

The APAS analysis of carbon tax costs can be viewed online here.

Meanwhile, officials from the recently formed Agriculture Carbon Alliance, did not respond immediately when asked to comment on Saskatchewan’s proposed offset framework.

The ACA was formed to lobby government for recognition of sustainable farming practices.

“How is the Agricultural Carbon Alliance going to change the policy put out by either the federal government or the provincial government in Saskatchewan now that the policy is already basically announced?” asked the un-named source.

News of the Saskatchewan offset framework came the same day as Agriculture Canada announced the formation of a new 10-year Agriculture Climate Solutions program.

The aim of the ACS program, according to federal agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, is for every province in Canada to create a collaborative hub where “farmers and researchers can co-develop best practices, including cover crops, intercropping, conversion of marginal land to permanent cover, shelterbelts, nutrient management, and inclusion of pulses in rotations.”

To qualify for funding, applicants must demonstrate their ability to engage with researchers and develop plans for knowledge transfer and adoption among their peers.

Applicant groups who meet the program’s criteria will be invited to submit applications for funding support of up to $10 million per project beginning this fall.

Agriculture Canada plans to host regional information sessions on the ACS program in the coming weeks.

“The ACS program is one of many important new initiatives being undertaken to promote environmental sustainability and resiliency in the agriculture sector, and is part of Canada’s Strengthened Climate Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, and towards net-zero emissions by 2050,” the Ag Canada news release said.

Canadian Federation of Agriculture President Mary Robinson applauded the program.

“This program allows researchers, farmers and other groups to work closely together and test their ideas on farm to evaluate them in real-world circumstances to achieve meaningful results,” she said.

Contact brian.cross@producer.com

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