Budget is big step for supporting farmers, but more needed

The 2021 budget takes a gigantic step in supporting farmers against climate change, but more is still required.

Much of what we saw in Chrystia Freeland’s long-awaited first budget was in line with the green investments telegraphed by the Liberals in the weeks leading up to April 19.

Because a significant debate around carbon pricing continues to play out in Western Canada, much of the attention from producers migrated toward Ottawa’s admission that more relief for using natural gas and propane was needed.

Producers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario could be eligible to receive $100 million in payments for use of those fuels, but details won’t be provided until later this year.

That’s a significant investment.

It’s also one all farmers should welcome — particularly after 2019’s wet harvest — but it doesn’t tell the full story of the federal 2021 budget for producers.

The Supreme Court has ruled the federal government’s carbon levy is constitutional, and the Conservative Party of Canada now endorses policy that prices pollution.

Since the court’s ruling, some of the provinces subject to the federal rules have indicated they’ll develop their own policies.

That would exclude farmers from qualifying for rebates included in the federal program.

Freeland’s and the government’s indication that they will wait to roll out details of the payments is likely a recognition money may not be required to go to each farmer who is currently qualifying for it.

It also can’t be lost that the federal government is admitting such financial relief is needed now, at a time it can be confident the number of producers qualifying for those payments is likely to go down.

Still, farmers should welcome the payments and Ottawa’s long-delayed recognition that relief for using those fuels is needed.

They should also recognize any debate against taxing carbon is on life support, and instead enthusiastically accept the Liberal government’s investment in agriculture to help combat climate change.

Canada’s 2021 budget isn’t about an exemption on certain fuels for farmers.

It’s about the federal government making a massive investment in them.

High propane costs from drying grain become an irrelevant problem — and so too would any fuel exemption — if alternative energy sources are found.

That oversimplifies it, but effectively it is this kind of thing a budget like this is seeking to accomplish.

A $50 million investment will see Canadian taxpayers retrofitting about 1,400 grain dryers to be more fuel efficient (retrofits cost an estimated $25,000 each).

Over two years, the Liberals are planning on investing $200 million in new money for Canadian agriculture and almost all of it is related to climate change.

Much has been made about many of those investments already, but it’s clear the “green growth” plan telegraphed by the Liberals is very much in play on the agricultural file.

Farmers for Climate Solutions, a group in its infancy but already running with the big players in lobbying Canada’s minister of agriculture, said the budget was a “historic win.”

Already farmers across the country are working to reduce climate change: emissions from agriculture dropped to 72.1 megatonnes in 2019 from 73.1 in 2018.

The recent budget from the federal government looks beyond the petty politics over certain policies, like carbon pricing, and toward a relationship where government is helping farmers in efforts to reduce emissions.

It’s a great first step because farmers will continue to need government support if Canada is to achieve its Paris targets by 2030.

There are nine growing seasons between now and then. Government will have to support farmers through all of them.

D.C. Fraser is Glacier Farm Media’s Ottawa correspondent. Reach out to him by emailing dfraser@farmmedia.com.

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