Canada’s Clean Fuel Standard act – intended to achieve a reduction of 30 million tonnes of annual greenhouse gas emissions in fuel and energy – includes restrictions on land use for crops grown for biofuels.
Ambiguous language and stipulations regarding buffer strips, however, have some growers concerned they will lose the ability to grow crops on a significant portion of their acreage, and without appropriate compensation.
Why it matters: Restrictions on how farmers can produce feedstocks under new sustainability standards are still nebulous – as are the characteristics of compensation. Thus potential impacts remain unknown.
The Clean Fuel Standard includes using more ethanol to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, which could be good for farmers of corn. However Grain Farmers of Ontario has concerns about land use restrictions.
30 metres from streams, 10 metres from wetlands
“The way I read it, it has potential to significantly reduce the land we can use for biofuel production,” says Josh Boersen, a grain grower in southwestern Ontario and board member for Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO).
“A rough calculation for us is an eight per cent loss.”
Boersen refers to the Land Use and Biodiversity Criteria subsection of the proposed fuel standard. This section details how far crops destined for the biofuel market can be grown from waterways, as well as other stipulations regarding wildlife preservation.
As detailed by Environment and Climate Change Canada, for example, eligible feedstocks cannot be cultivated or harvested in riparian zones. Those zones include an area within 30 metres of streams wider than three metres, as well as 10 metres from wetlands and lakes larger than five hectares.
Another characteristic under “protected areas” also designates that “feedstocks must not be harvested from land in an area that has been, at any time, on or after Jan. 1, 2008, designated as a protected area.” Such areas can protect rare, vulnerable, or threatened species or their habitats, as well as vulnerable ecosystems.
Aside from lost acreage, these conditions and the details therein also have Boersen concerned about enforcement.
“There is no compensation model presented that I’ve been able to find, and further, there is little mention of how much red tape this may cause the industry,” said Boersen in a previous email to Farmtario.
“There are talks of independent audits, etc., but that burden I fear will fall directly back to the farm, as I highly doubt the ethanol industry would or could afford to pay a premium to cover these costs.”
Markus Haerle, GFO’s current chair and farmer in the province’s east, shares Boersen’s concerns.
“Part of the challenge is there’s no real definition of what is considered a biofuel. As a farmer, how do you segregate it?” He also questions whether government or industry would enforce such restrictions. That remains unclear.
The variation in Ontario’s farm landscape is another consideration for Haerle. Those in the east, for example, may have substantially greater acreage restrictions that those in the less aquatically marbled southwest.
What do “feedstock credits” look like?
The Clean Fuel Standard does indicate some feedstocks are eligible for feedstock credits so long as they are not grown in restricted zones such as those previously mentioned. But what those credits look like and how they will work is a mystery.
“That’s one thing that hasn’t been identified yet. The federal government will not address carbon offset and credits for agriculture. If they want to put that into a biofuel discussion, I’d call that quite sneaky,” says Haerle.
“We approached them two years ago to have offsets for sinks and reduced footprint. Maybe now, all of a sudden, they want to discuss it because its in their favour? If they go down that road, will they credit all offsets or just the land that’s out of production?”
Boersen, too, is unclear how credits will manifest. As a consequence, he is hesitant to believe farmers will see some form of cash back.
Sustainability platforms critical for grain
GFO is currently seeking clarification on the standard’s intended design, but has no timeline on when a response will be provided, nor how that will affect the act’s already-delayed introduction.
Critically, says Haerle, whatever form the act takes needs to fit the sustainability criteria of major world partners.
“All oilseeds in the near future have to apply to a sustainability platform. If its not recognized [in other parts of the word that will be a very dangerous discussion. It must be looked at as the same,” he says.
“If government comes out with programs that offset the losses, then we can have the discussion.”