Opinion: Farmers need backing from agriculture ministry

Credit needs to be given for the role farmers have played in sequestering carbon

It would be nice if Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada would emphasize farming’s contribution to the fight against greenhouse gas emissions, says the writer.

The government of Canada has endorsed an ambitious agenda to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This agenda has resulted in setting targets that will be hard to meet unless significant changes are made in the way Canadians undertake various activities.

The government has also identified farming activities as a key culprit in greenhouse gas emissions.

The fact is that farmers have for decades put in place measures to reduce their impact on the environment. Farming activities are both a carbon source and carbon sink, but the focus is often on the former with little acknowledgment given to the latter.

A good example of this is Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s web page on climate change where it first goes into a detailed description of greenhouse gas emissions by farmers. Ag Canada goes further by suggesting that farming activities contribute up to 10 per cent of total Canadian greenhouse gas emissions, a number that is presented as being lower by other government departments (including Environment Canada, which measures this activity).

Buried, later in the web page, are the benefits of farming activities on climate change.

Other departments tend to put the sectors they work with in a good light; similarly, we wished Agriculture Canada would emphasize the contribution of agriculture to the fight against greenhouse gas emissions.

The Agri-Food Innovation Council presented to the House of Commons standing committee on agriculture and agri-food recently. A Finance Canada official had just finished stating that a key reason for not giving farmers an exemption from the carbon tax for propane and natural gas was that farmers “might have a barbecue hooked up to the natural gas and that would be exempt from the fuel charge.” 

When asked what we thought of this argument, we provided the only possible response: “It is a silly argument.”

At a recent webinar organized by AIC, international experts agreed that measures to limit greenhouse gas emissions should not threaten food security. We agree.

Long before it became trendy in Ottawa, Canadian farmers have been at the forefront of green change. But they won’t be given credit for that.

Canadian farmers should benefit from an exemption from the carbon tax for the use of propane and natural gas before it creates a landscape in which they cannot compete and forces them to quit. 

Farmers feed families and are an integral part of our communities.

Alternative sources of fuel to natural gas and propane exist, but are mostly at the experimental stage, not adaptable to Canadian circumstances and/or not scalable to our needs. It will take time to make the required changes. In the meantime, Canadian farmers should expect that their government collaborates with them effectively, supports their efforts and does not portray them in a negative way.

The government needs to invest significantly to fund research into these alternative sources of energy. It also needs to invest in the adoption of these technologies.

It won’t be an easy process, nor will it be a quick one. But penalizing farmers who produce our food, create millions of jobs, and have such an important contribution to the economy is not a solution.

Serge Buy is chief executive officer of the Agri-Food Innovation Council.

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