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Manitoba farmer recognized as early voice for biofuels in Canada

Faces of Ag: As a farmer and agricultural engineer, Brian Chorney brought a depth of perspective to the boardroom table

“Well geez, you should let your name stand,” seems like the common origin of many successful careers in agriculture organizational work.

Fellow farmers recognize leadership qualities and exert a little pressure to fill a director’s chair.

East Selkirk farmer Brian Chorney is, by all accounts, not one to boast. But in this case, it seems his fellow farmers made a good assessment of his character.

Chorney proved to be a “true leader,” said Rick White, president and CEO of the Canadian Canola Growers Association (CCGA).

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“He was extremely credible, smart, well versed,” White said. “When he spoke at a board table, people listened.”

Chorney went on to be a leading advocate for biofuel standards in Manitoba and in Canada.

On February 11, the Manitoba Canola Growers Association presented Chorney with the Canola Award of Excellence for his extensive work with renewable fuel organizations and for many years as a director in the MCGA and CCGA.

‘I’m glad I did’

Chorney is the third generation to farm a plot of land between Selkirk and Beausejour. “John Chorney Farms,” named for his father and grandfather, was established in 1918.

While Chorney worked part time on the farm as a young man, he studied agriculture engineering and graduated with his bachelor of science from the University of Manitoba in 1984. He and wife Brenda married in 1986 and lived in St. Vital for about a decade. Chorney worked as an engineer.

In 1996, the Chorneys built a house on the farm and Brian became more involved there, though not full time. As the new millennium dawned, his father considered retirement. Someone had to return to the farm if it was going to continue.

Chorney elected himself.

“To be dead honest, I had a lot of people kind of looking at me like, ‘what the hell are you thinking?’” he told the Co-operator. There wasn’t a lot of positive economic news around farming, he said, so quitting engineering probably looked fiscally irresponsible.

Maybe it was stubbornness, Chorney said, but he was determined to make it work.

“Hindsight being 20/20, I’m very glad I did it,” he said.

A few years later he’d be nudged on to the MCGA board and shortly thereafter, to the CCGA board also.

The push for biodiesel

In the early 2000s, as Chorney (and White) joined CCGA, the organization was ramping up a push to make biofuels, particularly biodiesel, into a bigger industry in Canada.

CCGA sensed a need to move beyond fossil fuels, said White. It was also looking for a new domestic market for canola and saw biodiesel as a way to meet both needs.

In December 2003, the CCGA and others including oilseed processors and renderers’ associations formed the Biodiesel Association of Canada, according to a 2005 provincial report. CCGA assigned Chorney to the board.

The MCGA and CCGA would lobby the government to incentivize biodiesel production and to create mandatory minimums for biofuels in gas and diesel. Chorney was involved at both levels.

White thought that Chorney’s mixed engineering and farming background increased his interest and ability to delve into the topic of biodiesel. White said he was sometimes responsible for briefing directors, but Chorney often required little briefing. He was on top of the topic.

He also had key contacts in the biofuels industry, said White. Chorney would call them up to find out what they needed, find out what farmers needed, and then bring those concerns to government. He testified before federal standing committees in Ottawa, including the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.

The first biodiesel plant in Canada opened in 2005, says a 2017 Biofuels Digest report.

In 2009, Manitoba became the first province with a biodiesel mandate, requiring a two per cent biodiesel blend with diesel. It mandated ethanol in 2008.

Some would criticize biofuels as a “costly misadventure,” as a spokesperson representing the National Farmers Union would tell a federal committee in 2008. Biofuels require more fossil fuels to produce than they save, said Kenneth Sigurdson.

Nevertheless, in 2010 the federal government passed the Renewable Fuels Regulation, requiring five per cent renewable fuels by volume in gasoline and two per cent in diesel.

“Brian was instrumental in getting the government of Manitoba to implement the first two per cent biodiesel mandate,” said White. Chorney was a driving force at the federal level also, he said, often acting as CCGA’s political point person.

Took time

They got it done, but Chorney said he learned that these things take more time than he could have expected.

“I was hoping to have a renewable fuel standard in place at the five per cent level a lot quicker than kind of where Manitoba is getting to now, but I’m glad to see that it’s going in that direction,” he said.

In December 2020, the province announced ethanol requirements in gasoline would rise to 9.25 per cent from 8.5 per cent and to 10 per cent in 2022. Biodiesel requirements would rise to 3.5 per cent from two per cent, and then to five per cent in 2022.

“I guess the old saying goes, ‘If you want to go fast, do it yourself. If you want to go far, do it with other people,’” Chorney said.

“It’s great to see some of the things that we as an industry worked on back in 2004 showing up in the market in 2021, 2022, kind of thing,” he added.

While biofuels continue to be part of the conversation between canola growers and governments, Chorney has retired from that work after 14 years with MCGA.

He said he’s humbled to be singled out for his work with biofuels. “It’s been good to be part of a great team,” he said.

About the author

Reporter

Geralyn Wichers

Geralyn Wichers grew up on a hobby farm near Anola, Manitoba, where her family raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Geralyn graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in 2019 and was previously a reporter for The Carillon in Steinbach. Geralyn is also a published author of science fiction and fantasy novels.

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