Farmers Won’t Tolerate Further Environmental Regulation

“Agriculture’s been doing more than its fair share without recognition, without the credit for early action from any government at this point…”

Whatever measures the federal government selects for cutting carbon emissions must recognize the contributions farmers have already made, says Don McCabe, chairman of the OFA’s Environment and Science Committee.

“Any increased costs for electricity, chemicals, fuel fertilizer or lime will be the largest increase that any sector will face,” McCabe, president of the Soil Conservation Council of Canada, told the Commons environment committee. “We cannot tolerate further regulation.

“On the other side of the coin, farmers are very, very much looking for the opportunity to participate in this (greenhouse gas reduction) initiative as a voluntary opportunity to establish a new revenue stream in the form of environmental goods and services or offsets,” he added.

While agriculture is responsible for just under 10 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, it could be “20 per cent of the solution in the longer term provided we get the rules right, and we can be higher if the rules are right. The rules for us mean that mitigation is adaptation.”

What farmers can’t afford is “an unneeded and unheeded policy that does not recognize the special needs of agriculture when we can provide opportunities to move forward,” he continued. The Soil Conservation Council could work with a cap and trade system but a carbon tax “is a complete nonstarter for the agricultural sector. It’s back to the issue that we have no room to move.”

Under cap and trade, industries would face hard targets for cutting emissions. If they can’t meet them, they would purchase offset credits. The agriculture sector is trying to get the government to recognize farm practices that sequester carbon in the soil.

Agricultural offsets “will be

further pursued within Copenhagen (climate change negotiations) and agriculture hopefully will be recognized to be a solution as it leads,” he pointed out.

For agriculture to offer an increased offset, additional research and development of crops that will harness carbon and nitrogen is needed, he added. “Every manager on every farm is going to be looking for their own opportunities to build their own plan at their own scale.”

Estimates in 1990 from Environment Canada said agriculture emitted 7.3 megatonnes of C02 annually, he noted. “By 2000, agriculture was negative on C02 emissions. When you factor in methane and nitrous oxide, we’ve been holding our own since 1990, so that means we have been finding more innovative ways of doing business and producing more product with less input all the time. Back to my line, we mitigate and adapt at the same time.

“Agriculture’s been doing more than its fair share without recognition, without the credit for early action from any government at this point, and that is wrapped up in the definition of business as usual that comes from a bureaucracy,” he explained.

Alberta has launched a carbon offset plan that puts $10 million a year in farmers’ pockets, he said.

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