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Beef Producers sees carbon policy as a win, but still has some worries

Manitoba Beef Producers saw some of its priorities reflected in the province’s proposed carbon plan, but say input prices are still a concern

Manitoba Beef Producers has checked exemptions for on-farm emissions and farm fuel off its carbon policy wish list, but it’s not done yet.

MBP general manager Brian Lemon says there’s still plenty of advocacy work to be done on the details on the plan.

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The province unveiled its climate and green plan Oct. 27, including two major agricultural exemptions. Under the provincial strategy their purple farm fuels are exempt from carbon taxes and the sector won’t be directly targeted for emission reductions.

There’s also a suggested biodiesel mandate jump from two to five per cent, a suggested multi-institutional research hub dubbed the Manitoba Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, an ecological goods and services program, modelled on ALUS, encouraging conservation practices, more support for precision farming and developing biocomposites, risk assessment for severe weather impacts and support for beneficial practices adapting farms to climate change, a cautious encouragement to tile drainage access and more focus on watersheds to deal with water quality and flooding.

Brian Lemon.
photo: File/Jennifer Paige

“I think there’s a lot of details that we still need to see, but where we’re at in exempting our emissions is absolutely appropriate, especially given that our emissions, for the most part, are a function of the digestive system of our animals and that’s cyclical carbon,” Lemon said. “That’s not carbon that’s been added to the biosphere. That’s carbon that’s been in the environment all along. All we’re doing is changing its form as part of a cycle, so that shouldn’t even be part of the conversation.”

The province gave a nod to grassland management and rotational grazing as a tool to trap carbon in the soil, something the beef industry has long argued. The plan calls for soil benchmarking as a “useful first step in assessing the potential and value for more carbon sequestration.”

“Analyzing the impacts of current and prospective land development activities is also needed,” the plan reads.

Middle path?

The province has pitched the plan as a balance between environmental impact and economic health. The flat $25-per-tonne carbon tax will sit at half the price mandated by the federal government by 2022 while the province estimates that carbon emissions will drop by over a megatonne cumulatively over the next five years, a number it says is 80,000 tonnes more than the proposed federal plan.

“When it comes to addressing the challenges of climate change, we must understand just how unique we are as a province,” Sustainable Development Minister Roch­elle Squires said in an Oct. 27 release. “This plan sets out a made-in-Manitoba solution to climate change that respects our clean energy investments, supports our economy and reduces emissions. It will protect the environment while also building a prosperous low-carbon economy in Manitoba.”

In October 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave the provinces until next year to have a carbon policy or risk having one imposed by the federal government. The federal government has called for a cap-and-trade system or a carbon price floor of $10 per tonne in 2018, rising by $10 per tonne annually to reach $50 per tonne by 2022.

The federal mandate is part of efforts to cut Canada’s carbon emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels over the next 13 years, part of the country’s commitment to the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Squires said Manitoba’s proposed carbon price would start at $25 per tonne and would not rise, but will be re-evaluated in 2022.

Some reservations

MBP president Ben Fox said he was pleased with the exemptions for farm gas and on-farm emissions.

MBP made exemption for on-farm emissions a key point in its own six-point carbon policy, released in March 2017.

The same policy included a call for more research on greenhouse gas reduction through forage, plant varieties and grazing, better tools for producers to deal with climate change and severe weather, aligning any additional costs with other provinces and major trading partners, encouraging producers to maintain pasture or turn land back to rangeland, and rewards for farm practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The producers’ group is still concerned over input cost, prices that are still set to go up with Premier Brian Pallister’s proposed plan, producers heard during MBP’s 14 district meetings held around Manitoba in October and November.

“There’s going to be a piling on where we’re going to be required to actually pay the carbon tax from all of our suppliers, from all of our service providers, from all of our inputs — where we buy our inputs,” Lemon said. “We’re going to get stuck paying the carbon tax that they’re going to pass through to the producer, so with that in mind, we still recognize the value that producers provide in terms of sequestration. If you’re going to charge people to put it in the air, compensate people who are bringing it back out of the air and putting it in the ground.”

The “carbon credit” concept, linked with the use of grassland and grazing for carbon sequestration, has been a rallying call among beef producers since the federal government first announced mandatory carbon taxing last year.

The province’s plan does not lay out specifics for a carbon credit, but does include a promise to explore carbon offset programs for agricultural land, forests and wetlands. The document used farm practices like low till or zero till, wetland restoration and capturing methane gas from livestock manure facilities to destroy or use as fuel as examples.

“Agricultural operations will also be able to contribute to carbon sequestration and offset trading systems to be established in Manitoba and other provinces,” a government news release said Oct. 27.

“I’m happy to hear they’re exploring it, because at some point you need to explore before you can actually determine what the policy’s going to look like,” Lemon said. “We’re a lot happier to hear that they’re exploring it rather than they’re not considering it.”

Kickback

Manitoba’s proposed plan has not been popular in Ottawa. The federal government has threatened to impose a higher tax or a “backstop” to make up the gap if Manitoba does not raise its carbon price to match federally mandated levels.

“Manitoba’s approach is good for the first two years — we’ve set a federal standard — but after that they will have to go up,” federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna told media at the end of October, CBC reported.

Squires called the move “very misguided,” according to media reports days later.

The province argues that Manitoba’s efforts on hydro­electric power, along with other climate measures, justify the lower number.

Lemon plans to use a similar argument to gain more traction with the provincial government. The Manitoba Beef Producers hopes to make programming retroactive for farmers who have already been working to reduce emissions.

“If the basis of their plan is that Manitoba is invested already and thus needs to have a special deal or needs to be considered as unique in terms of the federal law into Manitoba, if a big part of their justification for that is past investment and the past good that they’ve done, then it’s inconsistent to then say that they’d only compensate producers for incremental improvements to the grass and not compensate them for the good they’ve already been doing,” Lemon said.

The plan is back under the public eye for another round of consultations. A public survey is available on the Province of Manitoba website.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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