There was vigorous back and forth as the Keystone Agricultural Producers laid out its carbon policy Nov. 3 at the fall advisory council meeting in Portage la Prairie.
At times the discussion turned emotional as both sides had strongly held views on the issue.
Farmers’ should be exempted from paying a price on any carbon emitted directly from agricultural production, KAP says. Direct emissions include those from burning fossil fuels and applying fertilizer to produce food or fibre, as well as methane from livestock.
However, farmers would pay indirectly when buying products or services, such as nitrogen fertilizer, because carbon prices paid by manufacturers would presumably be passed on.
KAP also wants some of the revenue from carbon pricing invested in helping farmers cut carbon emissions, sequester carbon and develop more climate-hardy crops.
“There was a lot of concern (during the discussion) and rightfully so,” KAP president Dan Mazier said after the meeting. “I think there is a lot of misinformation out there on what is going on in other provinces.”
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Because Manitoba has few, large carbon emitters, agriculture contributes 40 per cent of the province’s gross emissions, KAP general manager James Battershill told the meeting.
The Paris agreement on climate change, which Canada has ratified, along with the United States, China, India, the European Union and many others, took effect Nov. 4.
Signing countries are legally bound to hold global warming to no more than 2 C above pre-industrial levels. To do so countries will have to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists say if that 2 C threshold is exceeded, climate change will likely be disastrous and irreversible.
Canada has agreed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. To that end the federal government will impose a $10-a-tonne price on carbon starting in 2018, rising to $50 by 2022.
Each province must design its own plan or Ottawa will implement one.
The Manitoba government wants a made-in-Manitoba plan and has asked KAP for ideas, Mazier said.
“Like I often say, ‘if you’re not at the table you’re usually on the menu.’”
During the discussion some KAP members expressed concerns pricing carbon — essentially a tax — will make them uncompetitive in world markets. That’s the Saskatchewan government’s position. But other KAP members argued the right plan can minimize costs, and with incentives, farmers can be part of the solution.
Pricing carbon is a market-based approach to encourage reduced emissions, Sean Goertzen, KAP’s climate project co-ordinator, told the meeting. While Manitoba doesn’t have a plan yet, carbon prices elsewhere provide insight.
In Alberta for example, a carbon tax would add $6 to 7 a head to the cost of raising feedlot cattle, mostly due to higher trucking costs.
An average Alberta chicken producer would pay $6,000 more a year on natural gas for barn heating.
The British Columbia government, which has a carbon tax, rebates 80 per cent of the extra cost for natural gas used to heat greenhouses. Farm diesel and gasoline are also exempted from the B.C. carbon tax.
Alberta also offers farmers grants of up to $750,000 to purchase energy-efficient lighting, pumps, heaters, boilers, solar panels, and irrigation equipment, he said.
Somerset-area farmer Gerry Demare said a carbon tax will make Manitoba farmers, who rely heavily on exports, uncompetitive. It might start small, but the cumulative effect will add up, he warned.
“If it is not going to benefit your farm why do it?” he asked. “Take a stand guys. We are in a position where we could take a stand. Let’s take a stand for agriculture. Kudos to Saskatchewan.
“If you want to remain competitive you have to go against a carbon tax. There is no way to recover it unless you tax food and everyone is loath to tax food because it is a political death wish. Take a stand.”
Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler has assured KAP the Manitoba government doesn’t want to make farmers uncompetitive, Mazier said.
Nor do all carbon emissions have the same value, Battershill said. Carbon produced from food production is more justifiable than that emitted from a recreational Jet Ski.
“People care and value the emissions connected to what you guys (as farmers) do because you provide a good that is essential to life,” he said. “So I wouldn’t get too hung up on this idea you are all of a sudden going to have an enormous financial burden imposed on you. That is not the way it has happened in other jurisdictions.”
Farmers can lead
Farmers can help reduce carbon emissions, said Neil Galbraith of Minnedosa.
“I have a concern as farmers we are going to get our back up too much,” he said.
“There is a lot of talk about social licence and what consumers will put up with us doing. I think we need to be not only seen as trying to do the right thing, but also doing the right thing.
“If we truly all wanted to be sustainable we’d all have 10 or 20 per cent of our land in perennial forage… but how many of us do that? Not many because it is not as profitable. A good mixed farm is the way to go. But how many of us want to feed livestock every day in the winter? If we are straight grain farmers we want to be careful that we don’t say, ‘we can’t do anything or we shouldn’t be paying anything.’”
Forages can help, said Henry Nelson, vice-chair of the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association.
Perennial forages have bigger, deeper roots able to pull carbon deeper into the soil making it less likely to enter the atmosphere, he said.
It’s better to be proactive than reactive, said Bill Campbell of Minto.
Misty eyed and with a catch in his throat Campbell said: “How can you look at yourself in the mirror, and can you tell your grandchildren that you haven’t done your best, or your part, to contribute to help save the planet?”
Campbell used to welcome global warming. “But the last five years have changed my mind insomuch as I have lived through the flood of the century, the coldest winter of the century, we have had more hailstorms…” he said. “Right now we are so frigging wet you can’t walk across the field. So climate change is happening and I have come to that realization.
“We have been on easy street driving tractors, putting on fertilizer, running to town burning fossil fuels to no end.
“Now we are going to have to pay for some of those consequences that we’ve had of a better life than what our parents have had. So yes, we are going to have to make some adjustments. And yes, we are going to have to pay a little bit.”