Opinion: U.S., Canada have same challenge in selling green policies to producers

Farmers aren’t typically core constituents of Liberals or Democrats

Operating in a comparatively more theatrical political environment than Canada, U.S. President Joe Biden is tasked with convincing producers he does not plan on banning hamburgers.

President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are fighting the same fight in trying to get farmers on board with ambitious climate plans.

Industry groups and associations in both countries will say already efforts are being made to reduce emissions, but critics say otherwise.

The U.S. administration’s new, unprecedented dedication to fighting climate change will reinvigorate efforts to reduce emissions, but already Canada wasn’t keeping pace with its southern neighbours.

Ag-lobby groups enthusiastically say their members know climate change is real, and common sense tells us farmers are keenly aware of the vested interest in environment-friendly land management, but that hasn’t stopped agriculture’s skepticism.

A majority of farmers continue to oppose carbon pricing, and in Canada, some producer groups unenthusiastically shrugged over a 2021 budget dedicating millions of dollars to producers adopting green tech.

Operating in a comparatively more theatrical political environment, Biden is tasked with convincing producers he does not plan on banning hamburgers.

Biden’s goal of hitting net-zero emissions by 2050 goes beyond the already ambitious target shared by Canada and other signatories of the Paris Accord.

A path to a 2030 emissions target for the United States is found in a recent submission from the country to the United Nations.

It lays out plans to scale up “climate-smart agricultural practices” like cover crops and rotational grazing while also making mention of “potential to sequester and store large quantities of carbon.”

Trudeau’s and Biden’s efforts to get farmers on board with their climate plans are further hindered because producers in the United States and Canada aren’t traditional allies of Liberal, or Democrat, governments.

Biden’s plans aim to support farmers as they move to green technologies and reward farmers who have successfully found new ways of sequestering carbon.

Tom Vilsack, Biden’s agriculture secretary, said efforts to reduce emissions will “focus on enhancing climate-smart agricultural practices, the development of biofuels, carbon capture and sequestration, better forest management and reforestation.”

At least at a high level, the American plan has its similarities with Canada’s in that they look to broadly support farmers as they transition to greener technologies and enter the carbon offset market.

Policy-makers in both jurisdictions are currently grappling with big questions, like how – if at all – early adopters of green technology should be rewarded.

Both countries are also witnessing the continued rapid development of a carbon market, creating another set of challenges.

(Historically, carbon market registries have not been kind to offsets considered “business as usual,” such as no-till farming.)

Concerns over registries, or how to accurately quantify green efforts, are common and prices for carbon offsets offered at the various exchanges vary unsustainably.

Despite these challenges and confusions found in implementing new green policies, the reality of the climate crisis creates an urgency to do so.

Biden recommitting the United States to international climate goals, and beyond, is a welcome sign for anyone who likes the Earth.

While unlikely, due to issues of competitiveness, Canada and the United States should work together where possible to align policies for producers helping combat climate change.

About the author

Reporter

D.C. Fraser

D.C. Fraser is Glacier FarmMedia’s Ottawa-based reporter. Growing up mostly in Alberta, Fraser also lived in Saskatchewan for ten years where he covered politics, including a stint teaching at the University of Regina’s School of Journalism. He is an avid fan of the outdoors and a pretty good beer league hockey player. His passion for agriculture and agri-food policy comes naturally: Six consecutive generations of his family have worked in the industry.

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