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Farmers deserve a break for problems beyond their control

We all have to be responsible for our actions … but what about actions caused by others? Or by nature? That’s a question society deals with all the time, especially when it comes to liability matters for house or car insurance, crime and the like.

With a new planting season on the horizon, farmers are grappling with some problems that are really beyond their control, some of which have been eating away at them all winter. They’re calling for help now.

A huge issue is the federal carbon tax. It’s a polarizing matter that the agriculture sector has never been comfortable with. Farmers believe the imposition of this tax didn’t get a fair hearing before its arrival. Right now, it especially affects grain and oilseed farmers.

Here’s why. Farmers try their best to harvest their crops when the weather is dry. That way, those harvests are not as susceptible to diseases and conditions that can plague damp or wet crops. Put them in storage that way, and mold and other problems can develop that decreases their value significantly.

But sometimes, farmers can do little, if anything, to fight wet harvests. They can try to wait out a rainy fall and harvest later on, but if they wait too long for their crops to naturally dry, the crops can deteriorate standing in the field.

Farmers’ income depends on that crop. They might not be in a position to wait to harvest it and sell it.

Storage problems can be lessened if farmers use equipment called grain dryers to reduce the moisture content. Typically, these dryers are fuelled with propane or natural gas.

Last fall, with the incessant and untimely rain, many farmers had to harvest their crop wet. As a result, it had to be dried. And farmers are staring down the carbon tax for using fuel to dry that grain.

Should they be exempt from it? Northumberland – Peterborough South MP Philip Lawrence thinks so. He introduced a private members’ bill Tuesday morning, Bill 206, asking for changes to the law.

He’s not alone. Earlier Tuesday a coalition comprising the Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO), Producteurs de grains du Québec, the Atlantic Grains Councils and the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association issued a statement asking Ottawa to provide relief now.

“The carbon tax on grain drying needs to be eliminated immediately,” says GFO chair Markus Haerle. “Grain farmers need the government to reimburse the carbon tax bill for grain drying from 2019, farmers have no alternative fuel for grain drying and cannot afford to pay it in the face of historical low commodity markets.”

The coalition says the escalating tax will make grain farmers’ bill for grain drying alone $100 million in two years. It adds that the cumulative indirect inflation of carbon tax on farm costs is already estimated to be $14.50 an acre, and that it will more than double in 2022.

The cost for rail and truck freight for shipping grain and fertilizer as well as fertilizer itself are all subject to the carbon tax.

Coalition members don’t think this cost can be passed onto consumers.

And they also say they’re not getting any credit, tax or otherwise, for all the carbon they naturally store from growing crops.

On top of all this, the railroads aren’t moving their grain to processors or to port because of the blockades to protest pipeline development. So, there’s another punch in the gut.

These issues are swirling around Canada like a tornado’s waterspout. Ottawa knows the many ways farmers already contribute to greenhouse gas sequestration. It needs to consider how this effort weighs against farmers’ use of fuel.

But moreover, how we can expect farmers to keep beating their heads against the wall with no relief?

We can’t. And neither can they.

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