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Farming is being treated like a carbon liability

Many farmers and others in the agri-food community cringe at the idea of carbon pricing or a federal carbon tax, designed to decrease their carbon production and their contribution to harmful greenhouse gas.

They frown on any more taxes on food production, and openly question how they’re supposed to make ends meet in a world that keeps imposing new costs on them, but refuses to pay more for food.

And they really don’t like being singled out as being the problem, when indeed parts of the production system, like rotational grazing, actually help sustain and rejuvenate grasslands which in turn sequester carbon.

They say that if they’re going to be taxed when they produce carbon, then they should also be rewarded when they sequester it, and when they use other techniques such as precision approaches to seeding and crop protection that greatly reduce their carbon footprint.

But overall, they say it’s unfair that they’re penalized for using available energy resources to produce our food, for the likes of machinery. The industry is working to provide them with equipment powered by something more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels, and a carbon tax could speed up such development. It’s getting there, but it’s not there yet.         

Somehow, though, they’ll need to reconcile their concerns. The public everywhere has spoken: It’s scared, and it wants something done about climate change.

All potential sources of greenhouse are under the microscope. The magnification intensifies when highly unusual and deadly weather events occur, like the snowstorm and extreme temperatures that have besieged so much of the US, including Texas.

Even though parts of the state routinely get cold weather and some snow, the Canadian-like hammering it’s taken this week is enough to make even strident climate change deniers rethink their positions.

A rational, federal policy is needed to avoid kneejerk, band-aid approaches, ones that look good to voters but penalize farmers. And a Guelph-based organization called Agri-Food Economic Systems, an independent economic research organization dedicated to agriculture and food, is trying to bring the issue to the fore.

It recognizes that the country is missing a critical opportunity to assimilate climate change with other strands of important public policy issues into a cohesive strategy, which it says is “of great importance to Canada.”

Here’s why. The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted new concerns about food insecurity. Should another crisis arise out of the blue, the question of whether we’ll have enough food to get through it is pertinent and immediate. Experts can say don’t worry, we’ll be OK, but so far that is not allaying the fears.

Food insecurity is prompting food protectionism everywhere, including with some of our trading partners. And besides nations making sure they have enough domestic production to keep their own citizens fed, they are likely to spurn exporters considered environmentally inept.

This is not a new fear. Europe railed against North American genetically modified corn and soybeans because people there feared environmental problems, and more. Such attitudes are real and can leave exporting nations like Canada out in the cold.

And if any further evidence is needed, look at the U.S., our biggest trading partner, where the Biden government is planning unprecedented environmental reform.

As Agri-Food Economic Systems points out, some provinces have already begun to stray from maintaining a Canada-wide funding program design approach to farm support programs.

It notes that in mid-January, supplementary mandate letters were issued to federal ministers; the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food’s missive referenced climate change and the need to cut emissions.

“The understanding of agriculture’s role in greenhouse gas emissions in Canada has proven to be limited to technical quarters in industry, government, and academia, and this is borne out in federal climate change policy in which agriculture is treated primarily as a user of fossil fuels and a GHG emitter,” the organization says.

Without a holistic policy, Agri-Food Economic Systems says Canada “could find itself suddenly left behind.”

And in reality, it already is.

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