Count Canadian farmers – especially those who grow grain – among those who are happy with the federal budget.
On Monday, the 2021 budget directed millions of dollars to farmers to help them be greener than ever. With the increasingly global emphasis on the environment targeting agriculture, and Canada being a major exporting nation, this support is critical for Canadian farmers to be able to answer the bell.
Farmers are openly recognizing the federal assistance. For example, the Grain Farmers of Ontario issued some unusually upbeat praise for Ottawa once the budget was released, in what might be a bit of reconciliation.
“Budget 2021 recognizes that many farmers rely on natural gas and propane in their operations and that there are no ready substitutes,” says current Grain Farmers of Ontario chair Brendan Byrne. “We have been calling on the Government of Canada to exempt fuels used for grain drying from the pollution pricing system and are pleased… to see that Prime Minister Trudeau, Finance Minister Freeland, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Bibeau have done the right thing.”
Last summer, with the pandemic having taken hold, this group attacked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in particular for what it said was a lack of action to safeguard Canada’s food supply.
“Almost two-thirds of grain farmers in Ontario are worried they cannot survive this downturn, and Justin Trudeau doesn’t seem to care,” said the organization’s then-chair Markus Haerle at the time.
Grain prices rose, taking some of the heat off farmers. But in Ontario and elsewhere, farmers thought they were being treated unfairly over the federal carbon tax. In particular, they didn’t like the fact that they had to pay the tax on natural gas used to dry their grain.
Grain that contains too much moisture in it when it’s harvested has to be dried, or its quality plummets. Typically, it’s dried by farmers on their farms, using machines powered by natural gas or propane.Drying grain is subject to the federal carbon tax aimed at reducing greenhouse gas.
But in the budget, beginning in 2021-22, farmers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario will receive carbon tax rebates equal to about $100 million.
Returns in future years are expected to increase. The budget also proposes $50 million for the purchase of more efficient grain dryers for farmers across Canada.
So, that’s one hurdle cleared. But as Byrne says, there’s more work ahead.
For example, looking into the future, where are other energy efficiencies for farmers? Byrne says his organization is committed to working with the government to develop practical alternatives to current grain-drying practices. That’s a good start.
And it could well depend on working with universities or private firms that have strong agricultural or environmental engineering capacities, which could be a significant growth area for institutions nimble enough to act on it.
Some have been waiting to see if and how Ottawa would respond to the global environmental imperative, before making big investments. Now, the indication is there. It looks like Canadian farmers won’t be left behind.
Environmentally, farmers here – or anywhere in the world, for that matter – aren’t starting from Ground Zero. As Byrne points out, modern agriculture plays a key role in helping Canada to achieve its climate commitments.
“Ontario grain farmers are consistently looking for ways to better their environmental impact, including reduced tillage, cover cropping and crop rotation,” he says. “Over the last 30 years, grain farmers in Ontario have taken important steps to substantially reduce their climate impact, increase land use efficiency and reduce energy use.”
With federal help and the agri-food sector’s ingenuity, the continual push towards increased sustainability on Canadian farms will continue.