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Coalition Urges Federal Funding to Drive Down Farm Emissions, Bring Producers Onboard for Climate Action

A new coalition of agriculture and environmental groups is calling for a two-year, C$600-million federal investment to begin reducing the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions, pave the way for further improvements over time, and dial down concerns about carbon pricing and its potential impact on farm producers.

The analysis by Farmers for Climate Solutions (FCS) “calculates the investments would reduce emissions by 10 megatonnes, and pave the way for further greening of farms in the long term,” writes Globe and Mail climate columnist Adam Radwanski. “The proposals are also intended to help farmers’ bottom lines, mostly through improved operational efficiency—an attempt to demonstrate that rather than being an affront, the government’s climate policies could be a win-win.”

While “Ottawa is awash in reports about how to meet its climate targets,” Radwanski adds, “this one stands out as unusually constructive. Its proposed supports for more sustainable farming practices, from soil management to cattle grazing to wetlands preservation, come with specific emissions reduction and cost-per-tonne projections.” The specifics include:

• $115 million per year to reduce farm nitrogen use and cut 2.9 Mt, at a cost of $40 per tonne;

• $115 million per year to promote cover cropping and cut 2.2 Mt, at a cost of $51 per tonne;

• $30 million per year to protect wetlands and trees on farms and cut 4.1 Mt, at a cost of $8 per tonne;

• $25 million per year to normalize rotational grazing and cut 0.3 Mt, at a cost of $77 per tonne;

• Another $15 million per year to shift farms to clean energy and build awareness by “celebrating climate champions” in the sector.

The report says Canada has begun to increase funding to reduce farm emissions and boost resilience, but “still lags far behind other jurisdictions,” with the European Union spending 73 times more and the United States 13 times more per acre or hectare. “Federal spending on climate change mitigation and adaptation in agriculture is also much lower than spending in other sectors, such as transportation and energy, even though farmers are on the front lines of worsening climate impacts and also need support to learn and implement new techniques and technologies,” it states.

The farm sector itself has not generally been receptive to federal climate action. After Ottawa announced a gradual increase in the federal floor price on carbon, to $170 per tonne by 2030, “a wide spectrum of farm groups said this would have a punitive and pointless impact on most western Canadian farming,” Western Producer reports.

That’s because “producers have no control over world market prices or charges imposed on them by railways and others involved in getting their crops to market,” the Saskatchewan-based publication adds.

Saskatchewan grain and livestock farmer Ian McCreary, who co-chaired the task force behind the FCS report, told Radwanski it would be “the understatement of the year” that relations between the federal government and the farm community haven’t been great. “He suggested that the Liberals, conscious of generally having a more urban outlook, likely ‘feel a bit vulnerable’ in trying to enlist farmers in new sustainability efforts,” the columnist writes.

That’s why the group started out with “a matrix of between 20 and 30 management practice changes”, McCreary said, but then focused in on a shortlist that had clear benefits and no obvious disadvantages for farmers.

While the FCS was to submit its recommendations with 130 pages of background data, Radwanski says the precise calculations should be taken with a grain of salt—partly because there’s so much variability among farms and regions, partly because farm research has been so severely underfunded.

“But that in turn points to a broader rationale for moving swiftly on such investments,” he writes. With the next five-year Canadian Agricultural Policy Framework due to begin in 2023, “comparatively small investments of the sort that FCS advocates could be useful test runs, and help build good will toward climate policy among farmers.”