Connected To The Land 04-2018-Fall-718-PM96 - Page 9

CARBON HITS THE EAST - WEST DIVIDE HOW CARBON SEQUESTRATION AFFECTS & BENEFITS FARMERS Story by Robin Booker. C anadian east versus west politics likely factors into why the federal government isn’t talking about the sequestration of carbon in prairie soil. Information compiled by Agriculture Canada shows soil organic carbon is increasing in western Canadian cropland with the reduction of tillage and implementation of direct seeding, while cropland in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes continues to lose soil organic carbon, largely because of the higher dependence on tillage, said Mario Tenuta of the Soil Ecology Laboratory at the University of Manitoba. “If you were [Prime Minister] Justin [Trudeau] and you said, ‘let’s give these folks in Gravelbourg, [Sask.,] some carbon credits,’ fantastic. At the same time, somebody down in Hamburg, Ont., is going to have to lose their credits, in other words pay for their loss. He’s [Trudeau] smart enough to realize that he’s not going to go there,” Tenuta said during his presentation at a Saskatchewan Soil Conservation Association (SSCA) meeting in Saskatoon. “That’s a political nuclear bomb. That’s why we aren’t hearing much about carbon sequestration at a national level.” The federal government announced in 2016 it’s implementing a minimum nationwide carbon price starting at $10 per tonne in 2018 and increasing to $50 per tonne by 2022. It will apply where there is no provincial carbon pricing program in place, such as Saskatchewan. Provinces have the ability to design the carbon pricing scheme to allow for carbon sequestration by farmers, but this would be a difficult task in Saskatchewan. Fall 2018 SSCA member John Bennett, who outlined the organization’s Soil Carbon Position Paper at CropSphere in Saskatoon, said Saskatchewan has two things in its arsenal of addressing greenhouse gasses. “One is the carbon capture and storage in the power plant in the south, which does slightly less than a million metric tonnes a year,” he said. “Soils sequester, depending on what you want to take for acres, somewhere between nine and 20 million. We are a huge player.” The Saskatchewan government has recognized the amount of carbon being sequestered by growers in the province, but it’s unlikely to compensate growers if it does release a carbon pricing scheme. For the Saskatchewan government, a national carbon policy that recognizes carbon sequestered through agricultural practice would be preferable to a blanket carbon tax. The federal government released a draft legislative proposal Jan. 15 that will allow it to provide carbon tax rebate cheques directly to people in provinces that refuse to impose a carbon tax of their own. Trudeau said in an interview with the Canadian Press that no final decision has been made on exactly how Ottawa will handle the revenues. Alberta has paid farmers for carbon sequestration since 2007 through the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation, which is designed to encourage large greenhouse gas emitters to reduce their emissions. However, Bennett said the Alberta program is designed to benefit the big industry emitters and aggregators of the credits. It’s hardly worth growers’ time to do the paperwork for the amount of money it brings to the farmgate, he added. Manitoba’s carbon policy exempts farmers from paying the carbon tax for farm fuel, although carbon sequestration derived through good management is not rewarded. If specific farming sectors are rewarded or punished for the amount of greenhouse gases, including carbon, that are emitted into the atmosphere, then it’s feasible the farming practices used by western Canadian grain growers would provide dividends. However, there is little indication from the federal government that it’s interested in considering the actual balance of greenhouse gases emitted or sequestered by specific farming region, practice or sector. Beyond the east-west divide, livestock operations also have a relatively high greenhouse gas footprint in the form of nitrous oxide, which is a much more potent gas than carbon dioxide. Bennett said the SSCA is not advocating for or against a carbon tax or any specific carbon market structure. Instead, it wants an equitable treatment of carbon that rewards good management that results in carbon sequestration. “What the carbon tax is designed to do is to penalize an emitter,” he said. “Our position is that if there is a penalty for emitting CO2, there should be an equal and opposite reward for removing it.” 9