Government will listen to farmers as it drafts climate policy: Ag Minister

Farm groups will be consulted as the federal government works toward a national climate change strategy, Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay pledged Friday.

But the Minister — in Calgary for an annual meeting with his provincial and territorial counterparts — declined to speculate when asked whether agriculture will be subject to the full weight of a potential federal carbon tax or if farmers might instead receive special exemptions or credits.

“I’m not ruling out or ruling in anything,” MacAulay told reporters. “It’s discussions that have to take place with the sectors and the governments.”

MacAulay, flanked by provincial and territorial agriculture ministers, made the remarks at a news conference wrapping up three days of meetings aimed at setting the direction for Canada’s next agricultural policy framework. The current framework, Growing Forward 2, is a $3 billion federal and provincial investment in agriculture programs and services  that is set to expire in 2018.

Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay.
Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay. Leah Hennel / Postmedia

Ministers identified a number of priorities for the new policy framework, including market access and trade, food processing, science and innovation, and public trust and confidence in agriculture. They also named climate change and the environment as a major issue that must be addressed through agriculture policy.

“Basically we have to do something on climate change, in order to address the issue, and I know that farmers are very keen and pleased to be involved,” MacAulay said.

But a national carbon tax — an idea that has been floated recently by the federal government — may not be what farmers have in mind. Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Ron Bonnett said farmers know they have to do their part on the climate change issue, especially because they are “on the front lines” as weather patterns become more severe. But he said farmers also believe their industry is unique in that practices such as no-till farming and modern fertilizer management have carbon sequestration potential.

“We know there’s going to be something put in place to deal with carbon emissions, but there has to be a recognition that we’re not just an emitter — we’re actually an industry that can put carbon back into the soil and into the plants,” Bonnett said.

EDMONTON ALBERTA , AUGUST 24, 2009:Gordon Kyle said he had his tractor maxed out as he brought home 13 1400 pound round bales for his cattle on his farm near Carvel Canada on Tuesday August 24, 2009. Photo by John Lucas/Edmonton Journal

In Canada, fuel purchases for farm use will be exempt when the province’s carbon tax comes into effect as of January, 2017. But farmers will still have to pay the carbon tax on their electricity and natural gas bills, something they say will add significantly to the cost of heating barns or running electric irrigation systems. Farm groups have warned the carbon tax will make Canada producers less competitive, since they sell into a global marketplace with no ability to pass their added costs of production on.

“If we end up with a provincial and a federal carbon tax, we’re going to have to end up buying our food from other countries. Because we’re not going to be able to produce it anymore,” Canada Pork executive director Darcy Fitzgerald told Postmedia in May.

 Oneil Carlier, Canada minister of agriculture and forestry. Bruce Edwards / Edmonton Journal

Oneil Carlier, Canada’s minister of agriculture and forestry, told reporters Friday that any system the federal government comes up with will be integrated in some way into Canada’s existing Climate Leadership Plan. He said he wants Canada’s next agricultural policy statement to include more federal research dollars for environmental sustainability and climate change mitigation.

“I’ve asked the officials, as we continue to work on the next framework, to make sure that we have the lens of climate change on it,” he said.

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