Agriculture This Week - Of carbon taxes and grain drying

The national carbon tax in Canada is widely -- well despised -- on the Prairies, in particular among farmers.

That stands to reason simply from the position that farmers are major consumers of fossil fuels in their day-to-day operations, and anything that increases the cost of that fuel is not going to be popular.

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While the idea of a carbon tax is to push people to look for alternatives to fossil fuel use, that is not easily achieved on the farm. Tractors may one day operate on alternatives to diesel fuel, but that development still appears years away at best.

The tax also hit farmers hard last fall as wet weather necessitated drying grain, and grain dryers typically rely on fossil fuel consumption to operate. So the carbon tax was a factor, and not one that could be avoided as drying was essential to make sure the crop was safely in the bin.

Not surprisingly the carbon tax on farm fuels, and in particular that used for grain drying, has become a political issue, with the Conservative Party putting forth a Private's Member initiative; Bill C-206, an Act to amend the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (qualifying farming fuel).

In the world of party politics, rarely does a Private Member's Bill get support from the ruling party, and such was the case here as the Liberals did not vote for the Bill.

But, while Private Member's Bills rarely get passed, they do focus attention on the issue at-hand, and the Liberal government has said relief for grain drying is coming.

Agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and environment and climate change minister Jonathan Wilkinson have released a joint statement signalling their intentions, suggesting Bill C-206 did not provide relief for the fuel costs of grain drying, as it does not add grain drying as an eligible farming activity.

The Liberals are saying they are committed to new rebates for on-farm fuel use such as grain drying.

Of course the Liberals are also suggesting their plan will be better touting grain drying and barn heating will be a priority focus under the proposed $165 (million) agriculture clean technology fund. The program will invest in energy efficiency, fuel switching, and other new technologies on farms.

In the end, beyond the political posturing that comes from a party-based system, the positive here is that some recognition, and financial relief tied to grain drying appears on its way. Given the importance of drying to protecting grain food crops and the importance of agriculture to the Prairie economy that is a good thing -- if the details favour producers.

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