Ottawa’s proposed environmental regulation called the Clean Fuel Standard is unnerving a lot of people. It has been called a second tax on carbon dioxide that will drive up household costs and, at the same time, take agricultural land out of production and limit future land clearing.
The proposed Clean Fuel Standard “is unworkable for the farmer,” said Grain Farmers of Ontario chair and St. Isidore farmer Markus Haerle.
Ottawa plans to introduce the new regulation in just over one year. The current proposal is part of the government’s monumental effort to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions, while boosting the biofuel industry and its need for feedstock.
But the proposed regulation is getting vociferous blowback. Local farmers are vexed by its formidable limitations. Environment Canada proposes 30-metre buffer strips around every ditch of at least one-metre deep. The proposal also dictates that no farmer can sell crop to the biofuel industry if he clears land after 2019.
The Grain Farmers of Ontario is opposed to any deadline on land clearing because Eastern Ontario farmers cleared a lot of land in 2020 and there is a lot of forest that has not yet been cleared for farming. There could be as much as 30 per cent tree cover in some areas, unlike Southwestern Ontario where 92 per cent of land in Chatham-Kent has already been cleared for farming.
The proposed regulation “is bad news,” Haerle said. “I don’t see anything positive behind the proposal. It is unacceptable to farmers in Ontario.”
If the proposed regulation is not changed, it will increase farm costs, lower return on investment where farms are forced to grow less profitable crops, and lower farm land prices, he said. Some farms will see production and revenue contraction, he said. “It will create frustration.”
A Perth County farmer worked out the affects of the proposed legislation on his 1,200-acre farm and concluded that he would lose eight per cent of his productive land.
As it stands, the proposal would disqualify an entire farm from selling to the biofuel industry if any new land is cleared, said Morrisburg crop farmer Arden Schneckenburger, who sits on a government relations committee for the Grain Farmers of Ontario. “All you have to have cleared is one-half hectare and it eliminates your entire land holding.”
He said the Grain Farmers of Ontario is also lobbying hard to reduce buffer strips to a more reasonable 10 to 20 feet.
A land-clearing deadline is a huge obstacle as Greenfield Ethanol is the largest buyer of corn in Eastern Ontario, he said. “Eastern Ontario and Northern Ontario are way behind in the province on reclaiming and clearing land. The Clean Fuel Standard will have a disproportionate impact” on farms in those areas.
“It means that from here on nobody can improve their operation,” Schneckenburger said. “You can build a new barn but you cannot improve your land by taking out fence rows. Forget about clearing bush. And (you will have to add) buffer strips. That’s huge. There is a whole package of problems.”
The new regulations would also not eliminate feedstock coming in from the United States where farmers don’t have to put up with similar land use restrictions, he said.
The proposed regulation would also prevent farmers from taking out old fence rows, even though it would join fields and save on diesel, he said. The regulation would also not compensate for environmentally-friendly activities that farmers do such as introduce cover crops. In Europe, there is huge compensation for land that you lose, he said. “Here, there is nothing. We’re just expected to do these things. In the long run this is an attack on property rights. They are effectively taking my property. They say you can grow hay but very few crop farmers need hay, especially 100 ft. wide strips all around your farm.”
Said one Eastern Ontario farmer, who has been following government policy for 30 years: “The ag sector is going to take another one to the teeth.”
While grain farmers are not against a clean fuel standard they see the current proposal going way over-the-top. Wasn’t it supposed to be a boon for agriculture? The federal government told everyone that it was going to be good for farmers, Schneckenburger said. “When they say that with no details then you know it’s like saying, ‘we’re going to take away your bridge to make it better for your community.’ I love those press releases. They don’t mean anything.”
Yet Schneckenburger remains an optimist. “I’m heartened that the Grain Farmers (of Ontario) got on this early and we have a chance to straighten this out.”
He concedes, however, that the final plan “comes back to the political whim of the day.”