By Connor Lynch
LINDSAY — Aside from a few indignant flare-ups, many farmers are resigned to this year’s hike in the price of diesel.
The province commissioned a report on its cap-and-trade program that pegged the increase on diesel fuel at 5 cents per litre this year.
“Five cents doesn’t sound like much until you see the black and white on the invoice,” Lindsay crop farmer Joe Hickson told Farmers Forum. Hickson, who crops 2,500 acres and runs his own processing company, figures the jump is going to cost him an extra $25,000 to $30,000 per year fuelling his tractors, combines, and three tractor trailers. Cap and trade is the province’s way of putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions.
And options for cutting back are non-existent. “We’re pretty well stuck. We’re not out there doing recreational tillage we can cut out.” With most machinery using about 20 litres of diesel per acre, farmers are generally looking at a hike in fuel costs of $1 per acre.
Farmers hoping for an out have said their farm organizations need to push the province for either an exemption for agriculture, like there is under Alberta’s carbon tax, or some kind of carbon credit. Hickson said if agriculture was ever going to be getting an exemption, it would’ve had one in the first place.
As far as credits for carbon go, “there’s been discussions on that for years” that haven’t gone anywhere, and Hickson isn’t optimistic about anything happening now.
The new tax was introduced to decrease industrial carbon dioxide and other emissions in hopes of stopping manmade global warming, a highly controversial theory.
Because farmers can trap carbon in the soil in the form of organic matter with minimal or no-till, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) was hoping there would be carbon credits made available to agriculture. Finch-area cash crop farmer, Dennis Fife, who farms 1,600 acres and custom harvests about 9,000, figures his fuel bill will go up by $10,000 this year but is resigned to the extra costs. “It’s impossible (to use less.) We’ve already cut back as much as we can,” said Fife.
Cash crop and dairy farmer Mark Fraser at Maxville said that the province can call cap and trade anything it wants, but it pencils out as a tax.
“Nobody’s going to burn less (diesel); there’s no electric tractor out there,” he said. “They’re taxing things where we have no choice, especially in rural areas.”
Farmers considering a switch to a more fuel-efficient tractor are locked out because the cost can’t be justified, he added. “You won’t trade in a tractor for $30,000 and buy one worth $200,000 to save $500 a year in fuel costs. Not much to do but grin and bear it.”
But the kicker is the hidden costs. A carbon tax pushes up the price of everything, because trucking costs go up and the trucking industry can pass those costs onto every other market it serves, from clothing retailers to grocery stores.
“The fact of the matter is (fuel) is not a huge bill compared to, say, fertilizer,” Fraser said. “But a broad-stroke carbon tax makes everything more expensive.”
And although it’s not exactly clear by how much, the Toronto Sun’s napkin calculations put the flat average at $400 per year per household, which would likely be higher for rural households and higher still for farm houses.
Brechin crop farmer Don Macdonald is disgusted that his 440 acres take about 8,000 litres of coloured fuel to harvest, and a jump in diesel will cost him an extra $480. Add in the extra cost of fueling his pickup with regular diesel and the hidden tax raising the price of everything else from clothing to food and he figures he’ll be spending over an extra $1,000 a year.
Cash crop farmer John Vanderspank, who farms 1,200 acres just north of the town of Perth and custom harvests about 2,000 acres, spent about $80,000 in fuel last year. He’s expecting his fuel bill to jump by about $4,800 this year from the diesel tax.
The bitterest pill to swallow, however, was the promise of the OFA and past-president Don McCabe that the cap-and-trade plan would make farmers rich,Vanderspank said. “They kept telling us for the last 10 years that we’d be making millions off of carbon credits. They keep saying how much they do for us but obviously they just suckered us into another tax.”