By Steve Kell
SPECIAL TO FARMERS FORUM
Back in high school biology class, we all learned about photosynthesis. Plants are built out of simple sugars which are made from water absorbed by the plant’s roots, carbon dioxide extracted from the air, and knit together using energy from the sun by the green chloroplasts in the plant’s leaf. Sugar, starch, and cellulose, (which make up the majority of the tissue in a plant), are all essentially composed of the same molecule, C6-H12-O6. Since the plant is manufacturing sugar from water, (H2O), and carbon dioxide (CO2), we know that 12 oxygens float off into the atmosphere with every sugar molecule that’s produced.
Then in Grade 10, our science teacher likely presented all of us with the Periodic Table of the Elements, and among other things we gained a sense of the relative weight of the different atoms which make up molecules. Hydrogen has an atomic weight of 1, Carbon is 15. Oxygen is 16.
An acre of corn grown at 32,000 plants per acre produces roughly 10.5 metric tonnes of dry matter per acre when you count all of the plant matter from the roots all of the way up to the tassel. About 9 metric tonnes per acre of that dry matter is carbon chains like sugar, starch, and cellulose which the plant created through photosynthesis. This means that every acre of corn absorbed 12 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, sequestered 4 metric tonnes of carbon into the plant tissue, and released 8 tonnes of oxygen back into the air.
When Federal Agriculture Minister Bibeau said, with regards to exempting fuels used to dry grain from the Federal Carbon Tax, that farmers needed to understand the cost of pollution, she revealed how little she understands about how to take carbon dioxide out of the air. The crops that Canadian farmers grow remove carbon dioxide from the air, and release oxygen, and they do it on an epic scale. The 2 million acres of corn grown by Ontario farmers each year remove 24 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air and store away 8 million tonnes of carbon in organic matter, releasing 16 million tonnes of oxygen back out into the earth’s atmosphere. Farms capture far more carbon dioxide than they emit, and if the Federal government was really serious about making an impact on the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, they would work with farmers to encourage producing bigger volume plants, and utilizing cover crops as a means of increasing the amount of carbon extracted from the atmosphere for every acre of land which we farm.
As farmers, we need to be really serious about exactly what the Federal Carbon Tax is. It is a tax. Politically it would be extremely difficult to sell Canadian voters on the need to raise the HST, or increase income tax rates, so in the tradition of “sin taxes,” like those on alcohol and tobacco, we’re now taxing “pollution.” If it was truly about the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, each farm would have a balance sheet of the carbon released as we burned fuels, and the carbon absorbed as we grew crops, and every single crop farmer in Canada would get a cheque from the federal government, because every field of growing plants is a carbon sink, and farms consistently sequester more carbon than they release. We know that the Carbon Tax is not about greenhouse gases because under the federal “Climate Action Incentive”, the average Canadian family of 4, (with a postage stamp sized lawn, 3 window boxes, and 2 cars in the driveway), receives $307 per year, but a farmer growing 300 acres of corn which extracted 1,200 metric tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere gets nothing other than a scolding from the Federal Agriculture Minister that the carbon tax on the fuel used to dry grain is insignificant. That “average Canadian family,” who are receiving money from the Climate Action Incentive,” are the people who are net emitters of carbon. Agricultural crops are a key piece of the nature’s solution to removing greenhouse gases. Would it be too much to show farmers the respect they deserve?
If carbon is really worth $30/tonne, then every acre of corn grown in this province should be eligible for a $120/acre carbon payment, (about $240 million dollars to be spread around Ontario’s corn producers). And that’s just one crop in one province.
If we were to calculate the total dollar value of all of the atmospheric carbon absorbed by all of the crops grown across Canada, it would be anything but “insignificant”. Looking at the size of the federal government deficit, it’s clear that they aren’t very good at math. When you look at their carbon pricing model, it turns out that they are bad at science too.