By Patrick Meagher
Ottawa’s proposed Clean Fuel Standard, a new environmental regulation, is infuriating 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, limit future land clearing and agriculture use.
The proposed regulation “is unworkable for the farmer,” said Grain Farmers of Ontario chair and St. Isidore farmer Markus Haerle. “It is bad news. I don’t see anything positive behind the proposal. It is unacceptable to farmers in Ontario.”
Ottawa plans to introduce the new regulation in January, 2022. The current proposal is part of the government’s monumental effort to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
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.
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, Haerle said. “It will create frustration.”
“I think the whole Clean Fuel Standard is ridiculous,” said Middlesex crop farmer and Grain Farmers of Ontario director Steve Twynstra. “Why don’t they give us credit for the cover crops and the crops that we are growing in the summer that are sequestering carbon? They don’t seem to be giving us credit for that. That’s an issue.”
But the critical issue is the proposed 30-metres setbacks on “watercourses, ditches, ponds and roadsides. You name it,” Twynstra said. The need for setbacks “seems to be very unscientifically proven and seems to defy all logic.”
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.
Another major issue is that if a farm clears land the entire farm could be ineligible from selling crops to the biofuels industry. The original proposal would make an entire farm ineligible if any land was cleared after 2008. A new proposal being considered would eliminate an entire farm if new land was cleared after 2019. Grain Farmers of Ontario opposes any date of ineligibility.
The currently proposed regulation, if not changed, “is going to severely jeopardize the corn-ethanol industry in Ontario,” Twynstra said, noting that imports will be exempt from the rules. “There’s nothing to prevent a train or truckload of corn from coming in from the U.S.”
He added that processors will have an “inventory accounting nightmare” because they will have to separate corn that is ineligible for the biofuel industry. Growers will have “another bureaucratic hurdle they have to jump over,” he said. “There is physically no way to segregate corn that is ethanol-usable versus ethanol-non-useable. There is no way to enforce it in the trade. It sounds really good to the voter in the GTA but it is just another thorn in the side of rural Ontario.”
He also noted that GFO was “not at all” involved in discussions concerning the regulations. “We’re trying to get input into it. But it seems to be driven from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, not Agriculture Canada, and there is a disconnect there.”
Meantime, the grain farmers remain hopeful, he said. “There is some pushback happening and hopefully (the federal government) will see the light of day.”
A land-clearing deadline is a huge obstacle for farmers. 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. It means that from here on nobody can improve their operation. 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.”
He said the Grain Farmers of Ontario is also lobbying hard to reduce buffer strips to a more reasonable 10 to 20 feet.
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.
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.”
MORE RULES: Clean Fuel Standard to fight global warming but it would also introduce new regulations
By Patrick Meagher