Canada’s dairy sector reducing its carbon footprint

While there is controversy over building a new pipeline in Canada, there is some good news for the energy transition from the dairy industry. Alex Binkley explains in an article on the National Newswatch website.


Dairy farmers making progress on reducing carbon emissions, DFC says

The Canadian dairy sector managed to reduce its carbon footprint by 12 per cent between 1990 and 2016 while it was increasing production, says Ron Maynard, a director of Dairy Farmers of Canada.

The overall result was a 23 per cent decrease in greenhouse gases per litre of milk produced to achieve one of the lowest footprints for milk production in the world, the P.E.I. producer told the Commons agriculture committee.

“Put another way, preliminary data from a life cycle analysis of Canadian milk that is currently under way has estimated that the average carbon footprint of a litre of Canadian milk is 0.91 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent,” he said. “This is an improvement of rough 8 per cent on a per-litre-of-milk basis in the last five years.”

Like other Canadian producers, dairy farmers have improved “on-farm productivity and adopted beneficial practices such as reduced tillage and sound nutrient management,” he said.

Governments need to recognize agriculture’s accomplishments by ensuring climate change mitigation policies don’t impair “the ability of farmers to make investments in energy-efficient technologies, renewable energy or other beneficial practices and innovations, many of which already have a long payback period.

“Any additional costs of production that result from a carbon price represent that much less money farmers have to use to make these types of important investments,” Maynard said.

He credited government for exempting some farm fuels from the carbon pricing structure. However natural gas isn’t which affects farmers who use grain dryers. “What is already a hefty expense each year will only increase.

“Grains provide an important energy source for cows, and including grains in a cow’s feed generally decreases enteric methane production. DFC asks the government to exempt all farm fuels, including natural gas, from paying a carbon price.

In some provinces, carbon pricing will lead to higher electricity prices and that will hit farmers hard, he said. Governments should offer a rebate program to offset some of these costs.

Custom operators who provide services such as fertilizing, spraying, manure-hauling and harvesting should be included in the list of farm activities eligible for fuel tax exemptions, he said.

DFC wants farms of any size to be eligible for carbon tax offset programs, continued investment in research in greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change adaptation and “increased support for knowledge translation and transfer initiatives that will help the adoption of practices that reduce on-farm emissions.”

Despite the steady growth of recent years, dairy farmers face “a series of domestic and international challenges relating to government work and policy. These include the uncertainty around NAFTA, which would add to the impacts of the previous trade deals, such as the CPTPP and CETA. It also includes front-of-package labelling and the healthy eating strategy, which erodes consumer perception of nutritious dairy products. The cumulative impact of these policies is significant and runs counter to the government’s publicly stated desire to see a thriving agrifood sector, including dairy.”

Higher production costs for Canadian farmers leaves them less able to compete with foreign products, Maynard said. “There’s no price on carbon in the world market. That puts our farmers at a loss and at a disadvantage.”

Farm groups have made many representations to governments and politicians about the impact of carbon taxes on their operations, he said. The cap and trade alternatives to carbon taxes are extremely complicated.

Not only are fuel bills affected by carbon taxes but so are fertilizer prices and the cost of trucking products to and from the farm, he said.

The result is “less dollars to reinvest in technology that reduces greenhouse gas.”

Governments need to recognize legitimate activities to reduce carbon footprint such as “a number of farmers working together to increase the size of their equipment and to improve efficiency as a way of reducing our carbon footprint.”


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