Carbon pricing could take money from Manitoba farmers, industry group says

When one thinks of big polluters and emitters, big industry and manufacturing come to mind. But a price on carbon emissions could also take money right out of the pocketbooks of many Manitoban farmers.

Costs of a price on carbon could be passed on to producers when they buy fuel or fertilizer

When ones thinks of big polluters and emitters, big industry and manufacturing come to mind. But a price on carbon emissions could also take money right out of the pocketbooks of many Manitobans. (Marcy Hiduk/Twitter)

Manitoba's agricultural industry is one of the province's big emitters, and talk of a price on carbon emissions has producers worried it could take money right out of their pocketbooks.

"We have a choice right now," said Dan Mazier, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP). "The choice would be a scheme that would allow farmers to be part of the solution or be part of the problem."

The federal government has given the provinces a deadline of 2018 to come up with a carbon pricing scheme. Two options on the table are a cap-and-trade system and a price-per-tonne on carbon.

Premier Brian Pallister has already ruled out a cap-and-trade system, but has not yet made a decision on a carbon tax. But some say that would fall heavily on the shoulders of smaller players, like individual producers.

Gaile Whelan Enns, the director of Manitoba Wildlands and a board member of Climate Action Network Canada, says the other big emission creators in this province are transportation and the heating of large buildings.

"Conventional cap-and-trade in Manitoba would really only deal with large emitters," said  Whelan Enns. "That's only about 10 per cent of our emmissions."

That leaves a price-per-tonne system, or a carbon tax.

Details of how far-reaching a carbon tax system would be are still unknown, but Maizer says it'll place farmers in a precarious situation. It could potentially force farmers to shell out more for fuels and fertilizers, without seeing a return in the market for their crops. 

On the other hand, it might encourage the agricultural industry, along with others, to change.

"If one argues that this is a tax, and certainly that concern is there, but putting a price on something in the whole economy where it's equal impact isn't an unequal tax," Whelan Enns said. "It does in fact put great incentive to change business practices, change industrial practices."

A challenge for everyone

According to Mazier, if products, like fuel for machinery and fertilizers for crops, are included in carbon pricing, that added cost could be passed down to producers. But farmers can't pass that price on to the marketplace when the crop is delivered to the elevator, leaving the farmer to absorb the cost on razor-thin margins and high input costs.

He said members of KAP have been discussing the potential implications and possible solutions to pitch to the government, but there are still more questions than answers, such as will producers get credits for the carbon their crops collect?

"We need a bunch of carbon that's stored in the earth, like fuels, to take that carbon off and make food," he said. "It's a cycle. We take it in and we give it off." 

Whatever the solution, Mazier said it can't take more money out of the pockets of farming families. 

"How can we all be, as Canadians, and especially agriculture, be part of the solution?" Mazier said. "What can we do that's revenue neutral?"

Mazier said it's important that all Manitobans, not just producers, voice their opinions and give suggestions on how the province can move forward with a price on carbon.

with files from The Canadian Press