“The effort would require the production and distribution of bullshit on a hitherto unimagined scale,” writes Jim Warren. Then again, we’re talking the federal government now. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

They say misery loves company. But having company is probably small comfort for people working in western Canada’s energy industry. That being said, it is becoming clear that the fossil fuel industry is no longer the only major economic sector in the west to find itself targeted for abuse under federal environmental policy. Just a few weeks ago, farmers and ranchers were singled out for special treatment on behalf of climate change mitigation and environmental protection.

As if adding the carbon tax to natural gas used for grain drying and fertilizer production hadn’t done enough to frustrate, the federal government has announced its intention to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from nitrogen fertilizer by 30 per cent below 2020 levels by 2030. Farmers and farm organizations have noted such a move will reduce crop yields and overall food production.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has told them they could easily reduce their use of nitrogen by doing things such as being more economical when applying it on their fields. This is of course something Prairie farmers already do along with using rotations of nitrogen fixing legume crops between years when they grow canola or grain.

Another bit of advice federal experts offered was for farmers to make greater use of animal manure to fertilize their fields. It would appear that environmental policy makers in Ottawa don’t know much about the Prairies or the scale of prairie agriculture. In Saskatchewan we have 46.7 million acres of land under cultivation and just 2 million head of cattle.

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Each bovine would have to fertilize 23 acres – a big job given that over a third of them are young calves. The effort would require the production and distribution of bullshit on a hitherto unimagined scale. Transporting the manure to where it is needed might well generate more greenhouse gas emissions than the 30 per cent cut in nitrogen saves.

Call me paranoid, but next on the federal agenda could be limits on the use of agricultural pesticides. Some of the cynics among us have connected the dots leading from surreptitious dugout sampling on private farmland by federal health officials to environmental purists in Ottawa looking for new ways to improve the environment at the expense of people on the Prairies. No doubt federal officials are convinced that food production won’t suffer if farmers simply use fly swatters instead of bug spray. You’ll recall that federal health bureaucrats were only recently thwarted in their effort to label ground beef as hazardous to health. Experience seems to show that if one isn’t paranoid about the adverse impact of new federal environmental policies on the Prairies – they haven’t been paying attention.

Canada’s federal environmental policy makers often try to duplicate what the most assiduous environmentalists in Europe are doing, assuming they can apply the exact same measures here. It’s a one-size-fits-all mentality with no regard for local conditions. We recently saw the preview for Ottawa’s nitrogen reduction plan in the Netherlands. Scant weeks after the Netherlands went after nitrogen fertilizer, the copycats in Ottawa announced the Canadian version of the policy. If Ottawa noticed how angry the policy made Dutch farmers, they obviously didn’t care. After all the federal Liberals have virtually no votes left to lose on the Prairies.

No less daunting are some of the new environmental rules that the European Union and international environmental busybodies are developing and Canada is poised to adopt. An article in the most recent issue of Beef Business states that “Canada is supporting a proposed baseline Sustainability and Climate-Related Financial Disclosure Standard that has the potential to cut off financing, insurance and markets for livestock producers.”

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The article’s author, Dr. Tammy Nemeth, claims that this means livestock producers will have to calculate their gross greenhouse gas emissions profile so meat packers purchasing their animals can include that in their accounting. Once accounted for, tax penalties and production limits can be imposed on the industry.

The disclosure standards will penalize producers for raising cattle on land that is deemed to be at high risk for “water stress.” Many of Saskatchewan’s ranches are located in the drier regions of the province. This is because producers have long-realized that while dry areas might not be suited to annual field crop production, they can support grazing. Ranchers in the dry country have been able to sustain their operations for over a century because they have learned how to effectively manage grass and water. They are good at environmentally responsible rangeland management. There is little that European experts can teach them about how to raise cattle in a dryland environment.

As they are presently written, the new standards will require banks to limit the financing available to meat packers who source cattle from “high water stress” neighbourhoods. Our producers are in for trouble because the atlas being used to inform the new standards has identified large portions of the province as “water stressed” and subject to penalties.

The lesson Ottawa refuses to learn is that asking Europeans how to develop sensible environmental, energy and agricultural policy in response to climate change is like asking a fish how to ride a bicycle. If there was any lingering doubt on this point, Belgium’s decision to close its only nuclear power plant last week in the midst of an unprecedented European energy crisis should be the icing on the cake.

Ottawa can’t knock us for worrying over which Prairie industry they will be coming for next. Hopefully, Saskatchewan’s potash miners are bracing for the possibility that it’s them. The next federal intrusion into provincial resource management could be restrictions on the withdrawal of surface water for solution mining. The rationale for this might be the need to combat “water stress.”

 

Jim Warren is an adjunct professor and lecturer in environmental sociology at the University of Regina.

 

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  • 0025 Kendalls
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  • 0023 LC Trucking tractor picker hiring mix
  • 0022 Grimes winter hiring
  • 0021 OSY Rentals S8 Promo
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  • 0018 IWS Hiring Royal Summer
  • 0014 Buffalo Potash What if PO
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