Balancing act: optimism and realism needed when it comes to agriculture carbon credits

I’m an optimist, but I’m also a realist – and both are important when we discuss generating and actually getting paid for quality carbon credits in agriculture. 

I recently returned from the official launch of CANZA in Toronto. 

If you haven’t heard about CANZA, it’s a Canadian organization made up of some of the heavy hitters in Canada’s agri-food industry – McCain Foods, Maple Leaf, Nutrien, RBC and Loblaws. They’ve joined together with academics to work towards the goal of designing a Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) system for carbon credits for farmers.

We are a proud partner of Canza, as they are using data from our farm in their research and pilot project. I believe there is going to be a huge global carbon market by 2050, and Canadian farmers might as well get remunerated for the carbon they capture in the ground. Some estimates from RBC estimate a market worth $2 – $4 billion dollars.

It was an interesting two days. As you might expect, political views were varied as were the emotions around Scope 3 emissions. Some in the room seem to think that our #1 issue in Canada right now is climate change and that more federal money should be poured into decarbonizing the economy. Others took a more global approach acknowledging that China, the United States and India are the biggest emitters. With some of the strictest environmental regulations around, Canada isn’t part of the problem; we’re actually a huge part of the solution.

As I’ve always said, Canadian farmers have been employing sustainable practices for several decades now. And, it shows. A Global Institute for Food Security study found that wheat and canola are grown in Saskatchewan with about 60 percent lower carbon emissions than the next seven largest producers in the world. For field peas, emissions are about 90 percent lower. That’s the story we need to be telling the world.

I always like being in a room full of wealthy and smart people – ha! Seriously though, that is how innovative solutions are born. I was honored to be invited to the CANZA launch and, as you’ll hear in the video below, I’m optimistic about what we can achieve and how that will benefit Canadian farmers. 


What about the skeptics?

I get the cynicism.

If I went to the local Tim Hortons in Moosomin and talked about CANZA, carbon credits and offsets, they would probably laugh me right out of the place. It likely seems crazy to some farmers who feel they’ve been attacked by climate advocates in recent years. It may just seem like a whole lot of “greenwashing” is going on.

But, we need to acknowledge the desire for a net-zero economy and where it’s heading. We all want a better and greener world for our kids and our grandchildren. 

If we’re going to get to a “net zero” economy in Canada, adding carbon dioxide, or another greenhouse gas, to the atmosphere is only allowed if an equal amount of greenhouse gas is removed. This is what carbon offsets are all about. That means there are going to be a lot of companies, around the world, looking to offset carbon in the near future.

If large Canadian emitters don’t buy carbon credits, they’ll be forced to pay carbon tax to the government. You may not agree with me, but I’d like to see that money go to farmers in rural Canada vs government coffers in Ottawa. 

I know it won’t be easy and there’s still a long road ahead. We are only at the data collection phase and many things need to happen before Canadian farmers will see a cheque in the mail. 

As I rub shoulders with CEOs, academics and government officials in Toronto, I always think about the farm back home. How many of them have ever walked on or touched our fertile Saskatchewan soil that now represents such a huge opportunity for Canadian farmers?  I’ve even joked about the need for more “dirt under the fingernails” approaches to which I get great responses. I find many of these individuals genuinely interested in agriculture, asking great questions, and starting to really see it as a solution to net-zero goals, versus the villain.

I’m proud of our farm, our province, and agriculture as an industry. 

When it comes to turning carbon into our next crop, we can laugh and complain about it or we can get involved and see where this may go. I’m a partner in this project, am I a believer? That remains to be seen.