Editorial: Farmers should be sheltered from carbon tax impacts

The Expositor greets news that the federal government is considering ways to exempt farmers from the carbon tax with relief, although the devil is always in the details and the process has yet to even begin to reach the level of details yet.

The argument that farmers should be exempt, or at least largely spared, from the impacts of carbon taxes is strong. There are few industries that sequester more carbon in their day-to-day operations than agriculture. Certainly the large agri-corp industrial operations have a significant carbon footprint, but even there, many mitigating factors are in play that should help to offset agriculture’s net carbon bill.

Small family farms, in their turn, have been cited repeatedly as sequestering far more carbon than they introduce into the atmosphere. There are plenty of agendas in play in this debate, as many of those rallying on the side of imposing carbon taxes on agriculture are also focused on issues such as the continued use of meat in our diets and are willing to blithely discount those positive factors that balance the carbon scales in favour of agriculture.

While the concept of small scale, eat-local artisanal food production is seductive and a laudable goal, that approach simply is not feasible on the scale required to feed our massive urban populations. The days of the hunter-gatherer and subsistence farming as a practical approach to meeting the globe’s nutritional needs have been gone for literally millennia.

That is not to say that we do not need to find less onerous (and humane) methods of meeting those needs—we do, but farmers are arguably the most cautious land stewards to be found among our ranks.

The rising cost of food impacts the poorest among us disproportionately. While the upper middle class may bemoan the cost of a good sirloin steak these days, it is the outrageous cost of hamburger that bedevils the single parent at the cash register. The wealthy may not like paying more, but in the end, if they want that steak or roast, they can afford it. The poor simply go without.

But while the cost of food might be an argument for lightening any burden of the carbon tax on farmers, it isn’t the strongest to be put forward. Farmers put more carbon into the ground, into crops, into animals, than they emit into the atmosphere, so they should be recognized for that fact and equitable mechanisms should be put in place that ensure a fair balance is maintained.

Not only because, like protecting the water, the atmosphere and the land, it is in all of our best interests to do so, but it is also the right thing to do.