Subsidy for grain dryer upgrades in Alberta draws critics

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Concerns are being raised over a new program for grain drying being offered to Alberta residents.

The federal and Alberta governments recently announced Alberta farmers seeking to make grain dryer improvements will have access to funding through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership.

The Efficient Grain Dryer Program aims to cover costs for energy efficiency improvements to grain dryers. Retroactive to April 1, 2018, $2 million has been earmarked for farmers through the program that offers funding for 50 per cent of eligible expenses.

Shortly after the program was announced, critics argued it didn’t go far enough to alleviate high costs of drying grain and should have been made available to all provinces.

Grain Growers of Canada (GGC) commended the federal government in a press release for partially covering the cost of grain drying equipment, but asked for “a more immediate and decisive action in the form of a full exemption for fuel used on Canadian farms from the punishing carbon tax.”

Noting the “Harvest from Hell,” GGC said grain farmers cannot continue to pay the price of inaction.

“This will not be the last time where farmers face a tough harvest. We need a legislative and regulatory environment that reflects our farmers net-positive impact contribution towards the climate solution while ensuring a sustainable future for this important industry.”

Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) president Keith Currie also called on the federal government for a further exemption to farm fuels.

“We’re looking for that gas exemption to be extended into all of agriculture, so that we can stay competitive while still living in a northern climate,” he said.

Markus Haerle, chair of Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO), said, “It’s kind of frustrating to see announcements like that be only regional-specific, because 2019 was a tough year for all farmers across the country, especially around grain drying.”

He said the federal government should re-evaluate the impact 2019’s harvest had on farmers across the country.

“We’re all looking for more efficiency and our equipment that we run and what we do, but don’t single out only certain regions that might be heard,” he said, adding many commodities have to be dried in Ontario every year due to the climate.

“All initiatives that are rolled out by the Canadian government need to be consulted with all industry stakeholders to make sure that not one sector is singled out, or one region is singled out, that we’re all basically treated an equal way.”

While not disputing grain drying technology is dated and in need of modernization, he argued the subsidy being made available to Alberta farmers is “actually minute to what actually a grain dryer costs” and that even when upgrading facilities “every dollar counts” on the farm.

CFA president Mary Robinson said any opportunity for farmers to improve their efficiencies and reduce their carbon footprint are welcome and that CFA would never “look a gift horse in the mouth,” but noted grain drying costs were high in many regions of the country and carbon pricing had a significant impact on farmers in 2019.

“We have an urgent issue right now where we need a reaction and some kind of help to get us through this catastrophic event,” she said.

— D.C. Fraser reports for Glacier FarmMedia from Ottawa.

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