Lilly Pork owner Rod Weenink can spend up to $4,000 a month heating his barns in the winter and about a quarter of that cost is from carbon taxes.
With those taxes expect to increase five-fold over the next decade, the Lacombe-area farmer is not sure how he and other pork producers will be able to stay in business without significant rebates or other government help.
“When it comes to the carbon tax and our heating, I have no idea what we’re going to do,” he said from his farm about six km west of Lacombe. “It’s at the point where it could definitely cripple a hog farm, there’s no doubt about it.
“It is not a minor expense. And the way it’s quoted now it could be a massive, crippling expense that could drive people out of the business — there’s no two ways about it.”
Alberta Pork and other provincial and federal agriculture groups have lobbied the federal government to create a carbon tax exemption for businesses, such as hog farms that face high heating bills and for grain farmers, who must spend a lot on grain drying.
“So far, the call has gone unheard or ignored, while many of Alberta’s farmers continue to lose money due to market volatility and other uncontrollable factors,” Alberta Pork said in a statement last week designed to put the issue back in the spotlight.
The organization points out that some of Canada’s carbon-intensive agricultural sectors are already exempt from carbon taxes and questions why pork producers and grain farmers are not treated the same way.
In Alberta, hog farmers produce 2.7 million hogs annually which need to be protected from the cold.
“Few, if any, other practical options exist, as alternative heating systems and non-petroleum fuels are virtually unobtinable, highly cost-prohibitive or simply ineffective,” says Alberta Pork.
To make matters worse, foreign exporters are not facing the same carbon tax burden as Canadian farmers, putting them at a competitive disadvantage.
Weenink can attest to the challenges of finding ways of bringing heating costs down and finding alternatives to the 18,000 to 20,000 kilowatt hours of electricity he uses each month.
A solar power company took a look at his operation and estimated he would need — after government rebates — about $200,000 worth of solar panels to reduce his power consumption by half.
“That would be a 10- to 15-year payback, so obviously that’s hardly worth it because I’m sure in five years there will be more efficient things out there with solar panels than there is today,” he said.
Some hog producers looked at coal heating previously, but coal now carries an even heavier carbon tax burden.
“The thing that annoys me is we’re producing food,” he said. “Are we being penalized for producing food?”
And if the pandemic has taught the country anything, says Alberta Pork, it is the importance of protecting domestic food supply.