Horticultural farmers are lobbying for an agricultural electricity rate due to spiraling energy costs. Delegates to the annual general meeting of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association January 10-11 reminded politicians that the cooling and processing of horticultural products is energy-intensive. For example, think of requirements to cool tender fruit out of the orchard and to store apples and root crops for months at a time.
In addition, the greenhouse vegetable sector asked for the Ontario government to undertake a Regulatory Impact Assessment of the cap-and-trade program on the agricultural sector and to grant fuel and electricity distributors an initial exemption from cap-and-trade requirements on fuel delivered for agricultural use. As the greenhouse sector moves to year-round production with new lighting technologies, the need is immediate for competitively priced electricity.
Jeff Leal, Ontario’s minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, acknowledged in his address to delegates that energy rates are a big issue. However, from the growers’ perspective, the promised rebate on the tax portion of an energy bill won’t make a material difference. Take for example the situation of Jan VanderHout, newly-elected OFVGA chair and a greenhouse cucumber grower. “Cap-and-trade will cost my business an additional $6,200 per acre per year,” he said. “That’s money I could use for innovation.”
He points out that the money being consumed by cap-and-trade is diverted away from on-farm innovation but is also unavailable for direct investment in carbon reduction measures, especially greenhouses.
In a panel discussion, Arthur Potts, parliamentary assistant to the environment and climate change minister, said: “Proceeds of cap-and-trade are to be used for innovation. We want to stream people into opportunities to reduce their carbon footprint.”
Growers are frustrated with that answer, because a time-consuming process is required to apply for grants. Time is money. And spontaneous decision-making for innovation is stalled.
“The impact of cap-and-trade is enormous,” said George Gilvesy, an OFVGA director. He pointed out to Arthur Potts: “The horticultural sector has been forgotten in this policy development. If we want food security, we need to move now. Can you encourage your government to give horticulture some runway as the Alberta government has done with a rebate to their greenhouse vegetable growers? We need to invest in innovation.”
A lot has changed since the Ontario Premier’s Agri-Food Summit on October 7, 2013. Three years ago, Kathleen Wynne challenged the agricultural sector to create 120,000 new jobs by 2020. In government documents, she pledged: “While growth leadership must come from industry, the Premier is committed to a whole-of-government approach to supporting the sector, working across ministry lines and, where necessary, across levels of government.”
Those words now appear hollow as the agricultural industry is reminding the government that its provincial energy regulators should support the Premier’s growth challenge to the agri-food sector. To date, 42,000 jobs have been created. Energy policy is not helping the agricultural industry to meet its 2020 target.