By Taylor MacPherson
Cheveldayoff said as leader, he would support crop science initiatives designed to reduce Saskatchewan’s carbon emissions while increasing food production. Agriculture and forestry have the potential to absorb the majority of the province’s carbon output, the Saskatoon Willowgrove MLA said, and exciting research is already happening in the area.
“Photosynthesis takes place at six per cent right now in plants,” Cheveldayoff told paNOW. “If you can get it up to eight per cent, that would be the same thing as what the carbon tax is trying to do.”
Although scientific research can often take years and the federal government has promised to implement carbon-pricing across all provinces in 2018, Cheveldayoff said he believes carbon-capture improvement in forestry and agriculture to be a realistic and practicable alternative. Legal options to delay or even cancel implementation of the federal tax plan are already in the works, he said, and the next federal election is not that far away.
“It looks like we’re going to be the only jurisdiction that’s going to be fighting this carbon tax to the end, but I think we’ve got a very good scientific argument to fight it,” he said. “We’ve got a very strong, science-based argument to put forward on behalf of the people of Saskatchewan.”
Cheveldayoff said every candidate for leader will likely oppose a carbon tax, but he hopes to set himself apart by offering a viable alternative as well.
Dr. Maurice Moloney, executive director and CEO of the Global Institute for Food Security in Saskatoon and one of the province’s leading experts on agricultural research, said carbon capture rates in plants can be improved, and the work is already happening in Western Canada.
Moloney said recent breakthroughs in the field of genomics allowed scientists to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis, which results in more carbon absorption. Scientists have seen success with several test species, he said, and are now working to adapt the innovations into more popular crops.
“In the field they’ve done it with tobacco,” Moloney said. “Now what they want to do is to move it into important staple crops. I think one of the first targets would actually be canola.”
Other advancements in agricultural technology also have the effect of reducing carbon emission rates, Moloney said. These include the shift away from tilling in industrial agriculture, which lets huge amounts of carbon remain in the soil to act as a nutrient rather than releasing it into the atmosphere.
Moloney said engineering breakthroughs are helpful but minor compared to photosynthesis, the planet’s primary means of absorbing carbon dioxide. Because Canada has large areas of both boreal forest and agricultural land, he said many crop scientists believe the country already absorbs more carbon than it emits.
“It’s probably [absorbing] somewhere between five and seven per cent of the emissions around the world,” Moloney said. “Canada’s such a vast country, and all of this space is absorbing carbon dioxide.”
Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan are working to compare Canada’s rates of carbon absorption to its output, Moloney said, in order to determine the nation’s precise effects on global carbon emissions.
When it comes to a carbon tax, Moloney said he’d like to see credits given whenever emissions are offset. If a farmer is taxed for a fuel or fertilizer purchase, Moloney said he would like to see them receive credit for the carbon absorbed by the resulting crop.
“Farmers could get dinged for an awful lot of things on the emission side,” he said. “It should be possible for farmers to get credit.”
The Saskatchewan Party will vote for their new leader Jan. 27.