Canadian Agricultural Biofuels Shoulder On In An Increasingly Hostile World

I think I want my old Dodge pickup back.  I paid $163 the other day to fill up my new Ford F-150 pickup.  That’s a world record for me.  I think everybody is setting their own personal world record when it comes to filling up at the pumps.  What the world doesn’t seem to know is if it wasn’t for our biofuel requirements, the price of gas would be even higher.

I ran into a Canadian MP last week, who was a fixture on the farm rally circuit a few years ago.  He asked me how things were now.  I told him about my crops, but I quickly realized he didn’t really want to know about my crops.  He volunteered information to me that “they”, the “Conservatives” had to really fight hard to a get a national biofuel requirement passed in Ottawa.  With the NDP and Bloc being against that, I told him I realized what “they” were up against and I appreciated on behalf of “my constituency” what the Conservatives had done.  Simply put in the 2008 world where biofuel has become a dirty word in urban circles pushing biofuels in public is now seen as a political hazard.

I would like to say ethanol plants are going up just about everywhere in Canada.  However, that’s not true, we don’t have the ethanol sector, which the United States does.  Our problem in this country when it comes to biofuels boils down to one thing.  We’ve never had the will to do it.  As an oil exporting nation using less of it never resonated with Canadians like it does in the United States.  Sure it might have a little juice in Ontario and Quebec, but in Alberta, biofuel is a poor second cousin.  As one Lethbridge producer once told me, “if we can’t get somewhere burning oil in this province, we don’t go anywhere”.

In Ontario, ethanol from corn has always had the support of the provincial Liberal government.  In fact, if it weren’t for the provincial government the Ontario ethanol sector would be nowhere compared to where they are today.  They are/have provided the $520 million in ethanol subsidies into 2017 to aid a burgeoning ethanol industry.

Critics will debate this policy, but its successes are obvious.  This coming weekend the Integrated Grain Processors Cooperative and IGPC Ethanol Inc. will be hosting a the first of a series of rotating Saturday open houses at their Aylmer Ontario location.  Full operation is expected to commence later this summer.  Suncor has also announced that they are planning on doubling their existing capacity to 400 million litres at their St. Clair facility near Sarnia.  Not every ethanol plant in Ontario has Ontario Ethanol Growth Funding.  With corn prices higher than every imagined and oil in the stratosphere, the economic basis for these subsidies has long been in the rear view mirror.

There are problems.  The proposed plant at Hensall has been delayed and remains, just an idea.  The Seaway plant near Cornwall disintegrated under its own weight and problems.   Citizen groups in places like Barrie Ontario don’t want an ethanol plant in their back yard.  And of course, many urban journalists who discovered agriculture last month are de-crying biofuel as a killer of the world’s poor children.

Then of course there is “big oil.”  In Canada, especially if you farm in Alberta, you know who that is.  In fact, I’ve been told that its one street alone in Calgary which runs the whole province.  However, that might have been from an overzealous agriculturalist decrying his home provinces explosive oil growth.  Needless to say, “big oil” has a lot of power.  They don’t like biofuel and you can bet in Canada they’ll make sure it doesn’t reach the lofty status it has in the American Midwest.

Simply put, biofuels made from corn and other agricultural commodities are getting a bad rap and Canadian farmers need to fight back.  We know that the grocery lobby has mounted a campaign against agricultural biofuel and “big oil” has done much posturing too.  “Big Oil” is only too interesting in deflecting away from “record profits” while consumers fill their tanks, which contains at least 5% biofuel.  Getting that 5% back seems to be on their agenda.

In Canada farmers need to do something about this.  At the very least our commodity organization should be making some biofuel waves to blunt the biofuel criticism.  Heck, hold a “Farmer Feed Cities” “Farmers Fuel Cities” farm rally.  The Iowa Corn Growers Association held an American style rally like this last week.  I dunno.  However, I do know we need a concerted Canadian response.  Simply put, in the white-hot political atmosphere of 2008, the importance of agricultural biofuels is getting lost.  Unfortunately, if we don’t fight back, it’ll be at our peril.