Emerging Opportunities for Farmers in the Bio-economy.
By Nathan Stevens
August 21, 2009
The emerging bio-economy has the potential to provide Ontario farmers with new and
innovative ways to improve the profitability of their farms. There are currently large hurdles
that are slowing down this process, from regulatory adjustments to policy challenges to
technological speed bumps to mature markets that make it profitable to produce for the bioeconomy.
An example of one of these potential areas for innovation is the use of biomass for large-scale
electricity generation. The province of Ontario has mandated that all coal-based electricity
production in the province be stopped by 2014. For Ontario Power Generation, or OPG, this
presents a huge challenge. The organization operates the Nanticoke, Atikokan, Thunder Bay
and Lambton generating stations, all of which currently use coal to generate electricity. OPG
is working with agriculture and forestry to develop an alternative source of power in the form
of compressed pellets.
This new industry represents a tremendous opportunity for many farmers, but it is an
extremely challenging one. First and foremost, there is the massive hurdle of price that needs
to be resolved. From the perspective of OPG, the lower the price, the more likely it is that it
will be able to export energy to the United States, which will increase the overall demand for
biomass. On the other hand, farmers and pelletizing operations need the price to be high
enough for them to get real value from the operation.
Another major hurdle is the need for a demonstration plant in Ontario that can serve to iron
out the bugs and serve as the model for future projects. Establishing a working model will
improve the confidence of farmers and other investors considering biomass production.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is the need to ensure that the public
understands that this initiative is sustainable. The first step is completing the research that
provides concrete evidence of the environmental benefits of using biomass. There is also the
concern that using biomass will feed into the Food Vs Fuel debate. Proponents need to be
ahead of the media curve on this issue, explaining that many of the materials used for this
process, such as corn stover, do not have to impact food production.
Agriculture has the potential to benefit immensely from the emerging bio-economy. The new
and varied uses of the crops that farmers grow, including the use of materials that were once
viewed as waste, could increase the margins of each acre grown, sustaining agriculture in
Ontario for the long-term.
Nathan Stevens is the Research and Policy Advisor for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario.
The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, and CKNX Wingham, Ontario and is
archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org/index.html. CFFO is supported by 4,350
farm families across Ontario.