Brian and Deanne Stratuliak have been farming their land in Dawson Creek for almost 30 years — and, most recently, they’ve been extremely difficult years indeed.
There was the Chinese canola ban in 2019 where they had to sell their crops at a loss; the wet year of 2020 that drowned their fields of wheat, barley, oats and peas; and then the heat dome of 2021 that brought drought upon their 250-head of cattle and 1,500 acres of grain.
The Stratuliaks’ fingers were crossed that 2022 might be easier.
But then they went recently to pay for the fuel needed to run their six tractors, plus combine, sprayers, trucks, and other equipment.
Kick in the teeth
“It was eight cents (a litre) higher than what our contract price was,” said Brian. “We contacted our supplier and he said, it’s a levy called the Renewable and Low Carbon Fuel Requirement.”
The final fuel bill is expected to be $7,800 higher than expected — a kick in the teeth at the worst possible time.
“There is no more trimming we can do,” Deanne said of their farm budget.
“If we have profits, it comes directly out of that. There’s no other way to find a way to pay for this other than to take it out of our living at the end of this.”
Hundreds of other farmers in B.C.’s northeast, and along the Alberta border, are also noticing the sudden rise in fuel prices, above and beyond the increase of global markets.
Border towns hit with pollution levy
The reason can be traced back to quiet changes the B.C. government began making in 2020 to its Low Carbon Fuel Requirement, which in the past allowed small suppliers to bring in dirtier fuel from Alberta to feed B.C. border towns, without being hit with a pollution levy.
The government recently started slashing the exemption limit for small suppliers, from 75 million litres in 2020, to 25 million litres in 2021, and then to only 200,000 litres in 2022.
The net effect of the 99.7 per cent reduction is to effectively eliminate what had been a cheaper source of gasoline and diesel for B.C. border communities, which are more easily connected to Alberta’s fuel supply than British Columbia’s.
For the Stratuliaks, who live only 20 kilometres from the Alberta border, it makes more sense to get farm fuel from that province’s suppliers, than it does B.C. But now, they are penalized for doing so.
The changes were not widely publicized by the government, and some farmers have yet to realize why their costs have increased at least eight cents per litre.
“One of the biggest issues I’m hearing is people didn’t see this coming,” said BC Liberal Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier.
“They’re just realizing it now because we’re at the start of planting season. Everybody has their tractor out and is buying up seed and fuel for the year, and all of a sudden is getting their bills and realizing what the hell is this extra cost they weren’t planning for.
“I’ve heard from some of the smaller operators saying I don’t know if I can afford to plant my crop this year, I know I’m going to lose money,” Bernier said.
The Stratuliaks say a tone deaf government, with almost no representation in rural B.C., is implementing climate change policies that have the perverse effect of hurting farmers and making agricultural operations less sustainable. That worsens the price of made-in-B.C. food products, during a time consumers are already complaining of price hikes caused by inflation.
“Nobody’s come up to the northeast, because we haven’t elected any NDP ministers,” said Deanne. “So they don’t care. They don’t come up here to see our challenges. They don’t understand what we do… and they don’t understand our ways of farming.”
While urban residents can get around more expensive fuel standards by switching to electric vehicles, that’s not possible on farms.
“That doesn’t work up here,” said Deanne. “For agriculture, we can’t. There are no electric tractors.”
Concerns get cool reception in Victoria
The frustrations by farmers like the Stratuliaks in Dawson Creek are not getting a very welcome reception by the BC NDP government in Victoria.
Energy Minister Bruce Ralston unloaded on the issue in a statement to Northern Beat that read more like a question period answer dedicated to attacking the Opposition BC Liberals than anything the Stratuliaks wanted to read.
“The numbers claimed by the Opposition don’t add up,” said Ralston.
“Fuel suppliers who import more than 200,000 litres in one year from Alberta are required to pay approximately eight cents per litre for any non-compliant fuel. The Opposition’s proposal to allow more companies to opt out would mean allowing more dirty, carbon intensive fuel that’s exempted from the (Low Carbon Fuel Standard) to be sold in B.C.”
Farmers caught the middle
Ralston’s ministry cited a doubling of the amount of Alberta fuel being imported in two years by suppliers, to 300 million litres in 2019.
“LCFS is a pillar of achieving our climate targets under CleanBC and accounts for 31 per cent of the total emissions reductions,” said Ralston.
“If the Opposition no longer support the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, or achieving our climate targets, they should make that known.”
The Stratuliaks say they and farmers like them are caught in the middle.
“We have zero recourse,” said Deanne. “We can’t increase our prices. But our costs are increased by the government for this arbitrary thing.”