1. Introduction

The production of grain involves the use of many inputs, including direct and indirect energy, both of which contribute to atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (CO2) levels. At the Kyoto Convention in December, 1997, Canada agreed to reduce CO2 emissions by 6% from 1990 levels by the period between 2008 and 2012. The task now facing the Canadian government is how to go about reducing these emissions. One proposal is to implement a tax on fossil fuels. The combustion of fossil fuels for the generation of energy is currently the world’s largest source of CO2 emissions (Yildirim et al., 1995). Additional CO2 emissions are the result of the cultivation of soil for agricultural production (Boehm, 1992). These two important sources of CO2 emissions are affected by agricultural practices, and policies, in Western Canada.

There are fuel tax exceptions and rebates currently available to primary producers in Saskatchewan. The lower fuel price paid by Saskatchewan farmers may promote the use of machinery fuel, which is a major input for grain producers. Given that a form of subsidy currently exists, the addition of a tax would greatly increase the fuel prices paid by farmers. The current fuel subsidy also affects the level of carbon released from the soil; low machinery fuel, relative to fertilizer, prices that currently exist can be said to promote mechanical tillage, which leads to soil degradation and the release of carbon from soils. The removal of fuel subsidies would even the relative prices for direct and indirect energy, while a fossil fuel tax would increase the price of both. The three possible scenarios; the current machinery fuel subsidy, potential removal of the subsidy, and the potential fossil fuel tax, have different implications for soil quality, CO2 emission levels, and producer income.

This paper examines how changes in the prices of direct and indirect energy affect CO2 emissions generated via grain production and cultivation. The relative prices of each energy source influence carbon emissions from that source and, given that direct and indirect energy are substitutes, relative price changes also affect the use of, and emissions from, the other source. This presents grave implications for policy makers whose aim is to reduce CO2 emissions from all sources. This paper also shows that the level of taxation needed to reduce emissions by the amount agreed to in Kyoto is substantial. In addition, welfare losses to agricultural producers could be very high if a fossil fuel tax were to be implemented.

The remainder of this paper is structured as follows. Section 2 consists of a background chapter on the current farm fuel policy and energy use in Saskatchewan. Section 3 focuses on the problem of soil degradation and soil carbon emissions caused by that degradation. The model is presented in section 4, demand elasticities are used to determine two levels of taxation that could be imposed on fossil fuel consumption to achieve the goal of a 6% reduction in CO2 emissions. Section 5 presents some implications of a fossil fuel tax with respect to farm income. The summary and conclusions make up the sixth and final section of the paper.


  1. Energy in Saskatchewan Agriculture

This section provides an overview of the Saskatchewan farm fuel program followed by empirical data pertaining to energy use in Saskatchewan agriculture and the CO2 emissions that result from the use of that energy.

    1. The Farm Fuel Program

Presently, fuel tax excemption permits are issued to primary producers in Saskatchewan, including the producers of agricultural commodities. These permits allow farmers to purchase diesel fuel and propane, which is used in their farming operations, tax excempt from bulk fuel dealers at the time of purchase ( Government of Saskatchewan, 1995). The tax excemption on diesel fuel saves farmers approximately $0.15 per litre. Although primary producers are required to pay the fuel tax on gasoline and non-bulk propane purchased from bulk dealers, a fuel tax rebate does exist for producers. Each family involved in a farm organization is eligible for a fuel tax rebate of $0.15 per litre on non-bulk propane and bulk gasoline, up to a maximum of $900 annually (Government of Saskatchewan, 1995). The person applying for the rebate must meet at least one of the following criteria;

"1) the farm organization or person must rent at least 75 acres (30 ha.) of cultivated land, that is used for growing cereal crops, and hold a valid Canadian Wheat Board Producer number; or

2) the person reported annual gross revenue/income of at least $10,000, as shown on their Income Tax Return for the application year, from the sale of primary farm products the partnership farm produced in Saskatchewan." (Government of Saskatchewan, 1997).

If more than one person is involved in the farming operation, there is still only one payment issued to that operation (ibid, 1995).

In the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly in May, 1996, the Honourable Ms. MacKinnon commented on the sizable cost of the fuel subsidies, noting that, "More than $100 million of tax dollars goes each and every year to ensure that farmers do not pay any tax at all on diesel, and that … they get gas at a lower tax rate" (Debates and Proceedings, pp.2030). It was noted by Yildirim et al. (1995) that in 1993, the cost of the tax rebates and excemptions for the three

prairie provinces was roughly $242 million (pp.29), the cost in Saskatchewan alone was approximately $112 million (pp.34). The farm fuel program was originally introduced in order to help farmers reduce their cost of production, it has done that but has also evidently become a very expensive program to operate. Therefore, the removal of these fuel tax excemptions and rebates would not only reduce the use of fuel, hence CO2 emissions, but would also ease a small portion of the tax burden of Saskatchewan residents.

    1. On Farm Energy Use

In order to determine the impact of a change in energy price, an idea of how much fuel and fertilizer is presently used in Saskatchewan agriculture is needed. The following overview of machinery fuel and inorganic fertilizer use was included to provide an idea of the importance of the role of energy in agricultural production in Saskatchewan.

Table 2.2.1 indicates the amount of refined petroleum products used in Saskatchewan agriculture since 1990.

Table 2.2.1 - Refined Petroleum Products used in Saskatchewan Agriculture

number of megalitres used


1st quarter

2nd quarter

3rd quarter

4th quarter

yearly total

















































Ave. 1990-96






Source: Statistics Canada CANSIM Matrix #4959.

The slight yearly fluctuations in the use of refined petroleum products could be the result of

several things including price changes (fuel or commodity prices), weather, and tillage techniques; yet it does not appear that the use of refined petroleum products has varied much in the 1990s.

The data in Table 2.2.2 shows the amount of money spent on machinery fuel and fertilizer in Saskatchewan agriculture for the decade beginning in 1986. This data was included to show the trends in expenditure on each input over the past decade; these trends may suggest a change in the source of carbon has occurred. However, the use of indirect energy, such as fertilizer, coupled with modern tillage practices may improve the ability of agricultural soil to sequester carbon, which must be subtracted from the carbon released in its production. On the contrary, direct energy use simply releases carbon and does not affect the ability of soils to sequester carbon.

Table 2.2.2 - Net Machinery and Fertilizer Expenditures in Saskatchewan Agriculture



Machinery Fuel



































Source: CANSIM Matrix #3601

As Figure 2.2.1, which is the graphical representation of the previous table, on the following page indicates, there is an obvious upward trend in net fertilizer expenditure, especially since the drought of 1988. Meanwhile, fuel expenditures, although they have increased, have remained much more constant than have fertilizer expenditures. The increase in fertilizer expenditure could be due to an increase in minimum and zero-tillage practices and extended rotations that require more fertilizer use than traditional tillage techniques and short rotations. This change in cultural practices could also be the cause of reduced fuel expenditures, zero and minimum-tillage use less fuel than traditional cultivation. This trend analysis was done under the assumption that expenditure was not simply a function of increased prices for fertilizer and fuel; the actual amounts of both inputs varied throughout the period. That is, the relative prices of both fuel and fertilizer is assumed to have remained relatively constant.


Figure 2.2.1 - Net Machinery and Fertilizer Expenditures in Saskatchewan

Source: estimated by author from Table 2.2.2


This brief look at energy use gives an idea of how much energy is consumed in the production of agricultural crops, and how the roles of direct and indirect energy in that production may have changed.

    1. CO2 Emissions from Farm Energy Use

Direct and indirect energy used in the production of agricultural commodities release carbon emissions into the atmosphere. The direct burning of petroleum releases 22.29 kg carbon per gigajoule (GJ) (Yildirim et al. 1995). Although nitrogen fertilizer itself does not release carbon, the use of natural gas in its production releases 13.78 kg carbon per GJ (ibid. 1995). Table 2.3.1 indicates the amount of total CO2 emissions from refined petroleum products and fertilizers used in Saskatchewan agriculture for the decade beginning 1984. It is evident from the data provided in the table that the use of refined petroleum products contributes at least twice as much carbon as does fertilizer, and in some years up to three times as much carbon was released via the use of refined petroleum products as fertilizer.


Table 2.3.1 - CO2 Emissions from the use of Refined Petroleum Products and Fertilizer in


tonnes of C


Refined Petroleum
































Source Yildirim et al. (1995 pp. 13,17)

Yildirim et al. (1995) estimate the impact that the removal of the farm fuel tax rebates would have on CO2 emissions. They found that the removal of these rebates prairie-wide would reduce direct energy use, and CO2 emissions from direct energy use would be reduced by 9.5% (pp.30). However, because indirect and direct energy are substitutes, the use of indirect energy would increase if fuel subsidies were removed; the contribution of indirect energy use to CO2 levels was estimated to increase by 8.72%. A total reduction in CO2 emissions of approximately 3.61% was the estimated cumulative result of the removal of the farm fuel tax rebates that was

estimated by Yildirim et al. (1995). Agriculture is estimated to account for approximately 2.3% of Canada’s total carbon emissions (Yildirim et al. 1995); although Runnall (1998) states that agriculture is responsible for roughly 11-12% of Canada’s man-made CO2 emissions.

This section has provided background information on energy use in Saskatchewan agriculture and its’ contribution to atmospheric carbon levels. The next section focuses how production practices impact soil quality; which in turn impacts carbon emissions from that soil.


  1. Carbon Emissions from Soil

Soil organic matter is a source sink for carbon in the cycling of CO2. Consequently, the release of CO2 from cultivation of agricultural land has greatly contributed to the present atmospheric concentration of CO2 (Boehm, 1992). Anderson (1995) notes that at, and shortly following, the start of agriculture is when maximum CO2 emissions from the decomposition of organic matter occurred. Boehm (1992) supports this by stating that, "the rate of organic carbon loss from native prairie soils occurs rapidly as grassland litter and roots decompose during the first 10 to 20 years after cultivation" (pp.1).

Land management practices, including tillage methods and crop rotations, directly affect soil organic matter levels (Gregorich et al., 1995). For example, it has been found that summerfallow has a negative impact on organic matter levels (Anderson, 1988). Cultivated soils, which are moister and warmer than grassland soils, improve the environment for soil organic matter decomposition. This decomposition causes the mineralization of large amounts of carbon,

which is then either incorporated into the soil microbial biomass or released as CO2 into the

atmosphere (Boehm, 1997). Boehm (1992) refers to the negative feedback loop that results when organic matter levels decline; crop yields decline, causing even lower organic matter inputs to the soil, hence lower yields once again. Consequently, the low organic matter levels do not allow for the sequestration of carbon in the soil, and it is released into the atmosphere as CO2.

The use of mechanical tillage and the inclusion of summerfallow in crop rotations have contributed to the loss of organic matter, which in turn causes the release of carbon into the atmosphere; there is an extensive literature on the negative effects of summerfallow supporting this statement. However, improved farm practices can reverse this problem and return the prairie region to a carbon sink, rather than the source of carbon it has become. Modern agricultural methods are returning carbon to previously carbon-depleted soils (Anderson, 1995). The trend in organic matter decline can be reversed and soil quality can be improved in western Canada (Biederbeck et al., 1984). This trend can be reversed through the use of extended crop rotations, fertilizer application based on soil test results, and the use of stubble mulch tillage.

Anderson (1988) concludes that soil erosion can be reduced and soil organic matter levels maintained, even improved, by the use of modern tillage and cropping practices. Runnall (1998) indicated that the largest improvements in soil can be attained via changes in tillage practices. Runnall notes that zero-tillage agriculture and direct seeding have many advantages, including the improvement of soil tilth and reduced erosion, in addition to promoting carbon sequestration in the soil. Furthermore, zero-tillage reduces machinery use and, therefore, CO2 emissions generated by the use of machinery fuel.

Despite the potential for modern agriculture to improve soil quality, government policies,

such as the farm fuel tax rebates, may hinder the process. The rebates, in addition to promoting mechanical tillage, also encourage the use of large farm equipment that requires the removal of obstacles, including the draining of wetlands and tree removal (Boehm, 1992). The wetlands and trees provide a carbon sink; consequently, the removal of them results in a carbon source. Evidently, the current policy on farm fuel not only promotes the direct burning of fuel, it also causes the release of carbon into the atmosphere via poor farming practices, such as land clearing and mechanical tillage.

The addition of an across-the-board fossil fuel tax would also promote poor farming practices. As shown later in this paper, indirect energy (fertilizer and herbicides) has a much higher own-price elasticity than direct energy (refined petroleum) has. Therefore, if the price of both forms of energy increases due to a tax, the use of fertilizers and herbicides would decrease more than fuel use. This would put the situation back where it started, with fuel use being favoured over fertilizer and herbicide use; thereby increasing mechanical tillage and summerfallow acreage once again. The result of an across-the-board tax could then be predicted to result in further soil organic matter losses and, therefore, more carbon released into the atmosphere. This potential increase in carbon emissions is the opposite of what the tax would be designed to do.

If the promotion of good farming practices, including minimum tillage, extended rotations, and fertilizer use to improve soil quality, is the objective of modern agriculture and government then one would have to encourage the removal of current farm fuel tax rebates and excemptions

and discourage the implementation of an across-the-board fossil fuel tax. Putting direct and indirect energy prices on an even, unsubsidized and untaxed level, would result in better farming practices, which in turn may return the prairies to a carbon sink, rather than the carbon source it has become since cultivation began. As Boehm (1992) notes, "the contribution of about 4 million Mg C yr-1 from agricultural soils in Saskatchewan is significant, especially from soils that are capable of sequestering large amounts of C. Reduction of C emissions will require adoption of ‘conservation’ farming methods" (pp.13). Therefore, the focus of agriculture policy must turn away from the promotion of poor farming practices, to the promotion of practices that improve soil quality, thereby providing a carbon sink in the prairie region.

The removal of farm fuel tax rebates and excemptions would promote better farming practices while helping government and society reach the goal of reduced CO2 emissions. In addition, Yildirim et al. (1995) also found that the removal of these subsidies would result in a net gain to society, which suggests that producers could be compensated for the loss of the fuel subsidies. An across-the-board fossil fuel tax is not likely the answer to the CO2 emissions problem either, given that the elasticities of direct and indirect energy are very different, as is shown in the next section.


4.0 Model

Yildirim et al. (1995) studied the impacts that a proposed fossil fuel tax would have on CO2 emissions and farm income on the prairies using data up to, and including, 1993. They used a dual cost functionand a translog cost function to determine the own and cross-price elasticities of six categories of farm inputs. The two inputs focused on in this section are direct and indirect energy; which were estimated to have own-price elasticities of (-0.3147) and (-1.2243), respectively (pp.27). Direct and indirect energy were also found to be substitutes, the estimated elasticity of substitution was (2.93) (pp.27). The finding that the two forms of energy are substitutes is no surprise given how they are used in grain production; as mentioned earlier, mechanical tillage is often substituted for herbicide and fertilizer use, and visa versa.

Using the Bayesian estimated coefficients of the input share equations and the estimated own and cross-price elasticities of input demands, Yildirim et al. (1995) found that a 13.4% across-the board fossil fuel tax would release CO2 emissions by 3.61% (pp.33). Using the same Bayesian coefficients and elasticities, the following formulas were developed in order to determine

how high a fossil fuel tax would need to be in order to reduce CO2 emissions by the 6.00% agreed to in Kyoto.

The following equations were used to determine the use of direct and indirect energy;

+ +

+ +

where: = The Bayesian constants for direct and indirect energy, respectively,

= own-price elasticity of direct energy

= cross-price elasticity of direct, with respect to indirect, energy,

= own-price elasticity of indirect energy

= cross-price elasticity of indirect, with respect to direct, energy.


The coefficients and elasticities used in these equations were taken directly from Yildirim et al. (1995, pp.26, 27);

ln De = 0.081 + (-.3147) + 0.2366 (1)

ln Ie = 0.140 + 0.2274 + (-1.2243) (2)

The total amount of energy used is the calculated as;

De + Ie = Te . (3)

where De = elnDe

Ie = elnIe.


In order to determine how much CO2 is released from each form of energy the estimated conversion factors for direct energy (fuel) of 22.29 Kg C per GJ, and indirect energy (nitrogen, which employs natural gas in its production process) of 13.78 Kg C per GJ (Yildirim et al.1995) were used. Using Excel’s Solver option, the solutions for equations (1), (2), and (3) were solved simultaneously, using the conversion factors for energy CO2 emissions, with the constraint set so that CO2 emissions would equal -6%. The -6% reduction in emissions was found by changing the prices of direct and indirect energy by a percent tax rate.

It was estimated that in order to achieve the 6% reduction in CO2 emissions, the tax rate would have to be approximately 17% on both direct and indirect energy. This is assuming that the desired tax rate is equal for both forms of energy. However, given that the own-price elasticity of indirect energy is substantially higher than for direct energy (-1.2243 vs. -0.3147), it may not be desirable to tax both at the same rate because the use of indirect energy (fertilizer in particular), which is used to maintain or improve soil quality, would be discouraged. Taking into account the fact that cost of production of indirect energy sources, such as fertilizer, only accounts for 50% of the retail price, an estimation of two different tax rates was also done. Once again, Solver was used, only now two constraints were imposed; the first was once again that CO2 emissions be reduced by 6% and the second constraint was that the tax rate be twice as high for direct as for indirect energy. It was found that approximate tax rates of 18% on direct and 9% on indirect energy achieved the desired 6% reduction in CO2 emissions.

A limitation of the model used here is that only direct and indirect energy inputs were focused on, even though Yildirim et al. (1995) used six separate categories of inputs. Therefore, the estimated tax levels of 17%, !8%, and 9% are inexact, and most likely under-estimated. In addition, soil carbon emissions were not taken into account. However, the focus here is not what the tax level is, rather what affect any level of tax would have on production practices and total CO2 emissions.


5.0 Implications of a Fossil Fuel Tax

The varied tax rates would be a more viable option than the flat tax on all fossil fuels given that, when used properly, indirect energy also aids in the maintenance of soil quality. It was previously indicated that good quality soils can sequester carbon, as opposed to poor quality soils that release carbon into the atmosphere. If the objective is to reduce total carbon levels in the atmosphere, the relative discouragement of direct, and encouragement of indirect, energy seems to be the most viable option. Government policy makers cannot treat the two energy forms as equal for two reasons; 1) the own-price elasticities of the two types of energy are very different, and 2) while direct energy use degrades soil quality, the use of various forms of indirect energy can improve soil quality, hence the ability of soil to sequester carbon. If the two forms of energy are treated the same, i.e. taxed by the same amount, it will be harder to reach the goal set in Kyoto of a 6% reduction in emissions by the period between 2008 and 2012.

There are also welfare effects associated with any form of taxation. Yildirim et al. (1995) found that a 13.4% tax would decrease farm income in Saskatchewan by 4.44% (pp.35). It was

also found that, unlike the removal of the current fuel subsidies, a new tax would result in net welfare losses to society, which implies that producers could not be compensated for the increase in their cost of production. It can then be roughly estimated that, if a 13.4% tax decreases farm income by 4.44%, a 17% across-the board tax would decrease farm income by 5.63%. This would result in a loss of approximately $60 million to producers in Saskatchewan, a loss for which the producers could not be fully compensated by the government.

It does not seem reasonable, given the results of this analysis, to implement a fossil fuel tax at this time. More work must be done to determine the affects that a tax would have beyond simply increasing the price of the fuel, fertilizers, and herbicides used in crop production in Saskatchewan. The increased use of direct seeding and minimum and zero-tillage practices, coupled with an increase in fertilizer use may affect the elasticities that were estimated by Yildirim in 1995; these elasticities must therefore be updated. A tax on the fossil fuels used in fertilizer production would discourage fertilizer use given the high own-price elasticity of indirect energy. This problem must be avoided if Saskatchewan agriculture is to continue rebuilding the soil that has been degraded by a century of cultivation. The focus needs to be on the ability of soils to sequester carbon, thereby returning prairie soils to a much needed carbon sink.

The use of modern tillage practices and fertilizer can once again return agricultural soils to their role as a carbon sink. The objective of future policies should be to encourage modern tillage practices and fertilizer use, a good starting place would be the removal of the current farm fuel tax rebates. The removal of these rebates would result in a reduction in direct CO2 emissions, encourage modern tillage practices and fertilizer use, and provide a net benefit to society. This first step of subsidy elimination would be more rational than going from a subsidy situation directly to a tax situation.

6.0 Summary and Conclusions

This paper has provided an overview of the use of direct and indirect energy use in Saskatchewan agriculture. A profile of the current farm fuel policy and carbon emissions that result from the use of energy in Saskatchewan agriculture were also included. An important section focused on soil carbon emissions provided a brief synopsis of how production practices can influence soil quality, and the ability of soil to sequester carbon. The model, which was used to determine fuel tax levels, was followed by an overview of the welfare implications of a tax.

It has been estimated that in order to comply with the 6% reduction in CO2 emissions agreed to in Kyoto last December, a 17% across-the-board fossil fuel tax could be implemented. An 18% tax on direct, and a 9% tax on indirect, energy would also achieve the same 6% reduction in emissions. However, the implementation of either taxation level could potentially cause great welfare losses to Saskatchewan producers, and a net loss to society implying that producers would not be compensated for lost income. Of course, revenue generated by the new fossil fuel tax could be used to compensate producers but it is unlikely that full compensation could be offered.

However, in agreement with Yildirim et al. (1995), the removal of the current farm fuel tax rebates and excemptions could benefit society. The removal of these policies would decrease CO2 emissions by over 3% and result in a net benefit to society of $50 million in Saskatchewan, which implies that producers could be compensated for their increased cost of production. In addition, the increase in direct energy prices would likely cause an increase in the use of indirect energy, such as fertilizer, that can be used to improve the carbon sequestering power of Saskatchewan’s agricultural soils.

A new fossil fuel tax does not appear to be a viable option at the present time, particularly

an across-the-board tax that would increase the prices of direct and indirect energy by the same amount. More work is needed to update elasticities of demand for the inputs used in the production of crops in Saskatchewan given the changes seen in tillage practices over the past decade.

The reduction of atmospheric carbon levels is an important objective, not just for the politicians who have agreed to do so, but for the benefit of society as well. However, a fossil fuel tax will not achieve this objective without being accompanied by huge costs. A more logical place to start would be the removal of the farm fuel tax excemptions and rebates currently available to Saskatchewan’s primary producers. Before assuming that a tax will solve the problem of increasing carbon emissions, a more in depth look into the affects of a tax must be conducted. There is a great need for further study in the area of carbon emissions that result from agricultural practices; in particular, more focus must be placed on the carbon sequestering ability of agricultural soils. In conclusion then, although at first glance a fossil fuel takes may appear to be a logical choice by which to reduce carbon emissions, the agricultural production process is too complex to assume that a straight tax on fossil fuels will reduce carbon emissions from the agricultural sector of the economy.






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