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Climate change legislation could support farmers' efforts - But at what cost?

Published Jan. 21, 2010 | Discuss this article on Facebook
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Many farmers already engage in environmentally-friendly practices.

Buckeye Farm News

The debate over climate change is continuing to heat up in Congress and on farms across the country.

“This is a very complicated issue and while the science is still being worked out, lawmakers are closely looking at this and very interested in passing legislation,” said Dale Arnold, Ohio Farm Bureau’s director of energy policy.

Last summer the U.S. House narrowly passed a cap-and-trade bill that Ohio Farm Bureau and many farm groups oppose. The bill establishes carbon emission limits for several industries. Businesses that operate above emission limits would be allowed to purchase credits on the open market from businesses that had leftover credits. The Senate is currently considering a similar bill.

Critics say the cap-and-trade bill will lead to higher fuel and fertilizer costs. Proponents say the higher fuel and fertilizer costs for farmers will be offset by the carbon credits that farmers will be able to sell. For decades, farmers have practiced carbon-storing practices such as no-till and planting trees.

Ohio Farm Bureau policy states that if climate change policy is adopted, it should not increase the cost of fuel, fertilizer or agricultural chemicals and should include flexible market-based solutions such as soil carbon sequestration and carbon credit trading.

To show their concern about climate change legislation, Ohio Farm Bureau and other state Farm Bureaus have collected more than 120,000 signatures nationwide on cards, letters and even farm caps that urge lawmakers to not “cap our future.”

“We oppose the federal climate change bill that passed the (U.S.) House. We had a lot of farmers sign postcards at our annual meeting about the cap-and-trade bill, and many are very concerned about climate change legislation,” said Adam Sharp, Ohio Farm Bureau’s senior director of national and regulatory policy.

American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Bob Stallman said climate change legislation “threatens to slash our ability” to feed the world.

“To throttle back our ability to produce food – at a time when the United Nations projects billions of more mouths to feed – is a moral failure,” Stallman said at AFBF’s annual meeting this month. He said that climate legislation currently in Congress would shift as much as 59 million acres of food production into forestry. That’s the equivalent of setting aside every acre of land used for crop and food production in California, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, according to AFBF.

The United States has had a voluntary carbon market, the Chicago Climate Exchange, for about 10 years, and there are exchanges in Canada, Europe and South America, Arnold said. In Europe, carbon has sold for about $30 per ton while it has been only $3 to $10 in the United States because it is voluntary, he said. Economists have said prices on the carbon market need to be $15 to $30 per ton before it is economically viable in the United States, Arnold said.

Some questions about imposing a carbon credit system include what procedures will officials use to trace the carbon back to its origination, what paperwork will be needed and who will collect the carbon credits and group them into packages, Arnold said.

“Farming practices naturally sequester some carbon," Arnold said, "and many farmers want to make sure credits coming from agriculture account for practices that sequester carbon over and above the norm. ‘Additionality’ is an issue.  What is the benchmark going to be? No-till and anaerobic digestion are two practices that sequester additional carbon as compared to other, older and more traditional tillage and nutrient management programs. Other on-farm strategies need to build on these examples. Science needs to be worked out on where the new line in the sand is going to be."

Taking a stance 

At American Farm Bureau's recent annual meeting in Seattle, farmers from around the country voted to oppose cap-and-trade legislation that is currently before Congress.

Delegates approved a resolution that asserted that the proposed cap-and-trade bill would result in significantly higher production costs for farmers, and that potential benefits of agricultural offsets are far outweighed by the costs.

Read more about the meeting in the Feb. 4 issue of Buckeye Farm News.

Without a vote

Farm Bureau is concerned that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will write its own greenhouse gas restrictions without a congressional vote. In a 2007 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court told the EPA to determine whether carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are a threat to public health after determining the greenhouse gases were air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. Last month, the EPA concluded that those emissions are a public health danger, paving the way for it to consider emission limits.

Advisory Council Questions: Does your council support agriculture's continued involvement in the greenhouse gas reduction debate? Would your council be in favor of: A) A greenhouse gas reduction program administered by U.S. EPA under the Clean Air Act? B) A greenhouse gas reduction program administered by USDA under the proposed cap-and-trade legislation? C) Neither, because the current science does not support the proposed greenhouse gas reductions? Share your answers on the Ohio Farm Bureau Advisory Discussion Board.



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