The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture took his argument for climate-change legislation to farmers through a column in the Omaha World-Herald on Sunday, Aug. 23. The former Iowa governor says farmers and ranchers have the opportunity to embrace science and lead efforts to create clean-energy jobs, achieve energy independence, mitigate climate change and transition to a clean-energy economy.
While he says farmers are justifiably concerned about how the climate change bill currently being debated in Congress will impact their bottom line, he says an analysis of the costs and benefits to American agriculture conducted by economists in the Department of Agriculture is conservative.
"The centerpiece of the legislation is the creation of a market that would offer opportunities for the nonpolluting sectors, like agriculture, to sell offsets to companies in industries emitting greenhouse gases that are causing climate change," Vilsack wrote in the World-Herald. "Using conservative estimates of the benefits and high-end predications for potential increases in energy costs, USDA's economists found that the opportunities for farmers and ranchers would outweigh the potential costs."
Vilsack says during the first 5 years of a cap-and-trade program called for in the House-passed bill, the agriculture sector would benefit directly from incentives for renewable energy and agricultural emissions reductions. These benefits are estimated to range from about $75 million to $100 million annually from 2012 to 2016, the Secretary of Agriculture says.
"A Northern Plains wheat producer might see an increase of 80 cents per acre in costs of production by 2020 due to higher fuel prices. But that same farmer could more than cover those expenses by adopting no-till practices, earning an additional $6.40 per acre in offsets," Vilsack wrote.
Vilsack adds it's quite likely that that same farmer could do even better as the country develops the science that would increase the production of homegrown energy. That same wheat farmer could have additional income when his wheat straw goes to make cellulosic ethanol.
"Our analysis shows that, even under conservative assumptions, the benefits to American agriculture from a carbon-offsets market would keep pace with the costs during the initial years of the program," he says. "However, over the long term, the benefits to agriculture would far outweigh costs and grow to almost $15 billion to $20 billion in 2040 to 2050. At that rate, agricultural offsets could be worth more than 5% of today's total agricultural sales.
To be sure, not every farmer would be affected in the same way by the climate-change legislation. But the USDA, as a partner and advocate for farmers and ranchers, would help smooth the transition. And our conservation programs and staff would assist landowners in adopting the new technologies and stewardship practices that would be critical to a successful offsets market.
Despite Vilsack's assertions, the administration may have a tough time winning over enough support for the plan. In fact, a recent No-Till Farmer poll question showed little support for the current legislation.
The question asked, "Are you in favor of the Cap-And-Trade proposal before Congress that could result in increased carbon credit payments?" Only 12% said "yes" and 10% said "only if all no-till acres are eligible for payout." A resounding 78% said "no."