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Some Farmers Reluctant About Administration’s Climate Plans for Carbon Reduction

Last week, Politico writers Zack Colman, Liz Crampton and Helena Bottemiller Evich reported that, “The Biden administration’s ambitious plan to create a multibillion-dollar bank to help pay farmers to capture carbon from the atmosphere is running into surprising skepticism, challenging Agriculture Department officials to persuade the industry to get behind the massive climate proposal.

‘There’s a balance between moving really quickly and also being deliberate enough that we can bring folks along with us,’ said a senior USDA official, who believes the doubts can be addressed.

The Politico writers explained that, “The plan is to roll out some type of action this year, the senior official said, who was granted anonymity in order to discuss the department’s thinking.

“Arguably one of the federal government’s most ambitious attempts to combat climate change, the concept aims to use market forces to produce sharp reductions in the human-made emissions that are the primary cause of global warming.

“But while the idea is popular with some sectors of the environmental movement that see it as a sign of the seriousness of Biden’s commitment to tackle global warming, it’s facing doubts from both the right and left flanks of the agriculture lobby.”

Last week’s article noted that, “‘I’ll admit to you, I’m not totally comfortable yet,’ said American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall at a House Agriculture Committee hearing on climate change. ‘There may be a time in the future where we as an organization may not support it, but we’ve got to have a conversation about what that looks like.'”

“The questions reflect the difficult politics of climate change, questions about the science of carbon sequestration, and fears that big food and agriculture companies will use the scheme as an inexpensive way to avoid reducing their own carbon footprint. Farmers and ranchers worry they won’t end up benefiting much from the potential gold rush, as corporations and financial middlemen race to get into the markets,” the Politico article said.

“Farmers wary on climate approach,” by Donnelle Eller. Des Moines Register Sunday (April 4, 2021).

And Donnell Eller, writing on the front page of Sunday’s Des Moines Register, reported that, “Collectively, agriculture is the source of about 10% of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, under recently confirmed Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, sees an emerging opportunity for farmers to develop a new source of revenue centered on adopting practices that reduce carbon emissions — then selling those carbon offsets to businesses unable to reduce their own emissions.

So far, though, the discussion about farmers’ role in battling climate change has been a hodgepodge of congressional hearings, think-tank symposiums and competing private initiatives. Farmers remain far from sold on the idea that they can make a difference in climate change — let alone that they can make money by doing it.

The Register article stated that, “Vilsack wants the Commodity Credit Corp., a stand-alone Depression-era agency designed to support farm income, to play a central role in ensuring farmers can cover the costs of carbon sequestration practices — and potentially underpin a market where they can sell those carbon credits.

“The Trump administration used the Commodity Credit Corp. to provide $23 billion to farmers to offset losses they suffered in trade disputes with China and other countries. Vilsack, who also served as agriculture secretary under President Barack Obama, said that step broke ‘new ground’ in how the agency could be used to support farm income.

“Now, Vilsack’s looking at the Commodity Credit Corp.’s legal and fiscal capacity to be used as a ‘carbon bank,’ which would help pay for farm practices that sequester carbon.”

Ms. Eller added that, “The Agriculture Department also will look at aligning — and potentially boosting spending for — its existing crop insurance and conservation programs so they better support Biden’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.”

Like the House Ag Committee, the Senate Ag Committee has also explored climate issues with farmers in a hearing earlier this year.

Keith Good Photo

Keith Good is the Farm Policy News editor for the farmdoc project. He has previously worked for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, and compiled the daily News Summary from 2003-2015. He is a graduate of Purdue University (M.S.- Agricultural Economics), and Southern Illinois University School of Law.

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