Eight reasons for farmers to support global warming action

The Agricultural Committee led by Collin Peterson (D-MN) is the biggest remaining obstacle to passage of Waxman-Markey.  Yet, farmers would benefit from many provisions in the bill, and unrestricted greenhouse gases emissions would be a disater for farmers (see “A Stormy Forecast for U.S. Agriculture“).  Guest bloggers Jake Caldwell and Alexandra Kougentakis make the case in a post first published here.  In the photo below, Illinois farmer Ed Mies works to repair a seed planter.

Agriculture, energy, and global warming are inextricably linked, which is why America’s farmers must be a part of the solution to global warming. Today the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture conducts a hearing on the American Clean Energy and Security Act, H.R. 2454. A close review of the legislation reveals that it provides a significant opportunity for U.S. farmers to increase their income while safeguarding their livelihoods and the nation’s food and energy supplies.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called reductions of carbon dioxide a “new income source [that could] change the old ways of supporting farms.” He has urged farmers to seize the economic opportunities from reducing greenhouse gas pollution and “not to be fearful of this future.” H.R. 2454 recognizes and rewards the benefits farmers can provide to the United States and the world in ending our dependence on fossil fuels and confronting climate change.

H.R. 2454 offers an opportunity for farmers to diversify their sources of income and cut costs by increasing energy efficiency. With modest improvements, ACESA can designate a more explicit role for agriculture in the carbon offset market without jeopardizing the gains for farmers already included in the overall legislation. ACESA rewards good practices and provides the tools to ensure that American farmers can benefit from solutions to global warming.

Here are eight reasons why farmers should support this bill:

1. Farms and forests can reduce global warming pollution.

U.S. agricultural and forest lands sequester 246 million metric tons of carbon annually, absorbing 13 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. With the appropriate incentives these lands could ultimately absorb 50 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. H.R. 2454 promotes U.S. agricultural lands as a carbon sink by encouraging low tillage practices, tree and perennial planting, erosion prevention, rotational grazing, agricultural carbon offsets, and a market for carbon sequestration.

2. Farmers can grow dollars by selling “carbon offsets.”

H.R. 2454 establishes a carbon offsets market that would allow farmers to create and sell carbon offsets to polluting entities in lieu of reductions by polluters. This would reduce the cost of emissions reductions for polluters. Farmers would be paid for their longstanding carbon sequestration and land stewardship efforts. By increasing carbon sequestration and reducing emissions from greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide on the farm, farmers can qualify for carbon offsets that would generate increased farm revenue. The Energy Information Administration has estimated the value of agricultural offsets to be close to $24 billion annually.

U.S. agriculture produces 413 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, while generating two-thirds of all nitrous oxide emissions and significant methane emissions. These two gases are more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. Overall, the agricultural sector is responsible for 6 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. U.S. agriculture must take the lead in reducing these on-farm greenhouse gas emissions. There are many opportunities for farmers to make reductions and reap profits.

The offsets program can be improved by involving the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the Environmental Protection Agency’s process to develop the offsets rules and market operation. USDA’s expertise and presence in nearly every state should assist in the development of measurement methodologies to enable ACESA’s Offsets Integrity Advisory Board to determine scientifically rigorous high-quality offsets.

3. Farmers can earn new income by leasing their land for wind turbines while continuing to farm.

The renewable electricity standard in H.R. 2454 requires utilities to generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2020 (see Title I, Sect. 101). Farmers can help utility companies meet this goal by installing wind turbines, solar panels, and other renewable energy technologies on their land and buildings. Leasing land for a single utility-scale wind turbine could provide a farmer with about $3,000 a year in income. The Department of Energy estimates that if 5 percent of the nation’s energy comes from wind power by 2020, rural America could see $60 billion in capital investment. Farmers and rural landowners would derive $1.2 billion in new income, and 80,000 new jobs would be created over the next two decades.

4. Farms will produce the cleaner fuels of the future.

The current renewable fuels standard establishes ambitious targets and strives to produce advanced biofuels that deliver measurable lifecycle greenhouse gas reductions, minimize the use of food-based feed stocks, and adhere to certifiable environmental and land use safeguards. H.R. 2454 works with the RFS to promote advanced biofuels grown and produced in rural America.

The RFS has a production target of 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels by 2022. It provides appropriate flexibility to allow producers to meet the RFS mandate with significant contributions from third generation biofuels without dictating a specific type of biofuel product or technology. The approximately 15 billion gallons of existing and future conventional ethanol production capacity would be exempt from greenhouse gas reduction targets.

5. A safety net to protect rural families from higher energy prices.

H.R. 2454 provides for a monthly cash energy refund for rural consumers experiencing a loss in purchasing power due to energy costs. (Title IV, Section 432).

6. Energy efficiency measures would reduce farmers’ electricity bills.

The energy efficiency standard in H.R. 2454 provides farmers with the opportunity to make significant energy efficiency upgrades. Farmers are eligible for federal tax credits for energy-efficient appliances to help them reduce energy use. Dairy farms, which use more energy than most farms due to the energy-intensive nature of milk production, could in particular benefit from the savings from using energy more efficiently. Installation of energy-efficient lighting, ventilation fans, and milking systems could save a farmer hundreds of dollars a year.

Energy expenditures represent 6 percent of total national farm production costs, costing farmers over $10 billion per year. Recent increases in oil prices and volatility will make energy costs even more of a burden for farmers.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy estimates that the potential for energy and cost savings in agriculture is over 98 trillion British Thermal Units and $1 billion annually. The potential efficiency savings for agricultural producers is 5.8 percent compared to the 2002 consumption total of 1.7 quadrillion BTUs.

7. Scientific review would help identify future threats.

The evidence of harms from global warming are mounting at an alarming rate. To ensure that farmers and agriculture can identify and respond to climate changes, the bill establishes an interagency National Climate Change Adaptation Council that would assess the impacts of climate change on agriculture and other sectors. A fund is also established to provide money for state and local adaptation projects, including on farms. (See Title IV, Sect. 462).

8. The American Clean Energy and Security Act protects farmers from stormy forecasts.

Inaction on global warming represents ongoing adherence to today’s status quo of volatile energy prices, extreme weather events, and increasing dependence on disaster assistance. Agriculture is particularly vulnerable to the increased water shortages, widespread drought and floods, and lower crop yields that would result from global warming. H.R. 2454 makes the reductions in greenhouse gas pollution scientists urge to prevent the worst impacts of global warming.

14 Responses to Eight reasons for farmers to support global warming action

  1. paulm says:

    Price of bread set to rise….

    Ottawa station 1st in world to sell biofuel from wheat straw Shell station in Ottawa has become the first in the world to sell gasoline blended with biofuel made from wheat straw, the global oil giant said Wednesday.

  2. paulm says:

    Peak Oil is starting to bite.
    This must also be the peak of the media induced state well being.
    Looks like chaos round the corner now…

    Oil price leaps to year’s high price of oil burst through the $71 a barrel mark today amid revelations that proven reserves had fallen for the first time in 10 years and predictions that the price could eventually hit $250.

  3. Dean says:

    I still think that we need to bring in a couple of those Australian farmers who were in the LA Times article to talk about their experience. Maybe have a few farm state newspapers interview them and get some testimony in Congress.

  4. MikeN says:

    You could lower people’s energy bills by just shotting off their power four hours per day too.

    So having them stop farming and collect carbon offsets is why they should support this?

  5. Steve H says:

    Would farmers get the credit for transitioning away from commercial fertilizers? Or would the Bayer CropSciences of the world get the credits for the reduced emissions?

    Long story short, if, as paulm mentioned, oil hits $250/ barrel, then can farmers even afford to run the tractors over the same spot more than twice a year (planting and harvesting)?

    One obstacle to passing W-M in the Senate will be convincing some of them whose states are heavily reliant upon coal-fueled generators that its worth their while to support this act. Using farmers as that incentive could work quite nicely, and I plan to bring this point up with my representation in DC.

  6. SamB says:

    By Jared Allen
    Posted: 06/10/09 08:17 PM [ET]
    More and more Democrats are ready to vote against Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s climate change bill, according to a congressional committee chairman who opposes his leader.

    The House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said Wednesday that he’s at an impasse with the lead sponsor of a climate change bill strongly backed by Pelosi (D-Calif.), and that his list of Democratic members who would join him in voting against the measure is growing rather than shrinking.

  7. Matt Dernoga says:

    thanks, this will be useful for my June 18 lobby meeting with an Ag legislator

  8. Pat Richards says:

    I love the picture of the grizzled old farmer that accompanies this article… but according to the USDA, 60% of U.S. farms are retirement or lifestyle farms whose occupants earn their income off-the-farm rather than off the land, and collectively contribute only 7% of the value of all crops produced. Farming as a food-production business in in the hands of major corporations. These corporations will be the beneficiaries of the carbon rip-offsets, not the “small American farmer”. Just like other corporations, the financial wizards of these farming companies will also figure out ways to scam the system and make lots of money off the carbon market and government free-money programs while doing precious little to change the way their actual farming operation does business.

    I just can’t see where they are getting that farming could reduce 50% of total emissions. How, exactly? A working farm already covers its land with plants that absorb CO2. If a farm were to convert most of its land to large trees which absorb more CO2 than the grain and vegetable crops, then it ain’t a farm anymore and our food production goes down.

    Most farms are not located in the prime areas for putting up wind turbines. But Installing solar panels in the fields and farming around them is a different matter — they have done that in Germany with great success.

    As for bio-fuel production, we already have a law and program in effect to advance that process, which resulted in the U.S. skyrocketing to being the #1 producer of bio-fuel in just the last few years, so W-M is not needed for that. That same law also provided solar/wind incentives. What couldn’t we have just amended it to add more money to the existing provisions?

    So, it seems to me that most any additional things farmers can do to help could have been encouraged with some direct solar/wind/energy-efficiency incentives without creating the massive bureaucracy and carbon rip-offset market Waxman-Markey is going to stick us with.

    Honestly, it is becoming obvious that it was a terrible mistake to try to jam *absolutely everything* into the one Waxman-Markey bill. We’ve ended up with a hard-to-understand-and-implement, overly-complex, overly-compromised monster that becomes ever-more difficult to justify supporting all the time. We should be working on a series of small and, um, “energy-efficient” (from a political standpoint) bills targeted towards specific issues and solutions instead of getting tangle up in this omnibus FrankenBill. But then, having spent the last 3 months on it exclusively, I guess there is too much political capital invested in the beast to junk it now.

  9. Daryl T says:

    Nice points all based on a market ceated to trade something you can never actually own. Farmers already have protection from energy prices in the form of excise relief on “farm” fuels.

    paulm I am not sure if you are purposely misinformed or just detached from reality. Bread is not made from Wheat STRAW which is the stalks that get ejected out the back of the combine during harvest. I would be more worried about the late start to the crop season and frost worries that may severely impact harvests this year.

    I also hate to tell you this about the oil reserves, the reason that the proven reserves fell is because there has been a complete shutdown in exploration expenditures because of the huge glut of oil on the market and the fears of additional taxation on off-shore revenue and regulations in the USA the home country for all the major world players in the Oil Services Market.

    Oil prices are being over-weighted by investors yet again in a soft demand market, just like last summer, plus the weak US dollar, just like last summer is driving prices higher, so without taking a larger look at crude markets and all factors you cannot make the connection between the two items you did.

  10. Jim Beacon says:


    And you’re conveniently overlooking the fact that all the “easy to get at” oil has already been sucked out of the ground. Any new sources — *if* they are discovered when exploration expenditures resume as crude price rise — will be far more expensive to develop and exploit.

    Honestly, do you really believe that we if we keep burning oil at the rate way we have for the past 60 years that we will still always have plenty of the stuff if we just look hard enough?

  11. Craig says:

    Pat, I was taken aback by the 50% absorption figure as well. The Agricultural Land Management Practices section on pp4-5 of the linked report provides some details.

    The report also states, “Biological carbon sequestration is easily reversible, however.Altering or abandoning the practices undertaken to
    increase sequestration would release some of the stored
    carbon, as would natural disturbances (such as fires or
    pest outbreaks) and perhaps global warming.”

    That of course got me thinking about the pine bark beetle infestation in the Rockies. In a warmer world, such pest outbreaks are going to be increasingly likely, offsetting many of the gains made by improved forestry practices.

  12. Pat Richards says:

    Craig (and Joe),

    OK, I read the stuff on pages 4 and 5 of the CBO report (which is linked under point #1 above where it says “50 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.”) and nowhere could I find that 50% figure stated as such. I found a bunch of individual changes farms can make to increase CO2 sequestration a bit here and a bit there and I suppose if some farm did *everything* on the list they might quadruple their CO2 absorption rate from the current average of 13% to to as much as 50%… but if they did that the farm would no longer be a farm, it would be a never-harvested old-growth forest! Even converting it to a harvested timber farm with a 30-year growth cycle would only increase the absorption rate to around 30%.

    But obviously we can’t convert our food farms to timber farms, so this is mostly theory that cannot be put into practice in the real world… which is a major problem I’ve seen with most carbon sequestration schemes. Yes, food-production farms can make some of the changes mentioned in the report, such a reducing or eliminating tillage and planting more trees where they won’t interfere with food growth. But in practical application I figure would only raise the absorption factor from the existing 13% to maybe 16% or 17%. Still worth doing, of course… every little bit helps. But let’s not kid ourselves that the world’s farms can absorb 50% of the world’s current CO2 emissions.

  13. David B. Benson says:

    PyroGen Power Generation

    At the bottom there is a link to a pdf slide show well worth going through.

  14. Daryl T says:


    I never mentioned it becuase I was describing the current conditions of the Oil Market not the forcastsed rate of reserve replenishment moving out into the future.

    Of course Oil is finite but it is not all discoved yet either so you surely are not suggesting that we are running out in the next couple of decades?

    If the above answer is yes…

    Next if you believe the oil market based on supply and reserves is at peak oil, and you support Cap and Trade or other Carbon Taxes, you do realize that means 150bbl or higher oil prices in the near future plus your tax regime. So why would you want to tax emissions and hence oil if the lack of supply will accomplish the job of forcing a replacement energy complex which is the goal is it not?

    Would not that money be better spent in the energy industry researching alternatives then going to the Government where only 23% will be used for energy production tax credits not pure research and the rest to finance a tax cut to offset the price hikes?