Calling All Farmer Policy Wonks!

Posted on Sunday, August 1st, 2010 by Renata Brillinger

One of CalCAN’s goals is to engage California farmers in representing their interests at the climate policy table. We believe that an effective response to climate change must support the solutions that farming and ranching has to offer, and must address the vulnerabilities of the agriculture sector. Policymakers need to hear directly from farmers and their allies to understand the vital role of agriculture.

A report by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, released July 20, 2010, validates many of the assumptions underlying the work of CalCAN.

U.S. Agriculture and Climate Legislation: Markets, Myths and Opportunities examines the agriculture sector’s concerns about climate and energy legislation, and offers an assessment of the likely outcome of federal legislation for farmers and ranchers.

CalCAN Assumption #1: Agriculture is uniquely vulnerable to climate change.

The Pew report summarizes the findings of a recent study by the U.S. Global Change Research Project and USDA which identified several impacts to agriculture that can be expected as global temperatures continue to rise:

  1. Extreme and unpredictable weather events
  2. Increased weed, disease, and insect pest activity
  3. Decreased crop yields and nutritional value in some crops
  4. Livestock productivity is likely to decline
  5. Declining quality of livestock forage

CalCAN Assumption #2: Climate legislation can benefit farmers and ranchers economically.

From the Pew report:

“If properly designed and implemented, costs of climate and energy legislation can be minimized and the potential benefits to the agricultural sector maximized. Benefits include the opportunities presented by a robust offsets market, increased demand for bio-based forms of transportation fuel and electricity, increased demand for on-farm wind generation, expanded methane capture and electricity sales to the grid, and participation in stacking of environmental conservation payments.”

CalCAN Assumption #3: Farmers and ranchers should be incentivized to use climate-friendly practices that have additional environmental co-benefits.

The report states:

“Farmers and ranchers have a long history of creating new practices and developing techniques to maintain the quality of their land for years to come. Many existing and potential future practices have the effect of permanently increasing carbon stored on the land or avoiding emissions that would otherwise occur. Under climate legislation, these practices will most likely be eligible for compensation in the form of 5-10 year contracts for the carbon that is stored in the land, or the ability to generate carbon credits for captured emissions from manure. This program will allow farmers to be compensated for good practices.”

CalCAN Assumption #4: Regulations to reduce greenhouse gases are inevitable, and comprehensive, well-crafted legislation that addresses agriculture’s unique needs and opportunities is the best path forward.

The report summarizes a number of the forces at work to reduce GHGs in addition to federal legislation, including market-driven requirements (e.g., by WalMart, McDonalds), EPA regulation, state and regional programs (such as California’s AB 32 law currently being implemented), and nuisance lawsuits. It states that a “piecemeal [approach to] GHG requirements and the inability to leverage incentives will likely result in a worse outcome for farmers.”

CalCAN Assumption #5: Farmers should participate in crafting climate policy that will benefit their interests and enhance their ability to be part of the solution.

The Pew study found that “farmers have many reasons to be constructive participants in the climate and energy policymaking process, not least of which is the importance of farmer involvement in shaping future opportunities for the sector.” Further, they state that “Farmers have many reasons to be engaged participants in the climate and energy policymaking process. Productive engagement by American farmers can help ensure that U.S. policy addresses their concerns and embodies their ideas.”

We in the CalCAN network concur. Join us and get involved!

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