U.S. Agriculture & Climate Change Legislation: Markets, Myths & Opportunities

July 2010

By: Jessica Shipley, Solutions Fellow, Pew Center on Global Climate Change
and
Sara Hessenflow-Harper and Laura Sands, Partners, The Clark Group, LLC

 

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Summary:

Any climate and energy legislation will impact U.S. farmers and ranchers, and this paper examines the many legitimate concerns the agriculture sector has with such legislation. There have been a large number of economic analyses, modeling exercises, and reports published in the past several months based on an array of climate policy assumptions, and the resulting scenarios have ranged from realistic to doomsday. The results of these efforts have often been skewed or cherry-picked to support particular arguments. This brief tries to objectively assess the impacts of climate legislation and identify ways that such legislation could be shaped to provide greater opportunities for the sector. U.S. farmers have long exhibited adaptability and entrepreneurship in the face of changing circumstances, and they will be presented with a host of new markets and opportunities with the advent of climate and energy legislation.

Farmers have many reasons to be engaged participants in the climate and energy policymaking process. It is imperative that the United States take constructive action on climate and energy to maintain a leading role in the new energy economy. In shaping those actions, productive engagement by American farmers can help ensure that U.S. policy addresses their concerns and embodies their ideas. America’s farmers will be the best advocates of both the principles of a robust offset market and the creation of other market and renewable energy opportunities.

Key takeaways from this brief are:

  • American farmers and industry will face greenhouse gas limitations regardless of what happens in the legislative and regulatory process. Market-driven requirements from the private sector (e.g. Walmart), regulation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), state or regional programs, and nuisance lawsuits will continue to require greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to be reduced going forward. Legislation can simplify requirements on business, provide incentives and new markets for farmers, and provide mechanisms to lower the risks and costs to all sectors of the economy. In fact, without legislation, the piecemeal nature of GHG limitations will likely result in a worse outcome for farmers.
  • Costs to farmers from GHG legislation can be substantially mitigated by cost-containment mechanisms. Though there is potential for increased costs (namely energy and fertilizer input costs) to farmers, mechanisms potentially available in legislation can significantly minimize price volatility and cost impacts to farmers and the economy as a whole, even though not all these can be adequately reflected in economic modeling.
  • The opportunities for farmers to realize a net economic gain from climate legislation are significant. Offsets, biofuel and biopower, renewable power, and the ability to receive payments for multiple environmental benefits from well-managed working farmlands are among the new potential opportunities. The key to making this a reality is climate and energy policy that is shaped by the agriculture sector and farmers themselves.
  • Climate change and resulting weather patterns pose numerous risk management concerns for agriculture. The strong scientific evidence behind climate change should concern farmers because of the significant new risks climate change poses to farmland and the rate at which those risks are increasing.
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