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grazing cattle

Hey Joe, agriculture’s not the problem

When it comes to greenhouse gas politics, burping cows are more harmful than gas-guzzling autos or smoke-belching factories.

There’s good news coming from the pandemic. The economic lockdown made more than just the skies clearer. Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the cause of global warming and extreme weather events, dropped 17% as human travel slowed during the lockdown, but livestock and acres planted didn't change during that time.

Logical conclusion? To some degree the warming planet isn’t ag’s fault. So now maybe eco-activists and political leaders will focus on the big culprits: fossil-fuel-based transportation and industrial manufacturing.

Or maybe not.

Yes, it’s been a strange year. It only got more strange this summer when Burger King rolled out its ridiculous ads trumpeting the company’s efforts to use lemongrass in cattle diets to reduce methane “up to 33%”. The figure is misleading as this diet is only eaten by ruminants in the last four months before processing, so it’s closer to 3% according to Popular Science.  

Now some candidates and politicians see ag and GHG as a political football – a way to be seen as an eco-leader without ruffling feathers among the non-farm (98%) voting public.

The ag sector only contributes 10% to all greenhouse gas emissions according to the EPA. Transportation, electricity and industry account for a whopping 77% of greenhouse gas emissions.

So, when democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden rolled out his grand plan to make U.S. agriculture net zero emissions by 2050, it felt like the school teacher lecturing the good students while the bullies stood laughing in the back.

C’mon, Joe. When it comes to climate change, agriculture is not the elephant in the room.

Carbon payments ahead?

Now, let’s be clear: candidate Biden and currently-elected political leaders are making progress on legislation that would help farmers get paid to reduce GHG. Policy editor Jacqui Fatka has been bird-dogging this effort for months now. The U.S. Senate’s Growing Climate Solutions Act, if passed, would set up clearly understood carbon credit markets and redirect government ag support toward eco payments to farmers willing to do things that help stash carbon.

You do want to save the planet and get paid for doing it, right? And what industry would benefit more than agriculture from reduced weather extremes?

Even so, farm voters will get easily annoyed when they hear political plans to solve the ‘agriculture greenhouse problem’ even as said plans ignore the big emitters.

I did, anyway.

Sure, agriculture is low hanging fruit. Or maybe candidate Biden expects to attract few farm votes, and it’s easy for city voters to be brainwashed into believing climate change will go away if ag’s greenhouse emissions get ‘fixed.’

Biden does have a $2 trillion climate change plan that would make infrastructure more climate resilient, add more electric vehicles and eliminate carbon emissions from the power grid. But the plan relies on massive tax increases to succeed.

Non-starter? We’ll see.

So, Joe, if you’re reading this: Please rethink your priorities. Let’s tackle the hard stuff first. Let’s get real about the sacrifices everyone will need to make if our economy truly goes ‘green.’

A lot of folks in farm country would appreciate it.

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress. 
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