New USDA farm programs aimed at addressing climate change should not lead to farmers erasing steps they’ve taken to sequester carbon and other environmentally beneficial activities to qualify for new benefits.
That’s one of the major concerns raised by growers responding to a recent survey conducted by Texas A&M University’s Agricultural and Food Policy Center ahead of congressional hearings on those programs.
“Congress should strongly consider providing financial incentives to early adopters who are not eligible to participate in current carbon programs due to the additionality requirement,” said Dr. Joe Outlaw, co-director of the AFPC, who testified before a House Agriculture Committee hearing on the role of those programs in addressing climate change.
“If it is good to sequester carbon, it should also be good to keep carbon sequestered,” he said. “Many of the producers who responded to my request indicated that they are disgusted with a system that only rewards late adopters.”
Outlaw said he believes the federal government and the House Agriculture Committee have a role in ensuring producers with carbon already stored are incentivized to keep the carbon sequestered.
“Essentially, programs should avoid the incentive to reverse production systems so that carbon already stored is released in order to capture program benefits,” he noted, adding that all producers, regardless of size, region or crops planted, should have opportunities to participate in new USDA climate programs.
“This statement appears fairly benign, but let me assure you it is not. If all producers in the U.S. do not have some USDA-NRCS-identified practice they can undertake in the name of sequestering carbon, then there will be regional winners and losers as carbon programs are created.”
Outlaw said Congress should also consider providing USDA with the authority to safeguard producers from being taken advantage of in dealing with private entities in the current carbon markets.
“For example, signing a carbon contract with at least one current company would require a producer to forego commodity and conservation program benefits on that land,” he noted. “The agriculture industry is in need of guidelines that take the mystery out of the current carbon market opportunities.
“If private carbon markets are ever going to matter, there has to be more transparency than there is currently. The current benefits are weighted too low to lock into a multi-year agreement with the lack of structure and transparency in this market.”
To see all of the hearing testimony hearing, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_GQI6b6CCs.
About the Author(s)
Forrest Laws, senior director of content for Farm Press, spent 10 years with The Memphis Press-Scimitar before joining Delta Farm Press in 1980. He has written extensively on farm production practices, crop marketing, farm legislation, environmental regulations and alternative energy. He now oversees the content creation for Delta, Southeast, Southwest and Western Farm Press. He resides in Memphis, Tenn. He served as a missile launch officer in the U.S. Air Force before resuming his career in journalism with The Press-Scimitar.
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