It’s difficult to put a price tag on a program that could help reduce the incidence of hurricanes and other natural phenomenon with names like Ida, Laura, Marco, Sally, Teddy, Zeta and Eta that struck the U.S. in 2020 and 2021.
Paying farmers and ranchers $100 an acre or $100 per animal unit for implementing soil carbon building practices will add up, but proponents of such a program believe that a pilot project could be funded at about $4 billion.
“We are working on the numbers, and it will depend on the details,” said Aliza Wasserman Drewes, executive director of the Rural Institute for Protecting our Environment. “For Phase 1 we have a $4 billion budget projection, and it will be higher for a national rollout to make sure every farmer can enroll as much of their operation as they want without any caps.
“It is a big-ticket item, but, in the context of what is being looked at from a climate policy standpoint, it’s very modest.”
President Biden and progressive Democrats have laid out a $500 billion annual spending plan for addressing climate change. Drewes said RIPE leaders believe a national program paying farmers and ranchers $100 per acre or animal unit could cost around $40 billion.
“If you have a national program in the $40 billion range, that would be8 % of what the Biden administration is talking about,” she said. “In that context, we think this is a reasonable opportunity for farmers to be part of a climate package.
“In contrast, what’s being talked about in DC – the status quo – is only offering farmers that carbon sequestration value, which is about $15 per acre. At that it is a tiny percentage of any climate program, and, more importantly, it will not cover the costs farmers will confront from added input costs and the practices they are being asked to adopt for climate smart policies.”
RIPE, which has a steering committee of farmers representing a diverse mix of crops and livestock operations, isn’t fixed on acreage or animal unit numbers at this point.
“Our goal is all acres,” said Drewes. “All farmers should have the opportunity to participate, and all farmers do have significant value to contribute whether you have rangeland, ranch land, row crops or specialty crops. Whatever you have there is an opportunity for you.”
What would the public receive for its investment in conservation practices? “The benefits are 16 times greater than the program costs, based on our evaluation, primarily from water quality,” she said. “When you look at these practices that are good for the climate, they deliver significant benefits to climate policy and to improving water, soil and air. It all adds up.”