Climate-change legislation currently working its way through the U.S. Senate won't get very far without opportunities for agriculture to lock carbon into land,  USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, told the Senate Environment Committee.

Carbon-offset programs that pay landowners for such practices as planting trees or reduced tillage that lock carbon into soils and vegetation could reduce greenhouse gases, he noted.

U.S. farm and forest land absorbs more carbon than emitted by agricultural operations, but agriculture and deforestation are a major source of emissions on a global basis due to actions in developing nations. A successful U.S. carbon-offset program would show the world how agriculture can help control emissions, Vilsack told the committee.

While carbon offsets could be a revenue source, climate legislation also could mean higher costs in rural America, reports Reuters."Rural households are more likely than urban households to feel the pinch of increased gas prices" because rural residents drive more, Vilsack said. It's expected that farmers' fuel and fertilizer costs also will rise.  USDA is completing an economic analysis to produce a more finite picture.

Nearly 50 House Democrats representing rural areas threatened to vote against the House climate-change bill, because of concerns about higher costs and suspicion that the Environmental Protection Agency would not treat fuel ethanol fairly. The House did settle on revisions that give USDA a larger role in carbon controls and removes a potential barrier to ethanol production. The bill allows USDA to oversee carbon sequestration work on farms, and allows cash and futures trading in carbon contracts. Further, the House bill would allow agricultural projects dating back to 2001 to qualify for greenhouse gas credits.

Thousands of farmers will need to support carbon-offset efforts to reduce greenhouse gases by any meaningful amounts, said Vilsack. "I see this as a partnership with all my partners at this table," said Vilsack, referring to USDA, EPA and the Energy and Interior departments.

Some large U.S. farm groups opposed the House bill on grounds that it will hurt farm income, reports Reuters. For example, the National Pork Producers Council said energy and other input costs could rise by more than 20 percent. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association said farm income would drop by $8 billion to $50 billion over the long term.

Source: Reuters