The Waxman-Markey climate bill offers a lot of enticing incentives for farmers in South Carolina and elsewhere, but I would encourage farmers to take more than a quick study of the American Clean Energy and Security Act to see the detrimental effects the bill can have on farmers and consumers.
Darlington farmer David White argued in a recent column ("Farmers need climate bill," Sept. 24) that farming and forestry play a positive role in reducing greenhouse gas reduction. I agree. He wrote of the positive impacts of enhancing "the role of our lands in lowering the carbon footprint of our nation's industrial sector." I agree.
But farmers must be careful not to sell out their future farming rights as called for in the Waxman-Markey bill.
Under the bill, as much as 17 percent of U.S. agricultural land currently used for food production will be idled and planted in trees. That is because the vast majority of incentive payments will go to people who choose to grow and maintain trees for greenhouse gas reduction, rather than to those farmers who work to put food on American's tables. This shift in land use will hurt consumers at the grocery store by potentially causing food costs to rise by as much as $33 billion annually by 2020 and $51 billion annually by 2030.
If farmers take land out of agricultural production to plant trees, the balance of our future food needs will be produced in foreign countries. In essence, we would be trading our dependence on foreign oil for a future dependence on foreign food - much of it produced and processed in countries where food health and safety issues are very different than here in the United States. We've already seen the morbid effects of additives similar in composition to antifreeze ending up in baby formula. I dare say we don't want that to happen here at home. Why would we want to tamper with food safety and do anything to increase our reliance on imported food? The United States has the safest, most abundant and affordable food supply in the world.
The intention of the climate bill is to limit greenhouse emissions, which many believe must be accomplished. But let's not do it in ways that will shut down an industry so vital to our nation's sustainability. Mr. White calls for "a market-based approach that spurs efficiency and clean energy alternatives through innovation and conservation." I want that too, but we must keep in mind the vast size of the current agricultural market.
No longer do farmers operate in a community-based market. We operate on an international playing field. To address the problem with blinders on is to put our own in peril - creating disastrous consequences for families, farmers and other businesses. Countries that could compensate for lost U.S. production caused by the bill include Brazil, Russia, India, China and Argentina, which would release more greenhouse gases per unit of food production than U.S. farmers would. With more food produced by less-efficient nations, global greenhouse gas production would actually rise.
Farming and forestry is the largest business sector in South Carolina, contributing more than $34 billion a year to the state's economy and creating more than 200,000 jobs. The future can be bright for family farmers and agribusinesses as we address alternative fuels, expand biotechnology on the farm and expand our promotion and consumption of locally grown food.
As Mr. White wrote, "Farming practices already gaining widespread use, including direct seeding, the planting of cover crops, and no-till farming only enhance the role of our lands in lowering the carbon footprint of our nation's industrial sector." These trends can expand and continue with the right structures and incentives in place - separate from the Waxman-Markey bill.