In a wide-ranging debate, two of agriculture’s elder statesmen addressed a number of current ag issues during the annual Agricultural Media Summit this week in Fort Worth.
Climate Change – “The bottom line is agriculture contributes about 7% of the greenhouse emissions,” said Barry Flinchbaugh, Kansas State University retired professor of ag economics. With proper practices like no till and methane digesters, agriculture can mitigate between 20% and 25%. “So the question for agriculture is very simple. We must be paid for the difference between the 7% and the 20% or 25%. That’s the bottom line.”
According to former Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D-TX), from Texas farm country, 44% of what goes up in the atmosphere comes from oil and gas, yet that industry got 2% of the credits in the House-passed cap-and-trade bill. “Guess who is going to pay for the increased cost of fuel in the U.S.? Farmers and ranchers, food production, anyone who uses diesel fuel, anyone who uses fertilizer is going to pay under the theory of cap and trade.”
Stenholm says the carbon issue is one of worldwide scope and can only be addressed on a global level. The House-passed bill may be something the U.S. would be willing to do, if the rest of the world accepted it as well. “But India has already spoken and has said: ‘we it will not deprive our people of the growth you Americans have achieved through the utilization of fossil fuels and energy efficiency over the last 50 years. We will not deny our people the opportunity to move forward in the next 10 or 20 years.’ I couldn’t argue with that.”
Regarding climate change legislation, Flinchbaugh says agriculture has a question before it: “Who do you prefer to establish climate change policy Lisa Jackson and the EPA under a left-of-center Obama Administration or would you rather have Congress do it? Usually Congress doesn’t win many accolades, but when you put it that way, it seems we need climate change legislation.”
Stenholm agrees, but says the technology has to be there before we “order it done.” If the U.S. does the things it has been asked to do, the country will lose it competitiveness. “There will be many more losses of jobs,” he says.
Renewable Fuels – Both support renewable le fuels. However, Stenholm says his problem with the debate is the notion that renewables are an alternative to fossil fuel. “There is no research, no direction, nobody other than those who believe in the Tooth Fairy who believe we will replace fossil fuels by 2030,” he says.
That doesn’t mean, however, that renewable fuels don’t have a place and shouldn’t be produced. “Let’s produce all (of them) and quit using the word alternative. Let’s use the word supplemental, because there will be no alternative (to fossil fuel) in the immediate future.”
Country of origin labeling (COOL) – Flinchbaugh took no prisoners in his opinion of COOL. “Pure crap,” he called it, that has no place in a global economy. “If American want to buy American and are willing to pay more for it, then the marketplace will take care of it. This is an area where the government doesn’t need to get into, frankly, and all they’re going to do is screw it up.”
Stenholm says many countries proudly label and sell their product based on its quality, quantity and consumer expectations. “It has nothing to do with the country it came from; it has everything to do with the product. That’s where COOL works beautifully and where it should work in the marketplace – not mandated with the idea of supporting protectionism. If we continue to pursue this in the manner in which we’re doing, it will have a very negative effect on animal agriculture in the U.S. as well as Canada and Mexico.”