As “climate discussers,” farmers support low-carbon techniques and carbon pricing

agriculture, solar

The Hackenberger family has embraced low-carbon technologies on their farm, with a 96 kW solar panel system. (Photo courtesy of Paradise Solar Energy)

As “climate discussers,” farmers support low-carbon techniques and carbon pricing

By Alex Amonette

“For agriculture, we need to be seen not as climate deniers but as discussers.” That’s the advice of Greg Page, a former CEO of 150-year-old agricultural company Cargill. He said this to the several hundred attendees of the MT State Farm Bureau annual convention this past November. Why did he deliver this climate-focused message to his colleagues in the agriculture industry? “Because the work we do is just too important,” he said.

Page noted that it is irresponsible for those of us in agriculture to ignore the changes we are seeing, such as higher temperatures, more frost-free days, torrential rainfall, and droughts. He urged farmers to “spend our time talking about how to mitigate, build resilience, and how to adapt.”

He’s not alone. Many agricultural organizations produce handy factsheets for agriculture so that we can understand the basics such as the difference between weather and climate, why our climate is changing, and how it’s impacting our crops. Numerous institutions, such as Cornell University, have compiled mitigation and adaptation techniques for agriculture and ranching.

Mitigation that farmers can get behind

The conversation about mitigating climate change often comes around to a price on carbon. CCL’s carbon fee and dividend (CFD) proposal is a market-based, revenue-neutral solution that would achieve a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in 20 years (by 2040), or an 80% reduction by 2050. Its benefits to agriculture address three major concerns:

  1. The CFD’s border tariff adjustment provides the capability of maintaining market share, encouraging other countries to adopt similar carbon pricing, and discouraging US companies from heading overseas.
  1. The dividend protects consumers—farmers included—from rising costs and provides us all with the resources to purchase energy efficient and renewable energy products and vehicles.
  1. Affords us the time that we need to transition our farms and ranches from carbon sources to carbon sinks, further stabilizing the climate and our growing conditions.

In addition to the benefits of carbon fee and dividend, many agricultural and food companies recognize the benefits of other types of climate action. Dannon, General Mills, Kellogg Company and others have expressed their support for the continued participation of our nation in the Paris Climate Agreement and for investment in low carbon policies.

Impact and opportunities of carbon fee and dividend

A recent study out of Cornell University shows that a rising and predictable carbon fee would have a net positive impact on the U.S. economy. For agricultural crops such as cotton, corn, soybeans, and wheat, results vary. A carbon fee would impact corn farms’ expenses more than soybean farms’ expenses due to the difference in nitrogen and other nutrient requirements between soybeans and other crops. (For more details on this study, conducted by Cornell’s Dr. Jennifer Ifft and graduate student Pietro Spini, reach out to CCL’s main office.)

In addition to making important emissions reductions, a carbon fee is also an invitation for farmers and ranching to try techniques that will benefit the climate and their businesses. For example, the National Farmers Union lists no till, field borders, mulch till, strip till, cover crops, and other techniques farmers can employ. The USDA’s Climate Hubs also provides region-specific information.

Farmers who have already made the transition to these types of low-carbon farming find that their farms are resilient and their soil health is increased. By prioritizing sustainable, low-carbon farming techniques, Gabe Brown of Brown’s Ranch says, “We have now eliminated the use of synthetic fertilizers, fungicides, and pesticides. We use minimal herbicide and are striving to eliminate it.” Those strategies don’t just check a box, either. In fact, they result in “increased production, profit and a higher quality of life for us,” says Brown. Farmers like him will benefit even more from a carbon fee and dividend since their expenses will already be lower, thanks to their sustainable techniques.

agriculture, solar savings

A sample bill from Paradise Solar Energy shows possible savings when a farm adopts solar energy technology.

With the dividend, others may also follow in the footsteps of farmers like the Hackenberger family, who added a 96 kW solar panel system on their farm, capable of producing more than 108,000 kWh of energy. They now enjoy drastically reduced monthly energy bills, greater energy independence, and protection against rising energy costs in the future. With options like these, it’s easy to see how what’s best for farmers and what’s best for the climate are often one and the same.

We all need to be able to obtain and provide food reliably and ensure our country’s continued agricultural success in the world markets. Agriculture’s role is crucial for all of us and the generations to come, and the best way to ensure its stability is through bold, mutually beneficial climate action.

Alex Amonette
Alex Amonette is a freelance technical and grant writer/editor, lives in cattle and sheep country, and raises vegetables and hay.