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Farm Bureau members open annual meeting in a feisty mood

American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman got a standing ovation Sunday at the group's annual meeting in Seattle after promising a stronger fight against activists critical of modern commercial agriculture and cap and trade bills in Congress. The group argues that climate legislation would push millions of acres in the U.S. into forests and leave the remaining farms facing high fuel and fertilizer costs.

Farm Bureau members reflect a defensive mood among farmers who are tired of an onslaught of books, movies and news reports critical of agricultural production methods and its affect on the environment and livestock.

Stallman said some of those groups want to abandon an efficient food production system, "taking us back to 40 acres and a mule."

"The days of their elitist power grab are over," he said.

At a press conference later Stallman was asked for some specifics on how the nation's largest farm organization plans to fight back.

"I don't know how to describe it. We're just going to be a little more forceful and more direct, I guess," he told reporters.

In an interview with Agriculture.com, Stallman was asked to identify the groups he sees opposing agriculture. They include writer and journalist Michael Pollan, the Humane Society of the U.S. and some environmental groups, he said. Pollan is a California journalism professor who has said America's food industry is producing "edible foodlike substances" in his book, In Defense of Food. The HSUS has successfully promoted state-level referendums that restrict livestock production methods.

Besides speaking out more often to defend agriculture, Stallman told AO, "another thing we will probably do is be more aggressive on the political side, knocking harder on the doors of members of Congress."

Farm Bureau has a skilled lobbying staff doing exactly that, but Stallman said "we're going to get our grassroots membership more engaged."

Farm Bureau is already doing that with its "Don't cap our future" petition drive aimed at collecting some 120,000 signatures of people opposed to climate change bills working through Congress.

Some state Farm Bureaus have already given anti-cap and trade petitions to members of Congress.

Sunday, Stallman told the group's members that capping greenhouse gas emissions and trading carbon credits, which Farm Bureau and USDA projections suggest would encourage some landowners to shift cropland to forests, would limit the U.S. role in fighting global hunger. In the next 40 years, the planet is going to need a 70% increase in food production to keep up with population growth, he said.

Under cap and trade, "food prices here at home would shoot up. The result would be less food security and our climate would not change by more than one degree," Stallman told Farm Bureau members.

In testimony to Congress, Obama administration officials have said that the effect of a cap and trade bill passed in the House would be small until other nations putting out greenhouse gases agree to similar measures.

Stallman later told Agriculture.com that he doubts the Senate this year will pass a cap and trade bill similar to the House bill written by Democratic representatives Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts.

"I think it's going to be very difficult for the Senate to pass legislation anywhere close to Waxman-Markey," Stallman said. "Long term, I don't think the issue is going to go away."

Stallman expects political pressure to fight global warming to continue here and in other countries as long as many scientists continue to cite evidence of climate change.

One of Farm Bureau's speakers, Christopher Horner, a lawyer with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said the climate has barely rebounded from cooling under the Little Ice Age during the Middle Ages and that data used to show warming has been manipulated.

Most scientists acknowledge that global temperatures have fallen since a warm El Nino year in 1998 (but are still higher than in the 1950s). But with ocean temperatures continuing to rise, many are also projecting 2010 to have high odds of being the warmest year on record.

In a week when Florida struggled with crop-killing cold, global warming seems even less plausible to many Farm Bureau members.

As Stallman puts it, "if we have 10 more years of weather like this year, maybe the data will change."

American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman got a standing ovation Sunday at the group's annual meeting in Seattle after promising a stronger fight against activists critical of modern commercial agriculture and cap and trade bills in Congress. The group argues that climate legislation would push millions of acres in the U.S. into forests and leave the remaining farms facing high fuel and fertilizer costs.

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