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Vilsack: Farming's future isn't all doom and gloom

Agriculture.com Staff 03/10/2009 @ 7:02am

Members of National Farmers Union heard from some of the top leaders in agriculture at their national convention in Washington, DC, Monday and, as is often the case these days, got a mixed message of hope and fear.

Hope came in part from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's support for a higher blend of ethanol, "to maybe 12% to 13% in the interim" before EPA approves a blend of 15% for most cars. The ethanol industry has already asked the EPA to grain a waiver that would allow higher blends of ethanol to be sold in gasoline not intended for flex-fuel vehicles that can burn up to 85% ethanol.

Vilsack also talked about the potential opportunity for farmers to benefit from cap and trade legislation by selling carbon credits. NFU already has the nation's largest program of aggregating credits sold to a voluntary program run by the Chicago Climate Exchange.

"There are tremendous income opportunities for farmers and ranchers in climate change legislation," Vilsack said.

It could amount to billions of dollars more than what's offered today in the farm bill's safety net, Vilsack said.

Vilsack said that USDA is working with a White House task force on climate change legislation and championing "the need for agriculture to be an integral part" of any bill Congress might pass this year on climate change and carbon trading.

When asked about whether agriculture will be a part of the administration's climate change proposal, Vilsack conceded that it hasn't always been an easy sell to others in the task force.

"With the first draft of the framework we really had to fight hard to make sure that agriculture was mentioned," he said.

Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a South Dakota Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee told NFU that she and other members are trying to get Representative Henry Waxman of California to include agriculture in any cap and trade bill that his energy and environment committee writes this year.

"We want to make sure that we don't do here what they did in Europe," she told Agriculture Online later. Europe already has mandatory carbon trading, but farmers and forest owners in Europe cannot receive payments for capturing carbon.

Herseth said that she believes Democrats will need to be united to pass cap and trade legislation in the House, and that if Waxman's bill doesn't include agricultural carbon offsets, it would have little support from Democrats in rural districts.

"If it doesn't, I will work to oppose it," she told Agriculture Online.

Members of National Farmers Union heard from some of the top leaders in agriculture at their national convention in Washington, DC, Monday and, as is often the case these days, got a mixed message of hope and fear.

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