Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Time to raise my bids...

My hat's off to Rep. Peterson who bullied the House leadership into what looks like capitulation on the Waxman-Markey Climate Change Bill. 
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on Tuesday surrendered to agriculture interests on a key provision in the massive climate and energy bill he introduced with Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). Facing a defection from farm-state Democrats, reports that Waxman agreed to change the bill so that “the U.S. Department of Agriculture will oversee the [carbon] offset program for farmers, and the House will seek further guidance from the Obama administration about the appropriate role for the EPA.”
Politico further reported that Waxman “agreed to ask the EPA to roll back its new requirements that farmers offset rural land developed in other countries.” [More]
I don't anticipate significant changes in the Senate, since ag interests are even more heavily weighted there.  While I think this is bad for agriculture - not to mention the environment and economy - I'm not one to deny when I've been blown out of the water.

Now there are a few questions as farmers anticipate more checks.

The first is, "What will I have to do to get a check?"  Hmmm. Given that the list of stuff corn farmers (the biggest political force IMHO) are actually willing to do is remarkably short, I'll guess, "Have a body temperature of close to 98 degrees F". 

For example, the most often suggested offsets are no-till and tree-planting.  Only no-till poses some issues for all-corn operations, so we'll have to get no-till redefined to "no more than 6 passes".  With the USDA (read: our former lobbyists) in the role as our "regulator" (wink, wink), that should be no problem.  Besides, a real NO-till requirement would certainly not set well with Deere and CNH, I'll wager.

The other problem with no-till is: we don't wanna.  Driving big machines is more fun.  If no-till were the optimal way to farm everywhere, we'd all be doing it by now.  Instead, many farmers are buying tillage equipment to rip up no-till acres around here.

As for planting trees, that's a pasture problem for cow-calf operators, and the corn lobby has evidently decided they are going to throw livestock farmers under the ethanol bus.  Besides, they get $$ for methane digesters.  Only it takes a sizable dairy to take advantage of one.

But let's try to get ahead of the competition in our thinking.  Since this bill is now officially a boondoggle for the ag lobbies with the most clout, let's assume the big crop guys end up with the thrown money.  Not only am I in the center of that herd, now I have beginning farmer on board to complete the idyllic picture.  I think it's safe to say I should be ground zero for money from heaven without really having to do much.

Since we know from DCPs such money goes straight to land prices/rents, we can make some calculations.  Risky?  Of course, but this is the kind of risk our profession has become expert at - gaming government subsidies.  Not only that, but as livestock operators go down in flames, there will probably be wall-to-wall coverage of weeping families selling out, and we're pretty sure the public and Congresshumans can't differentiate between ag's various (and now, conflicting) segments, so some of the help for "farmers" will likely wind up in my bank account as well.

Above all remember, like all subsidies, these offset stipends will attach to acres - not operators.
"A viable carbon offsets market -- one that rewards farmers, ranchers and forest landowners for stewardship activities -- has the potential to play a very important role in helping America address climate change while also providing a possible new source of revenue for landowners," said Vilsack before the House Agriculture Committee. [More] [Emphasis added]
I'm saying now is the time to get your hands on as as many of them as possible.  Once the checks arrive, anybody can figure it out.

That's the thing about narrow self-interest.  It is terrifically contagious.


Rick Pace said...


I became aware of the change in the carbon offset oversight and went to your blog to see if you had commented.

Why the cynicism? Do you reflect the sentiment in the midwestern farm community?

I was discouraged by your comments.

Rick Pace

Anonymous said...

John, I gotta agree with Rick Pace. Or perhaps it was merely that your sarcasm was showing. IMHO when push comes to shove AFTER the law is written, the regulations will require real no till to get a check, as the orders come down from the White House to USDA. If that is the case, very few farmers north of the Mason-Dixon will/should accept the long term liability in exchange for $10 - $20 per acre per year from the gov.

John Phipps said...


I know I am all by myself on this one, but I really think this is bad for all.

I remain skeptical that the no-till (or whatever practices pertain) will a) be legitimate carbon offsets b) be rigorously enforced.

If the payment is trivial few farmers will bother - no offsets will be produced. If it is a significant sum - let's say $50/A the kvetching of lotsa-tillers will get wriggle room in the regs, IMHO.

Anonymous said...

Sentiment is not an intelligent approach to climate change. For the sake of coming generations actions have to be real and effective.
By great good fortune, no-till is that and good farming. It does require a new approach and learning new ways of thinking and farming.
One pass seeding improves soil health and builds healthy soil. Look at Duane Beck's work and the bottom lines of farmers who have adopted his methods.
No-till disciple

ND farmer said...

I am extremely disappointed by the parochialism shown by the Ag sector.
I am a farmer who could benefit from offsets re. no-till.
More importantly I am truly concerned about the future of our country and what this Bill could do to it. This Bill is nothing more than an energy tax to appease the watermelons who support BO.

John Phipps said...


Perhaps the tone of my original post encouraged your remark, in which case we have both embarrassed ourselves.

ND farmer said...

Speak for yourself. I don't feel embarrassed at all. Perhaps you don't know the origins of the word watermelon (in regards to environmentalists). It refers to that group of activist that were heart broke when the Wall in Berlin was torn down. They found new meaning in the enviro community. With efforts such as working for climate change, they are once again able to rail against Capitalism and the free market. John, I know we are on the same side on this issue. My problem is that I take it very seriously and have been working to defeat it. I guess that your blog, appeared to me as as, taking to lightly, the total ramifications of this legislation.

Anonymous said...


Your comments just sounds like ABG syndrome to me. Mostly conspiracy myths and nothing of real substance.