U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   07/08/2003
Robert Stallman
American Farm Bureau Federation

Agricultural Sequestration of Carbon Dioxide

Chairman Voinovich, members of the Subcommittee, my name is Bob Stallman. I am President of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and a rice and cattle producer from Columbus, TX. On behalf of the 5.3 million members of the American Farm Bureau I am pleased to be speaking to you today on agriculture’s role in sequestering carbon in our nation’s soil. Carbon is the key building block and cornerstone element for all things living. For those of us in agriculture, we have learned through years of research and practical experience that soil carbon is essential for optimizing the production of food and fiber in addition to the profitability of farming and ranching. Carbon used in crop production is replenished in the soil by crop and root residues, with less soil carbon being lost when minimum or no-till regiments are implemented.

The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service estimates that 20 million metric tons of carbon is currently sequestered each year in U.S. farm and grazing land soils. This estimate indicates that U.S. farms and ranches are indeed a net “carbon bank” or sink, sequestering carbon in the soil and keeping it out of the atmosphere. Many producers have made a decision on an economic basis to employ conservation tillage practices such as minimum/no till and cover crop regimens in their farm and ranch operations. With more producers changing individual farm management practices, USDA and State Department personnel estimate that an additional 180 million metric tons annually could be stored in farm and range land acres. This would account for 12 to 14 percent of the total U.S. emissions of carbon according to the State Department.

Carbon and its role in the climate change issue has been the subject of recent debate, and will continue to be as attempts are made to attach climate change legislation to the energy bill or other legislative vehicles. We are not here today to discuss the merits or demerits of the theory of the climate change issue. With regard to carbon sequestration, it is undeniable that agriculture can play a vital role.

In 2001, President Bush announced the development of a comprehensive strategy to reduce greenhouse gas intensity in the United States by 18 percent by 2012. A vital component of the strategy is to encourage increased sequestration of carbon in forests and rangelands. In February of this year, the President announced the Climate Voluntary Innovative Sector Initiatives: Opportunities Now, or Climate VISION program. A voluntary, public-private partnership, the primary goal of the program is to pursue cost-effective initiatives that will reduce the projected growth in America’s greenhouse gas emissions. AFBF has begun discussions with the Administration to see what role the agricultural sector could play in the Climate VISION program.

Last month, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman announced that the USDA would consider greenhouse gas management practices when evaluating applications for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Forest Land Enhancement Program (FLEP). America’s farm and ranch community has long supported and responded to voluntary, incentive based programs, as is evident by the waiting lists to participate in many conservation programs such as EQIP and CRP. Time and time again, when an environmental challenge has presented itself, American agriculture has answered the call.

I would be remiss if I did not reiterate our opposition to any mandatory measures pertaining to climate change and carbon sequestration but rather the need to maintain a voluntary approach to agricultural sequestration. Some involved in the climate change issue have advocated a mandatory cap and trade approach for carbon as a way to “establish” a carbon market and increase sequestrations and trading participation. We strongly disagree with that approach. While a mandatory cap and trade may increase the value of the carbon being sequestered, an analysis by Sparks Companies, Inc., re-released, last month concludes that the increased energy costs to the agricultural sector associated with any Kyoto-like mandatory program would more than offset any cash value in the sequestration of carbon by farmers and ranchers on a per-acre basis.

Like many other industries, agriculture has in the past, and will in the future, respond if the appropriate incentive-based tools are employed. Some of the needed tools like EQIP and CRP already exist. Other tools, like voluntary carbon trading, are just now being developed. Private entities are currently developing and implementing voluntary pilot carbon trading systems. In one case, the Iowa Farm Bureau and Kansas Farm Bureau are already involved with private trading entities, disseminating information to farmers and ranchers and helping to put landowners together with carbon-trading exchanges in an effort to trade carbon under free market rules. The American Farm Bureau Federation supports the development of a practical, voluntary carbon trading system and the development of trading criteria, standards and guidelines.

While potential for agricultural carbon sequestration in the United States exists, many challenges remain. One area that must be addressed before increased sequestration can be realized is the development of methods and procedures to credit farmers and ranchers who have employed in the past, and continue to employ, conservation tillage practices in their operations. Other challenges include the continued development of carbon trading guidelines, the establishment of accurate crediting and values for sequestered carbon on farm and ranch lands, and the development of other cost effective incentives to further advance carbon sequestration in agricultural soils. None of these challenges is insurmountable and AFBF looks forward to working with the USDA, Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, Congress and many others within the private sector to find solutions and move forward with this endeavor.

There is no doubt that agriculture can and will play an expanded role in sequestering carbon on America’s farmland. We strongly support President Bush’s voluntary approach to climate change issues and his call for the public and private sectors to work together to increase the sequestration of carbon on America’s farm and rangeland. The American Farm Bureau appreciates this opportunity to share our views on agriculture’s role in helping solve the carbon sequestration puzzle. We look forward to working with you.