U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   07/08/2003
National Farmers Union Agricultural Sequestration of Carbon Dioxide

Chairman Voinovich, Ranking Member Carper, and Members of the Subcommittee, I am grateful to have the opportunity to submit a statement on behalf of the National Farmers Union 300,000 independent, diversified, owner-operated family farms and ranches from 27 states across the nation. We commend your efforts today to discuss the complex issues surrounding agriculture production, carbon sequestration and climate change.

What we do know is that farmland, rangeland, and forests will play an important role in meeting the challenge of climate change through carbon sequestration and renewable bioenergy. Farmers Union members historically have been very interested in, and our stated policy has specifically called for, increased funding for carbon sequestration and bioenergy research, development, and deployment.

We encourage you to significantly expand efforts to conduct a comprehensive scientific inventory of carbon stored in U.S. soils and to develop methods to predict how soil carbon levels would be affected by different practices and policies. For example, over the past few years the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has invested over $3 million in projects to demonstrate and test various means of reducing greenhouse (methane) gas emissions in agriculture, such as compost–based waste-handling facilities, rotational grazing systems, and improved feed and forage systems. We suggest that this effort could be expanded and made more comprehensive.

Our farmers and ranchers also see opportunities for increased income and increased environmental benefits in projects that will expand efforts aimed at broadening the use of biomass to produce power, fuels, and chemicals. In the late ‘90’s we saw funding for this specific research at a level of $251 million; $105 million for USDA and $146 million for the Department of Energy. We encourage you to keep a close eye on the level of basic research funding that will provide the necessary data and information that will hopefully make carbon sequestration and biomass energy and fuels programs a reality for farmers and ranchers.

Our members are agricultural producers, both row croppers and ranchers, and they participate in all of USDA agricultural, rangeland, grassland and forestry conservation programs, in one way or another. Our members also hope to participate in climate change studies and pilot projects, especially if these studies and projects benefit the future of America’s family-sized farms and ranchers.

Our members are anxious to learn from experiences with farming methods that promote soil carbon sequestration and improve soil quality and agricultural sustainability, as these practices can identify additional benefits beyond carbon sequestration. We have as well supported greater emphasis on improved farm management techniques, because we believe that teaching farmers to be the best possible stewards of their resources is a better long-term approach to sustainability than simple land retirement.

It is said that the feed-grain crops and soils most prevalent in the areas farmed by our membership are among the highest in potential carbon sequestration, especially in our row crop farming states. We will be glad to see the results of a National Soil Carbon Inventory that might verify this claim, so that our farmers and ranchers can better understand and realize the potential benefits they are producing for climate change efforts, especially now that it is grasped that they might be considered active participants in a global climate change carbon sequestration program. Our farmers and ranchers want to contribute to and participate in programs that produce potential environmental and biomass energy benefits for our country.

Our membership is also very interested in any studies that will help us better understand the potential future consequences of global climate change as it affects the various farming regions of the United States. We have seen that climate changes brought about by the El Nino and La Nina events in the past few years have affected the U.S. farming regions in different ways. We hope to better understand these phenomena so that out family farmers and ranchers can plan for the future, and so that policy makers can make voluntary climate change and agricultural policy more effective for our producers.

However, if there are costs associated with climate change and carbon sequestration policy approaches that result in an undue burden borne by the family farm and ranch, we will ask that Congress actively seek an appropriate mechanism that will provide incentives for the cash-strapped family-owned farm and ranch to participate fully in these initiatives.

We as well look forward to the further development of legislative initiatives that have already been offered (that we are aware of) in this Congress such as Senator Carper’s Clean Air Planning Act of 2003 (S.843); Senator Lieberman’s Climate Stewardship Act of 2003 (S.139); and Senator Jeffords’ Clean Power Act of 2003 (S.366). We think the voluntary programs that have been described in these types of legislative vehicles could be valuable in pushing forward initiatives that could create useful opportunities for farmers and ranchers.

Thank you for the chance to offer our comments today and we look forward to working with you and your staff’s on these important issues.