WASHINGTON - Financial benefits from climate change legislation for U.S. farmers will greatly outweigh any additional costs they face from measures limiting greenhouse gas emissions, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Wednesday.
Overall, the U.S. agriculture sector could receive additional income over the coming decades from the climate bill that passed the House earlier this year, Vilsack said.
I think this is a real opportunity for farmers, Vilsack told reporters on a teleconference.
Farmers and foresters would be able to earn money by planting trees, enrolling woodlands as carbon sinks, and other activities that offset the release of climate warming gases into the atmosphere.
Some agriculture groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, have raised concerns that climate legislation will drive up the cost of farm fuel, fertilizer and pesticides. Also, they say a carbon offset market will not benefit all farmers or all parts of the country.
Vilsack said some farmers and certain regions of the country would not see as many gains under a climate regime. He said those farmers would be able to receive some assistance from government, however.
Bottom line we think this is a net benefit for farmers and ranchers, Vilsack said. Individually some farmers may experience some difficulties, but we think more farmers will benefit than not.
The House climate bill would also have negligible impact on food prices, pushing them up 1 percent to 2 percent by 2050, according to Vilsack.
The Agriculture Department will release a final analysis of the impact on farmers from the House climate legislation soon.
A preliminary study released by the department over the summer found that the House climate bill would increase farm expenses by $700 million, or 0.3 percent, from 2012-18.
This initial study said that would be offset by revenue from a carbon offset market, estimated by USDA at $1 billion a year in the near term and $15 billion in 2040.
U.S. climate legislation has stalled in the Senate, with Democratic leaders not expecting a vote on the bill until early spring.
(Additional reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by Marguerita Choy)