WASHINGTON – Farmers stand to make more money than they will lose if Congress enacts legislation to limit the gases blamed for global warming, according to an analysis released Wednesday by the Agriculture Department.
The study, the first to look specifically at the bill's toll on the agricultural sector, shows that higher energy prices will cut into farmers' bottom lines in both the short and long term. But the projected 1 to 7.2 percent loss in income is far outweighed by the tens of billions of dollars farmers are expected to rake in for projects to reduce greenhouse gases.
The Agriculture Department's analysis estimates that farmers capturing methane gas from manure ponds, planting trees or practicing no-till agriculture — which keeps heat-trapping gases in the soil — could earn $75 to $100 million a year starting in 2012, and as much as $15-20 billion come 2040.
That's because farmers could sell the reductions they make in greenhouse gases to energy and manufacturing companies forced to reduce emissions under the legislation.
"Our analysis demonstrates that the economic opportunities for farmers and ranchers can outpace — and perhaps significantly outpace — the costs from climate legislation," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the Senate agriculture panel Wednesday.
Vilsack stressed that the analysis was conservative and perhaps overestimated the costs, saying it was possible farmers could do better.
The study confirms what Vilsack and other administration officials have long said, which is that legislation passed by the House in June to reduce heat-trapping gases will be a boon to farmers instead of a bust.
Concern over the cost to agriculture by lawmakers from agricultural states forced drafters of the bill in the House to make last-minute concessions to alleviate the toll on farmers.
More deals are expected to be made as the legislation works its way through the Senate, which is expected to vote on the bill this fall.
Farm groups pushed the Senate panel Wednesday to do more to ensure that farms that have already taken steps to reduce greenhouse gases get compensated for their efforts. There is also concern that some farmers won't be able to take advantage of projects to reduce climate-altering gases.
Despite the study's conclusions, not all lawmakers Wednesday were convinced farmers would benefit. Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the panel's top Republican, has also asked Texas A&M University to conduct an economic analysis of the bill.
"No farm will escape the effect of this bill," he said.