US ag boss: New energy bill may be boon for farmers

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says changes under consideration by those in Congress crafting the new energy bill would help American farmers. Petroleum-based fertilizers are used on much of the cropland in Nebraska and nationwide. Vilsack says farmers worry an energy bill that imposes financial penalties for businesses that use petroleum-based products would cause farming costs to spike.
“I know that there’s a lot of concern on the part of many producers on how this will impact costs,” Vilsack says. “I think that the bills currently being worked on recognize that and are making adjustments, for example in the fertilizer area helping the fertilizer industry transition, so there shouldn’t be additional costs for a considerable period of time associated with fertilizer.”
Vilsack argues the energy bill’s provisions could be a boon to rural America. “There is a tremendous opportunity to increase the bottom line for farmers and ranchers through an appropriately-crafted offset program,” Vilsack says. Under the energy bill that passed the U.S. House in June, regulated industries with too many carbon emissions would have to buy offsets and Vilsack argues farmers, then, could profit from doing things like no-till farming.
“There have been a number of studies that have been done both inside and outside the government. The one thing that is consistent about those studies is that it is a net winner for agriculture. In some cases, it’s a couple billion dollars. In other cases, other studies, it’s as much as $10-, $15-, $20-billion annually of additional revenue coming in to farmers and ranchers,” Vilsack says. “…We don’t want to miss this income opportunity.”
The American Farm Bureau Federation charges the bill would reduce competitiveness abroad and increase production costs for farmers at home. The National Farmers Union supports the legislation, if the provisions which would let farmers profit from conservation practices like no-till farming remain intact.