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Con: Cap-and-trade’s costly mandates may put family farms in final jeopardy

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Rep. Peter Hoekstra
August 1, 2009
EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer is addressing the question, Should the Senate require big agriculture to reduce more of its carbon footprint’ in pending climate change legislation?

The “cap-and-trade” national energy tax bill passed by the U.S. House and now making its way through the Senate would impose nearly impossible burdens on agriculture and likely deliver a final death blow to the family farm.


Many Americans rightly fear the devastating effect cap-and-trade will have on our already foundering auto industry. They also understand the increased cost of generating electricity—a cost will be directly passed on to consumers.


Few, however, realize the destructive effect it will have on family farms. Farming has never been a high-profit business, as those who grow our food can readily attest. They also would tell those of us who get our food at grocery stores that producing it consumes vast amounts of energy.


Energy consumption is essential to farming in so many ways. Vehicles fueled by gasoline and diesel till the soil, plant the seeds, spray essential fertilizers and pesticides, harvest the crops and transport them to processors.


Most fertilizer is made from natural gas, and petroleum is an essential part of most pesticides. Many crops, such as commercial corn, which show up in so many of our prepared foods, must be dried using propane gas before being shipped to market.


Of course, none of this includes the high energy costs of processing, packaging and shipping the food to your supermarket or neighborhood grocery.


Agricultural products are commodities. Their prices are set by the worldwide market and do not automatically go up as farmers’ “input” costs rise. In this case, market prices will be held down by imported food products that are not produced under the heavy burden of cap-and-trade.


The result: America’s family farmers will be crunched between soaring energy costs and profits too scant to offset their mounting expenses. And if you like how OPEC impacts the price and availability of energy, you will love the impact of cap and trade on the price and availability of food.


In the typical process of “buying” votes, which is so common in our nation’s capital, a false “gift” was given to farmers to buy House Agriculture Committee votes.


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her leadership pals decided to issue credits to growers who use “no-till” farming. But it only makes matters worse.


Most crops that can be grown this way already are. But many fruits and vegetables that are huge cash crops for my district in Michigan and districts in many other states will not qualify for the no-till credit. Growers of crops that need annual plowing will get no federal rebates—further exacerbating the financial predicament.


All of this burden is being imposed by cap-and-trade proponents in the name of preventing climate change caused by the emission of carbon dioxide, which they claim causes it. The problem is that countries such as China and India, which are two of the largest producers of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, have unequivocally stated that they have no intention of holding themselves to similar environmental standards.


So it would appear that capping carbon dioxide emissions and forcing additional sacrifice from farmers who today already are using a bare minimum of the energy they require is pretty much a notion that involves all pain and no gain.


That is why no other nation has enacted such a law. It is also why their farm products will cost less to produce and become more plentiful, holding down prices as American farmers’ costs go up.


The result will inevitably be drastic cuts in farming and farm jobs in America and the potential loss of one of our proudest traditions: the family farm.


The good news is that it is not too late. People should call their senators and tell them to act responsibly by stopping the cap-and-trade bill before it becomes a reality that the U.S. agricultural industry cannot afford.


Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., is the ranking member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence. Readers may write to him at 2234 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515.

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