Washington Insider-- Thursday

Farmers and Climate Change

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

USDA Hosting Webinar on Applying For CFAP Direct Payments

USDA has set a webinar today (May 14) for “farmers, ranchers and other producers interested in applying for direct payments through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP).”

The session is to address the general application process and required documents participants will need to complete. “Producers who are new to participating in FSA programs are especially encouraged to join the webinar,” the agency said. More details will be announced “soon,” USDA said.

USDA has also launched a CFAP site, noting under the section on direct support to farmers and ranchers that they program is available to farmers “regardless of size and market outlet, if they suffered an eligible loss.”

While USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue has signaled that the payment limits will be lifted from those he initially said would be in the package of $125,000 per commodity and a total limit of $250,000 per producer or entity, the website notes “demand is significant and these payments will only cover a portion of the impacts on farmers and ranchers.”

USDA also lists the various forms that program participants will need to have to participate, noting that existing customers with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) will have this information “likely on file at your local service center.”

Meanwhile, FSA is advising state and county offices that national training on CFAP is planned for May 21. That suggests that a late-May signup period appears most likely at this stage with funds flowing to producers in early June.

Dairy Producers In US, Other Countries Warn Against EU Dairy Stockpiling Effort

The coming start of government-financed intervention purchases of skim milk powder (SMP) and butter in the European Union (EU) is prompting concern among U.S. and other dairy producing countries.

A coalition of dairy organizations from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay and the United States issued a joint statement calling on the EU to not take action similar to what it previously when its 2016-17 intervention efforts resulted in it accumulating an equivalent of 16% of the global SMP market in government storage.

The release of those stocks over the next two had “unfairly” undercut international prices. “The EU intervention program would artificially distort prices for an extended period and displace commercial competition just as the world begins to recover from the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the groups said, noting the export of government purchased SMP and butter had taken place at below-market rates.

Instead, the groups called on the EU to take steps that spur consumption within the EU “and encourage its producers to implement appropriate production practices to survive at this difficult time.”

Washington Insider: Farmers and Climate Change

Roll Call is reporting this week that farmers may be warming up toward an issue they have long avoided: climate change. The report harks back to a recent press conference where a farm coalition now said it wants to join the fight against climate change rather than remain cast as villains “avoiding responsibility.”

Roll Call said the new position was a “sharp departure for an industry that less than a year earlier looked more like a victim” with nearly 20 million acres “so saturated and flooded that many farmers couldn’t get into their fields.”

However, Roll Call now says producers are increasingly acknowledging that they “need to change their practices” and note the impacts of their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to a warming planet. These conditions contribute to flooded fields, persistent droughts or ravaging wildfires “partly fueled by trees killed by insects that increasingly survive mild winters.”

As a result, environmentally minded farmers are changing the way they operate, including greater use of cover crops. And they are shifting to no-till practices which also protect the soil. Healthier soil can serve as a “carbon sink,” that absorbs more carbon than it emits.

These producers are largely self-motivated, Roll Call says, in part based on recognition that the sector could face yield declines in major crops as temperatures increase and water becomes scarcer. “If you ask any farmer if they’ve experienced a difference between when they first started farming and today, almost everybody can recognize some dramatic differences in weather patterns,” says Josh Yoder, an Ohio corn and soybean farmer.

The EPA’s 2018 greenhouse gas inventory says the U.S. agriculture sector accounted for nearly 10% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, up from 9% in 2017. Overall greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. rose by 2.9% during the year.

Zippy Duvall, the American Farm Bureau president who raises cattle and crops in Georgia, told the press conference that climate issues are a growing priority for the country and for Congress and “his industry should be at the table.” This pressure isn’t just coming from the environmental movement, Roll Call said. “Big customers are responding to investors and consumers by pressing suppliers to reduce emissions.”

The agriculture groups’ turnaround can be traced in part to recent congressional resolutions that cast farmers as part of the problem.

The group noted that some “conventional agriculture groups want to get ahead of this,” and cited Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, who is an organic farmer. “They don’t want to be seen as the evil wrongdoers.” But Pingree also faults progressives for often ignoring the complexities of agriculture and climate. “Too much of the conversation around climate change in agriculture is just plant a tree and don’t eat meat and close the door. That’s such a simplistic understanding of what is going on.”

The conservation group’s ag goals are difficult hurdles because “most of the harmful agricultural practices are still commonplace,” Roll Call says. Of the U.S. total of nearly 800 million acres used for crop production or grazing in 2017, only 15.3 million were planted to climate-friendly cover crops. No-till or reduced tillage were used on about 200 million acres.

Still, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said in February he wanted to cut agriculture’s carbon footprint in half by 2050 “without regulatory overreach.”

Pingree says she sees reason for hope in Perdue’s announcement and wants to build on it with legislation she introduced. “I would say that I’ve seen a sea change in conventional agriculture and agriculture thinking,” Pingree says. “That doesn’t mean we’re at the point where everyone has signed up for every conservation program.”

Jennifer Moore-Kucera, climate initiative director at American Farmland Trust, says there is growing awareness among farmers of the benefits of conservation practices that also serve as tools for sequestering carbon and reducing the production of nitrous oxide. Ultimately, Moore-Kucera told lawmakers, agricultural land is a resource that should also be shielded from urban sprawl.

Agriculture still has a long way to go before it can become a climate hero, Roll Call thinks. While the majority of scientists agree on climate change and the forces driving it, researchers continue to evaluate the best tools to curb emissions. At the Environmental Defense Fund, special project director Callie Eideberg says the organization believes the best way to involve farmers is to talk about climate change in business terms. It sees large-scale agriculture as an effective platform to tackling greenhouse gas emissions.

“We know as a society we need to get to net-zero carbon emission by 2050,” Eideberg says. “The way the climate is changing now, we’re not going to do that unless we find ways to be resilient, which is “a lot about adaptation as well as sustainability.” She thinks many thigs are pointing in the right direction. We just have to make sure the momentum increases,” she adds.

So, we will see. The changes in tillage practices have been significant, and appear to be continuingâ??but achieving ag’s new conservation objectives likely will take support from government programs, which may be difficult to achieve, given the enormous competing needs for resources, Washington Insider believes.

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