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Farm Groups Split Over Cap-and-Trade

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

Environmental groups and business interests pushing for the Senate to pass a climate change bill this fall could find that old maxim useful when thinking about the agriculture lobby.

Despite a marathon negotiating effort by House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) earlier this month to provide enough incentives to bring the farming community on board, agriculture groups are still split over the legislation.

In fact, the American Farm Bureau Federation, long a powerful industry lobby, is taking direct aim at killing climate change legislation in the Senate.

The farm bureau opposes the House legislation because it doesn’t address whether foreign agricultural competitors like Russia and India will be forced to make similar emission reduction commitments on climate change.

They are also concerned because there are no specific alternative energy programs to help keep energy costs down.

“Part of the issue is that this bill is going to cost farmers and ranchers and others a lot of money in terms of increased fuel, fertilizer and energy costs,— said Rick Krause, the AFBF’s senior director of government relations.

The National Farmers Union and the American Farmland Trust have taken exactly the opposite tack.

Both groups endorsed the House bill and support climate change legislation moving forward in the Senate.

“We are an organization that is trying to be constructively engaged in helping to craft a piece of legislation that not only works for agriculture, but also ultimately helps the environment,— said Dennis Nuxoll, senior director of government relations at American Farmland Trust.

Nuxoll said the next move for the AFT is to focus on improving the House bill to maximize the carbon trade-offs and add clarity to other components that Peterson was able to negotiate.

The NFU, like the AFBF, represents a range of farming interests. It’s planning on using the August recess to “ensure there is no backsliding in the Senate in terms of the work that was done in the House on the climate debate,— according to Katy Ziegler Thomas, the NFU’s vice president of government relations.

“I think we’ve got a good opportunity during the month to make that connection with our members in all the states about what this legislation actually is and what it means to them,— Ziegler Thomas added.

Part of that work has already begun.

NFU officials met with farmers union members in South Dakota this week to help them develop August strategies on meeting with constituents and writing letters to the editor, among other things.

The NFU isn’t doing paid advertisements at this time, but Ziegler Thomas didn’t rule out paid media efforts.

The AFT is also planning on holding education forums in states and inviting agriculture organizations, local affiliates and Senators to attend, according to Nuxoll, although he declined to provide any further specifics on the forums.

The fracture among the agriculture trade groups is occurring after a period of relative unity during the 2008 farm bill, a cohesion that came despite efforts by the environmental community and the Bush administration to play certain agriculture associations off each other.

Former Texas Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D), who now lobbies on behalf of agriculture interests, says opponents of the bill are widespread.

“There is tremendous opposition from rural [communities], not just farm groups,— according to Stenholm. “It’s not that they aren’t being appreciative of the work Collin and the Ag Committee did in getting what they were able to get in, but the bottom line is [that] oil was signaled out to bear the cost of any cap-and-trade.—

The National Corn Growers Association, who had been opposed to the bill, switched to neutral after the Peterson negotiations.

The association’s Rod Snyder said the trade group will re-evaluate its position after it receives the results of a study it has commissioned for an economic analysis on potential cost increases in corn production.

The National Milk Producers Federation also stayed neutral.

The National Cotton Council of America is opposed to the House bill.

“We’ve tried every which way to find out some kind of benefit offsets for cotton farmers, and we’re just not seeing any,— said Keith Menchey of the cotton council.

Cotton farmers can’t do till farming, don’t have a lot of opportunities for salt sequestration and do not produce a lot of biomass, according to Menchey.

“We’re seeing this pretty much as a higher-cost-of-fuel-and-entrance-cost-[into-the-market] kind of bill,— Menchey said.