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Agriculture groups want to tackle climate change, but won’t call it that

The coalition said it wants a seat at the table as Congress focuses on climate change, but largely avoided using that term Wednesday

Wind turbines spin above corn fields near Carroll, Iowa.
Wind turbines spin above corn fields near Carroll, Iowa. (Bill Clark/Roll Call file photo)

A coalition of 21 agriculture groups says the industry is doing its part to control greenhouse gas emissions and wants a seat at the federal policy table as Congress focuses on climate change, but largely avoided using that term at a Wednesday briefing.

Instead, members of the newly formed Farmers for a Sustainable Future used terms like “climate smart,” sustainability, climate policy and climate issues. Farmers and ranchers, they said, can help the environment with tools such as efficient water use, improved manure management, use of cover crops that can capture and store carbon and nitrogen, and ethanol and biodiesel to reduce car emissions.

[Hemp concerns and trade jitters top agriculture appropriations hearing]

Michael Formica of the National Pork Producers Council said the terms coalition leaders use, or whether they believe humans contribute to climate change, are irrelevant.

“I don’t know if it is human induced or naturally induced, the climate is changing. I think the end result is what matters, that you reduce your emissions,” said Formica, the group’s counsel and domestic affairs assistant vice president. He highlighted a study the industry financed that shows that North Carolina pig farmers reduced ammonia levels from manure lagoons by 22 percent to 54 percent over 17 years.

Coalition members want to combat what they call bad information about the role agriculture plays in contributing to climate change, noting that overall, the industry accounts for 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. According to the EPA, transportation is the top U.S. emitter of greenhouse gases, followed by electricity generation, industry, commercial and residential, and only then agriculture.

“We’re here in the House Agriculture Committee room because we know discussions around climate policy are ramping up. The House and Senate Agriculture committees will play a real important role in the days to come,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Ethan Lane, governmental affairs vice president for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said beef production has been unfairly vilified in climate debates as a major source of emissions. Lane said beef production accounts for 3 percent of agricultural emissions.

He pushed back against questions regarding studies that concluded a reduction in beef production is needed to cut agricultural greenhouse gases.

“I would categorically disagree with your assessment that the science says that animal protein has to be reduced in order to achieve sustainability,” Lane said.

Lane said bad science and false information has driven the narrative about agriculture and climate change, creating “an issue that has haunted us for as long as I can remember.”

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