Corn Commentary

Agricultural Progress Must Be Considered in Climate Talks

In what is being reported to be the busiest day to date at the UN Climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) President Darrin Ihnen had a private meeting with US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The time was spent discussing NCGA’s perspective on climate change and several other pressing issues.

Key to the visit was NCGA’s reiterating the fact that there are serious concerns among our members with the cap-and-trade proposal in Congress. Ihnen noted that if significant progress for agriculture is not achieved in the legislation, we will come under increased pressure to oppose the bill outright. 

NCGA continues to be a part of the debate and development of climate legislation in order to make it as farmer-friendly as possible but Ihnen, a farmer from South Dakota, pointed out it’s difficult to convince farmers that a new “green” economy will be good for them when the renewable fuel that we already produce comes under such regular attacks from the environmental community.

NCGA also used the opportunity to discuss USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber’s recent testimony before the House Ag Committee where he told lawmakers that Ag and forestry offsets would cause 35 million acres of cropland to shift to forestry by 2050.  Ihnen told the Secretary this raises serious concerns in the agriculture sector, and inquired whether the EPA model being used by the Department is accurate.  Sec. Vilsack responded by saying  the assumptions used in the model were incorrect and the Department would attempt to clarify the issue when the final economic analysis is released by Joe Glauber before the end of the year. 

This led into a discussion of food security and how to feed a growing world population on limited resources.  Vilsack reiterated his strong support for agricultural biotechnology and the role it will play in meeting increased demand and helping to adapt to climate change through more resilient crops.  He said that some European leaders are beginning to acknowledge the value of biotechnology but their consumers continue to resist. 

The morning began with a briefing from EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy about the greenhouse gas endangerment finding and Clean Air Act reporting rule.  EPA’s plans for regulating greenhouse gas are extremely complex and multifaceted.  The reporting rule takes effect on January 1 and initial reports are due to the Agency by March 31, 2011.  A new regulation for tailpipe emissions will likely be issued in March of 2010.  There are several other rules to follow in the coming year related to other sectors of the economy.  Large livestock production could also be required to monitor and report emissions. 

Following this briefing, NCGA representatives had a conversation with House Agriculture Committee staff about how NCGA might approach the threat of regulation vs. legislation. Several members of the House Agriculture Committee who were initially resistant to dealing with climate legislation are now engaging on the issue because of the belief that EPA Clean Air Act regulations are inevitable and will have far-reaching implications for the Ag industry. 

On the issue of ethanol, Vilsack believes that we are getting closer to a positive decision from EPA on E15 and that USDA has been a strong advocate both publicly and behind the scenes for higher blends.  He also believes tremendous progress is being made on the issue of indirect land use change and that EPA officials have changed their thinking dramatically over the past several months.  He also mentioned that the administration will continue to highlight the importance of biofuels in an upcoming joint report between USDA, EPA and the Department of Energy.  NCGA emphasized that without corn based ethanol, we would not have the infrastructure or industry support for second and third generation ethanol.