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Vilsack Sees Carbon Cuts As New Cash Crop

U. S. farmers could make money from carbon credits and other steps to control greenhouse gases with more security than farm subsides, often eyed for budget cuts, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Feb. 16.

“I strongly believe this is a tremendous opportunity for rural America,” Vilsack said at the National Cotton Council annual meeting. “We can create a whole system of green payments that will help support” farmers across the country.

Dur ing a 40-minute appearance, Vilsack mentioned three times the potential for income from programs that curb climate change. By contrast, he said, challenges to farm payments are inevitable as the U. S. deficit rises.

“There will be challenges to that safety net, you all know this,” said Vilsack. Asked by reporters afterward if the Obama administration may propose farm program cuts, he replied, “I’m not projecting anything right now.”

Leaders of the U. S. Senate environment committee are preparing a climate change bill to limit emissions of carbon dioxide gas, such as from power plants or motor vehicles. Framework of the bill includes a market-based system to reduce emissions.

For years, researchers and agricultural economists have pointed to the potential role of fields, rangeland and forests in absorbing carbon and curbing climate change. Actions can range from growing trees, planting crops that reflect sunlight into space or altering grazing practices.

Vilsack said U. S. agriculture should seek a role in mitigating greenhouse gases or it would lose a potential source of income that would go to utilities, large manufacturers, appliance makers and the auto industry.

“We have really got to think creatively and innovatively about how we can use our land to absorb carbon and how we can structure a financial market to make use of our land in that way to provide additional support for everyone who farms,” he said.

“I think frankly from a political standpoint that kind of concept, that kind of structure, in the long term is significantly more politically supportable by the broad population, not just the agricultural population.”

Cotton Council chairman Jay Hardwick said many details are yet to be settled, such as how much credit, and income, a grower could earn for carbon controls.

He said he would be reluctant to dismantle the farm program so that it focused on environmental enhancements without assuring U. S. crop production.

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