Climate change poses a real challenge for farmers trying to feed and fuel a growing population, said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, speaking last week at Drake University in Des Moines. But the former Iowa governor dismissed the idea that mandatory emission regulations should be forced on farmers.
Other speakers at the climate change forum held at Drake said regulations are needed to limit greenhouse gas, or GHG, emissions. The public forum, sponsored by the New Republic, the League of Women Voters and Drake, was attended by about 160 people.
"Everyone assumes what's happening globally is happening nationally," said Vilsack. "Clearly, there are challenges in terms of agriculture and its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. But what's happening in the U.S. is not the same as what's happening worldwide."
Farms don't need mandatory emission regulations
Farming in the U.S. contributes a smaller percentage of GHG emissions than other industries: ag's contribution is about 9% of the U.S. total. For example, transportation contributes 28% of our nation's greenhouse gas emissions. Public utilities add 32%; for other industries, it's 20% or so, according to EPA data.
Farm groups are taking part in climate change discussions, and taking action in various ways to voluntarily reduce GHG emissions, Vilsack noted. For example, the U.S. dairy industry has set a goal to reduce methane emissions 25% by the year 2020. "So we've started down the road with dairy producers and they have been responsive. As long as that continues, there is no need for mandatory regulations," he said.
America's farms emit less greenhouse gas than farms on a worldwide scale. Agricultural emissions in the U.S. at an average of 9% are lower than the 14% average for farms globally. "Again, don't assume what's happening globally is happening nationally," Vilsack emphasized.
Biofuels are another way U.S. farmers are helping
Producing renewable biofuels is another way U.S. farmers are helping reduce GHG emissions. And that also benefits the rural economy.