Climate stalemate steals millions from farmers

Valley Farm, West Wratting

Farmers make money planting carbon, too. Image by Andrew Stawarz via Flickr

American farmers were making millions by sequestering carbon in tilled land, preserved forest, and restored grassland until domestic and international opposition to a carbon cap devastated the carbon trading market.

“Thousands of farmers have cashed tens of thousands of checks worth tens of millions of dollars,” said Mike Walsh of the Chicago Climate Exchange, a market in which farmers and industry can voluntary trade greenhouse gas credits.

The value of a ton of carbon has dropped from an average of $3.20, according to Donna Ducharme of the Delta Institute, to about 20 cents.

The Delta Institute helps small farmers join together in a large enough pool to trade carbon. (From MSNBC, “How Carbon Trading Works“). Those farmers have sequestered 500,000 tons of carbon in 260,000 acres, she said, earning $1.7 million.

Walsh and Ducharme served on a panel on carbon sequestration that ended moments ago at the Financing Farm to Fork Conference in Chicago. Panelists agreed a carbon cap, like the one that passed the House last year but has languished in the Senate, is needed to revive the market.

“Let’s face it,” said Howard Learner of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “No carbon cap, no real carbon market.”

But with a carbon cap, panelists agreed, a robust carbon market could produce much more income for farmers.

“This has the potential to reach 10 to 20 percent of net farm income in a few years,” Walsh said.

In Europe, which has a carbon cap, the price was $16.40 per ton last year, but the value of carbon is also down in Europe (it traded at $27.15 per ton in 2008), particularly after a mandatory carbon cap failed to materialize in Copenhagen.

“All the prices are down,” Walsh said. “In particular the lack of policy guidance is causing the problem.”

Bill Kurtis, a longtime Chicago news broadcaster–and the voice of television shows including American Justice and Cold Case files–served on the panel because he raises grass-fed beef on 12,000 acres in Illinois and Iowa.

“We should get out to Congress and get this thing passed,” he said, gazing down the table at other panelists.

“It would make a big difference,” Ducharme said.

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