Vilsack orders climate change model update

Dec 24, 2009
by DTN

The Agriculture Department will update a forecasting model that suggests climate legislation will prompt U.S. farmers to plant trees on 59 million acres of farmland, officials said recently.

The Forest and Agricultural Sector Optimization Model suggested climate legislation would prompt U.S. farmers to plant trees on 59 million acres of farmland.

The forecast stirred concern among lawmakers and farm groups that crop and livestock production will be constrained for decades into the future while the U.S. population grows.

“If landowners plant trees to the extent the model suggests, this would be disruptive to agriculture in some regions of the country,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “I don’t believe the results ... are necessarily an accurate depiction of the impacts of climate legislation.”

Vilsack said he directed USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber to work with the Environmental Protection Agency to review the assumptions in the Forest and Agricultural Sector Optimi zation

Model (FASOM), update the model and develop options to avoid adverse changes in the sector.

“The model could be updated to better reflect current legislative proposals,” said Vilsack.

The House-passed climate bill would give farmers credit for tillage changes from 2001 that lock carbon into the soil. But FASOM gives no credit for ongoing soil sequestration when it calculates potential income from contracts to offset greenhouse gases.

FASOM also gives little weight to work to reduce methane emissions by livestock, said Vilsack, and “makes other assumptions that could lead to an overestimate of afforestation.”

An analysis by a University of Tennessee think tank says biofuels could account for carbon capture and not require a loss of farmland.

Overall, the USDA analysis says the climate bill will result in modest increases in energy prices but farmers will make up for it through carbon offsets with an average annual increase in farm income of $20 bil lion.

Foes say only a minority of farmers will see income from offsets.

“While we are confident that the level of offsets will be significant, it is possible that the level and mix of offsets, especially with respect to afforestation, will differ as a result of changes in model assumptions,” said the USDA analysis of climate legislation.

“This suggests continued work to refine model assumptions.”

The USDA analysis assumes no change in policy and that Conservation Reserve Program enrollment will remain high.

“Changes to these or other policy variables can affect both the level and distribution of offsets,” said USDA. — DTN