The largest U.S. farm group will "aggressively" fight back against any attempts to change the landscape of American agriculture -- including the farm bill or animal rights campaigns, American Farm Bureau Federation Bob Stallman said yesterday.
In a fiery speech that kicked off the powerful farm lobby's four-day convention in Seattle, Stallman said farmers and ranchers must unite to respond to "misguided, activist-driven regulation."
"A line must be drawn between our polite and respectful engagement with consumers and how we must aggressively respond to extremists who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule," Stallman said. "The time has come to face our opponents with a new attitude. The days of their elitist power grabs are over."
The remarks were harsher than usual for Stallman, who leads the 6-million-member farm group. Representatives from Farm Bureau chapters across the country are in Seattle this week for the group's annual conference. Members are likely to vote on resolutions declaiming cap-and-trade legislation, according to members of the organization.
The self-described "national voice of agriculture," the Farm Bureau has chapters in every state. Among agriculture groups, the bureau has been one of the most strident critics of cap-and-trade proposals in the House and Senate, arguing that it would cost too much for farmers because of potentially higher fertilizer and fuel prices.
The climate bill that passed the House last summer and is under consideration in the Senate would set a limit on overall greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Regulated entities could buy offsets for some of their emissions by paying farmers to plant trees, practice no-till farming or other carbon-storing practices.
Stallman said that the bill would "slash" farmers' ability to produce more food for a growing worldwide population. He estimated the bill would shift as many as 59 million acres of food production into forestry -- equal to setting aside every acre of land used for crop and food production in California, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
He called on farmers to be more aggressive in opposing the climate bill and any other attacks on agriculture, including characterizations of "factory farmer, industrial food and big ag." He cited advice Gen. George Patton gave during World War II: "Make your plans to fit the circumstances."
"Our adversaries are skillful at taking advantage of our politeness. Publicly, they call for friendly dialogue while privately their tactics are far from that," Stallman said. "To those who expect to just roll over America's farm and ranch families, my only message is this: The circumstances have changed."
The Farm Bureau has approved resolutions on climate legislation in the past. Leaders in the organization say they expect more resolutions this year -- including some that may be "more emphatic" in declaiming cap-and-trade legislation.
The conference's one scheduled session on climate change, held last night, was entitled "Global Warming: A Red Hot Lie?" Climate skeptic Christopher Horner, from the fiery libertarian think tank, Competitive Enterprise Institute, told farmers the data behind global warming is weak.
Horner said cap-and-trade legislation would be "all pain, no gain" for farmers and called the offsets an "accounting gimmick" that would not aid producers.
Scientists push back
Meanwhile, scientists and environmental groups are putting pressure on the Farm Bureau in an effort to break the powerful farm lobby's staunch opposition to cap-and-trade legislation.
A group of 47 scientists, organized by the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists, sent a letter to Stallman last week, asking him to reverse his group's position on climate change.
The bureau has taken a position that "there is no generally agreed upon scientific assessment of the exact impact or extend of carbon emissions from human activities, their impact on past decades of warming or how they will affect future climate changes."
The letter -- led by three department chairs from the University of Minnesota, University of Illinois and Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis and signed by 32 scientific professors at other universities -- asks the bureau to consider some of the harmful effects climate change could have on farmers.
A federal assessment last year estimated that any potential benefits from a longer growing season and higher carbon dioxide levels would be more than offset by the downside of climate change.
"Your organization's position does not reflect the consensus opinion of the science community or the scientific literature," the letter states.
The authors ask for a meeting with Stallman, noting that "the agriculture community has much to lose and gain based on the actions our nation takes to address climate change."
Farm Bureau spokeswoman Tracy Taylor Grondine said the group has not seen the official hard copy of the letter but said the effort "appears to be more of a media stunt than a sincere request for dialogue."
Scientists have estimated that climate change could cause greater pest and weed infestations and more severe weather events, including flooding or heat waves that could reduce crop yields and stress livestock.
The Farm Bureau has been outspoken in decrying the legislation under consideration in the House and Senate, saying it will do little to mitigate climate change and raise costs for farmers.
Representatives from the group have made their position known in testimony in the House and Senate and lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill.
The more left-leaning National Farmers Union supported the House bill because of the benefits it could provide for farmers who want to profit from a market for carbon sequestration. Other groups, like the National Corn Growers Association, have remained neutral.
Economic studies have come to a variety of conclusions about how a national cap-and-trade system would affect the bottom line for farmers, and the benefits may depend on the area of the country and what crops or animals a farmer raises. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has argued the benefits to farmers from carbon offset revenues would outweigh the higher costs.
Correction: This story was corrected at 2:55 p.m. to reflect that there were 47 scientists, organized by the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists, that sent a letter to Stallman last week.