With all their land, farmers can play an important role in reducing harmful carbon in the atmosphere — or so said Barack Obama on the campaign trail.
While running for president, Obama promised to create a program to encourage farmers to either plant trees on large tracts of farmland or employ cultivation practices that pull carbon from the atmosphere.
Here's how it works: Carbon dioxide plays a key role in photosynthesis. The more trees, grasses and plants that get planted, the more carbon is pulled from the atmosphere and used in the process. As climate change has accelerated, many scientists argue that planting more plants and trees is one way to reduce carbon concentrations in the atmosphere.
Open farmland is an ideal place for more plants and trees. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, farms can help by planting trees, creating conservation buffers — strips of grass and other greens that serve the dual purpose of protecting streams and preventing erosion — and by tilling land less frequently. (When soil is turned over, it releases carbon stored under the ground into the air. Conversely, land that remains intact can absorb more carbon).
Carbon sequestration, the term for the capture of carbon, is not new to the farming community. For example, the National Farmers Union created a voluntary program several years ago that allowed farmers to sell carbon credits through the Chicago Climate Exchange.
However, until now, there's been little government oversight. The cap-and-trade bill in the House would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to come up with a program to govern carbon sequestration efforts, including coming up with a list of practices that can reduce greenhouse gasses or sequester carbon.
While the legislation doesn't yet include new subsidies or other such traditional incentives Obama referred to in his campaign promise, Liz Friedlander, spokeswoman for the National Farmers Union, said the new guidelines will likely encourage more farmers to participate.
"They can sell these credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange or something similar," she said. "That would be the financial incentive."
So, while the cap-and-trade bill does not establish new incentives in the traditional sense, it does advance Obama's promise to expand carbon sequestration opportunities for farmers. Nevertheless, the climate debate is long from over, as the Senate has yet to take up the legislation. As a result, we put this promise at In the Works.