Vilsack questions USDA's climate change modeling

In discussions in Copenhagen, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says USDA's modeling "outdated."

Already there is skepticism about climate change modeling when it comes to the truth behind the validity of whether or not the world is warming at alarming rates. Now Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has called into question the models his agency has used to determine the impacts on farmers.

Originally his chief economist Joe Glauber testified to Congress that up to 59 million acres of pasture and cropland could be converted by 2050 under a cap-and-trade system to control greenhouse gases.

The report, Effects of Climate Change on Ecosystems, outlines the impacts on agriculture including land and water resources. USDA reported that livestock mortality will decrease with warmer winters but this will be more than offset by greater mortality in hotter summers. Weeds, disease and pest prevalence are also expected to be more prevalent.

Glauber released his full economic analysis Friday. Vilsack contends that the costs of climate change legislation introduced in the House will be "modest while returns from offsets will increase over time and result in positive net income for agriculture."

Vilsack recognized that the results of the output of the FASOM model - a model developed by researchers at Texas A& M University that the Environmental Protection Agency also used - is causing concern among the farm and ranch community as a result of the models projections on afforestation over the next several decades.

"Based on conversations with Dr. Glauber and my staff, I don't believe the results related to afforestation forecast by the FASOM model are necessarily an accurate depiction of the impacts of climate legislation. The model could be updated to better reflect current legislative proposals. The FASOM model as it is currently configured makes assumptions that reduce farmer income from offsets generated by conservation tillage, methane reductions and other offset activities. The model also makes other assumptions that could lead to an overestimate of afforestation. This is especially true given that the model attempts to forecast land use impact over long-time horizons," Vilsack said.

But this isn't flying well with leading Republicans in the House and Senate. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) , ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, respectively, sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack regarding his recent remarks on the Department's climate change legislation analysis.

Lucas and Chambliss said the statement made by Sec. Vilsack implies a lack of confidence in the modeling used by both USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The two also sent a similar letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

The letter noted, "The Department's testimony delivered earlier this month to the House Agriculture Committee is clear and unequivocal; agriculture will undergo significant structural impacts that will change how food, feed, fiber and fuel are produced in the United States. The disappearance of 59 million acres of cropland, higher food prices and lower exports will undoubtedly shape how farmers and ranchers make a living in the years ahead. While we can disagree on policy, we cannot ignore the facts when they are inconvenient to our preferred narrative."

Additionally, they ask that both the USDA and EPA report to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees on the problems with the economic model in order to reflect realistic scenarios while examining the impact of cap and trade on the agriculture and forestry sectors.

Vilsack said that he directed Glauber to work together with EPA to undertake a review of the assumptions in the FASOM model, to update the model and to develop options on how to best avoid unintended consequences for agriculture that might result from climate change legislation.

The big question is whether modeling can accurately project the total impact on farmers. And is Congress ready to make decisions that could cause major economic harm to many sectors of the agricultural community?

 

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