Climate change bill would change economic climate for producers

Commentary

If the climate change bill becomes law, it would not benefit farmers, ranchers and rural Kansas. Also known as cap-and-trade, this legislation would cause farmers and ranchers like the Handke brothers from Muscotah to experience big increases in their operating expenses.

Terry and Paul Handke feed 5,000 head of cattle in their feedlot and farm another 2,000 acres of row crops in Atchison County.

?We could easily see more than $100,000 added to our operating expenses if this legislation is implemented,? Paul said. ?It?s impossible for us to pass on these additional operating costs to consumers when selling our commodities.?

The Handkes said they believe they could ride out such a hit during a short-term period of from one to five years. However, during the long term, they wouldn?t be so lucky.

?Such an increase would force us to decide whether or not we could continue to farm and feed livestock,? Paul said.

Much of the initial increase in operating expenses would come in fuel costs and higher nitrogen (fertilizer) costs. Natural gas is expected to increase at least 10 percent on the low end and more than 50 percent on the high end.

So much uncertainty is out there, said Troy Dumler, Kansas State University Research & Extension. Too many questions remain unanswered about the short-term as well as long-term impact of this climate-change legislation.

While some studies have been completed, much more research is needed to provide a clear picture of what the costs and benefits will be, Dumler said.

?There is still so much to learn,? he added.

The Handke brothers agree. The producers definitely feel uncomfortable talking about the future ramifications of this legislation because there is so much about it they don?t know.

Based on what they know now, Terry believes there will be hardly any benefit for their Atchison County operation. He said many of the proposed offsets would afford little opportunity on their farm.

The Handkes already no-till and have for years. Carbon sequestration will more than likely not provide help either.

?You sure wouldn?t want to run a farming operation like ours and expect it to help the cash flow,? Terry said. ?There are just too many unknowns about what it will do on the expense side of our operation.?

The Handke brothers believe their cost of doing business?producing crops and livestock?will increase. They also foresee every American family experiencing increased costs should this bill become law.

?If this passes, we?re all going to see higher food prices,? Terry said. ?Eventually, someone has to pick up the tab and it won?t just be agriculture that pays.?

In early September, the Handkes hosted Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins on an ag tour of their farm. After the visit, Jenkins thanked the producers for weighing in on this key issue and how it would impact their family farm and ranch operation. She promised to take their message back to Washington.

?It?s been a great opportunity for me to gather information and tell the Handkes? story, when I return to Washington. Cap-and-trade will adversely affect all of our farmers and ranchers here in Kansas and throughout the Midwest.?

 

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.

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