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Opening Statement of Ranking Member John Boozman at Climate Change Hearing

WASHINGTON— U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, released the following opening remarks, as prepared, from the hearing entitled Farmers and Foresters: Opportunities to Lead in Tackling Climate Change:

Thank you Chairwoman Stabenow for setting the stage for this morning’s hearing.

I thank our witnesses for their time today.

I appreciate your interest and commitment to finding solutions to numerous, complex challenges posed by climate change, and how farmers, ranchers and foresters can play a proactive role in this endeavor while finding themselves on a better footing.

This committee has a keen interest in learning about opportunities for farmers and foresters that allow them to continue to evolve as they increase yields, conserve natural resources, sustain economic prosperity—and now, potentially, engage in new markets that value climate change mitigation.

The progress of American agriculture has been continuous during our lives. Today's chicken industry uses 75 percent fewer resources—land, water and fossil fuels—than it did in 1965.

Today's dairy industry produces 60 percent more milk than it did in 1950 and it does so with a herd that is nearly two thirds smaller.

The U.S. beef industry produces 18 percent of the world’s beef with only 6 percent of the world’s cattle.

And since 1980, U.S. rice farmers have increased rice production by 32 percent while decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by 41 percent and decreasing water use by 52 percent.

Every crop grown in the U.S. has similar success stories that demonstrate their environmental gains. And U.S. farmers will continue to lead the world in making advancements to improve the environmental sustainability of our food system.

Exciting new opportunities to compensate farmers and foresters for these environmental gains hold promise. However, the current reality is farmers must navigate complex barriers in order to access this uncertain marketplace.

There are costs associated with verification, validation, technical services, new technologies and equipment, and often times costs associated with reduced yields.

These costs add up, and can become prohibitive. For this new opportunity to be viable for producers and forest owners, the benefits must outweigh the risks and costs they take on.

Farmers should not be expected to accept a reduction in crop yield, or to be forced to compensate for that reduction by relying on a speculative new income stream derived from developing greenhouse gas credit trading.

We need to foster an environment where we can increase yields while improving economic sustainability and new opportunities for American farmers, ranchers, and foresters.

As Congress and the administration develop a framework to promote farmer, rancher and forester participation in combatting climate change, we must avoid policies that would distort planting decisions or markets. 

Requiring farmers to engage in complex activities in order to qualify for vital business needs such as credit, insurance or other farm programs would be a mistake.

Variances across soil types, regions, crops, species and topography pose different complications for farmers with regard to capturing carbon in soils.

New opportunities for producers growing corn are different than opportunities for a producer growing specialty crops in greenhouses, or opportunities for livestock, and so on.

This may be a potential income stream for some producers, which is a good thing. But for others it could be cost prohibitive. Farm policy must take this complex reality into consideration and must not penalize producers to spur participation.

While protecting our climate is critical, we must avoid a heavy-handed government approach that could place unbearable requirements on our small farmers in particular, and likely drive concentration within the agriculture sector.

Madam Chairwoman, I have three documents that I asked be included in the record for today’s hearing, two letters and a written statement submitted by stakeholder groups interested in climate policies.

Before closing I have to express my disappointment in learning that leaders in the House are looking to utilize the budget reconciliation process again this year to advance climate change policies.

Budget reconciliation has unfortunately become a partisan process that does not take into consideration the views of the minority at all. Climate change poses many complexities for the agriculture sector, and input from the Republican members of this committee should be taken into consideration.

Climate change policies impacting agriculture should be developed here, at the Agriculture Committee, on a bipartisan basis, as had long been our tradition.

I would implore the agriculture and forestry stakeholder groups to consider whether this is an appropriate path forward to establish policies on an issue as important and complex as this.

There is too much at stake for the agriculture sector and rural America for climate policies to be advanced in this manner.

I am eager to hear from our witnesses who represent unique interests, to understand how you are approaching these new opportunities while also managing the challenges encountered on your unique operations.

Thank you Chairwoman Stabenow.