Taxing cow farts: The strange and true from D.C.


You take a coupla days off and the papers and e-mails pile up faster than snowflakes in Geauga County. Here’s some of what greeted me Monday morning:

Cow tax. The ag airwaves and Internet hotlines were buzzing last week with a last ditch plea for comments on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. (The deadline for comments was Nov. 28.)

According to Dairy Today‘s Jim Dickerell, Title V of the act requires any entity that could potentially emit more than 100 tons of greenhouse gas to get a permit. The USDA estimates any farm with more than 25 dairy cows, 50 beef cattle or 200 hogs would fall into that category. Methane emissions, you know. Cow farts and other waste emissions.

The EPA’s minimum rate is $43.75 per ton of emitted gases, a figure the American Farm Bureau Federation uses to translate the impact: $175/dairy cow; $87.50/beef cow; and $20/hog.

Dickerell says there a little “political gamesmanship” going on, so don’t get too fired up. He talked to Florida Farm Bureau’s Andrew Walmsley who explained, “[President-elect] Obama is calling on Congress to enact global warming, cap-and-trade legislation within the next 18 months. If Congress doesn’t act, he would then let EPA move forward with the Clean Air Act regulating greenhouse gases.”

Stay tuned for more foul news from D.C.

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I know it and most of you know it, but it bears repeating: The bulk of farm bill — oh, pardon me, farm act — allocations don’t go to farmers.

The USDA’s Economic Research Service recently showed the budget in living pie chart color: Nutrition programs, primarily food stamps, account for 68 percent of the farm act budget. Yep, two-thirds of farm act spending goes to help low-income Americans purchase food, and to provide food to programs that serve children and the elderly.

Commodity, conservation and crop insurance programs make up about 31 percent of the budget, with the remaining 1 percent going to miscellaneous programs like promotion, research and energy programs.

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The recession is official (we’ve been in it for a year and the powers that be are just now proclaiming it). What’s the big picture for 2008 farm income and expenses?

“The real story is that a lot more money went into your bank account and a lot more went out of your bank account,” says Stu Ellis, who pens the University of Illinois’ blog the farm gate.

USDA’s estimates of cash receipts for food grains is up, as are receipts from livestock and livestock products (although dairy receipts declined in 2008).

Here’s what a lot of farmers face: Income may have been up, but expenses were even higher. In fact, expenses have increased $100 billion in just five years. Since 2002, fertilizer expenses are up 191 percent and seed is up 71 percent. And if you raise livestock, you know your feed bill has skyrocketed — nationally, an average of 23 percent. Many livestock producers operated in the red in 2008.

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I couldn’t end on such a sour note, so I will add this observation from a recent dairy meeting I attended in western Pa.: For the first time in a long time, I think there were several “younger” faces in the crowd. There is hope, and we should encourage these young men and women all we can.

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