Friday, June 26, 2009

Agriculture's Embarrassment

I grew up on the farm that I still own and treasure. I have represented and advocated for farmers for all of my legal professional life. At this point, however, I am embarrassed of the industry that I love so dearly.

Steven Pearlstein's column For the Farm Lobby, Too Much Is Never Enough, in today's Washington Post explains why.

As Pearlstein begins his article, no industry has more to lose from global climate change than agriculture. Many times have I argued that agriculture is unique because of its dependency on the weather.

Those who still want to hold farmers in special regard reference Jefferson and agrarianism, arguing that farmers' dependency on land and nature gives them a special appreciation for the reconciliation of self interest and public good. See, e.g., William B. Browne, Jerry Skees, Louis Swanson, Paul Thompson, & Laurian Unneverhr, Never Assume that Agrarian Values Are Simple, Sacred Cows And Hot Potatoes: Agrarian Myths In Agricultural Policy 7 (Westview Press 1992).

Scratch that theory.

As Pearlstein points out, despite agriculture's role in contributing to global warming, in the current version of the climate change bill, the farm lobby fought hard and obtained exemptions from much of the regulation that is imposed on other industries, and it received other significant concessions.

Nevertheless, the article reports that

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation and the self-proclaimed "voice of agriculture," yesterday urged all House members to vote against the climate-change bill, claiming it would "result in a net economic cost to farmers with little or no environmental benefit."

Not all groups are so opposed. National Farmers Union and American Farmland Trust support the current bill. But, most are actively working against passage. posted a listing of positions this morning.

The agricultural community should stop to consider not only its own long range interest in climate protection, but to consider the public good that we all need keep in mind in order to address the issue of climate change. And, if it really wants to be selfish, it can also consider the backlash that may well be coming. Pearlman concludes his article with the following:

The next time the world's most selfish lobby comes to Washington demanding drought relief, someone ought to have the good sense to tell them to go pound sand.
An industry so wedded to government support and special treatment should pick its battles wisely.

It is time for the agricultural industry to grow up and acknowledge that there are environmental problems that EVERYONE needs to work together to address.