San Luis Valley, Colo. potato growers voice concern over cap and trade

09/15/2009 04:18:18 PM
Jim Offner

As the debate over who or what causes global warming rages on, there seems to be little argument that politicians’ solution will bring a distinct chill to the potato industry, according to growers and shippers in the San Luis Valley.

The central strategy — commonly known as “cap and trade” — in the U.S. House-approved bill designed to combat climate change is generating angst in the valley’s potato industry, although a number of growers and shippers offer measured comments about the plan.

Cap and trade, in short, is a system designed to reward industries that emit fewer pollutants and penalize those who spew more. The system sets a cap on emissions and allows clean companies to sell or trade credits to others who exceed limits on carbon emissions.

The House narrowly passed cap-and-trade requirements as part of its energy package over the summe. The Senate was still deliberating over its own proposals as autumn approached.

President Obama has voiced full-throated support for the concept.

Some San Luis Valley potato growers and shippers question the timing of such change.

“We’re meeting with (U.S. Department of Agriculture) Secretary (Tom) Vilsack and Sen. (Michael) Bennet (D-Colo.) about climate change. W are concerned with that legislation,” said Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Monte Vista-based Colorado Potato Administrative Committee. “There are a lot of things in Washington that impact growers here.”

Erhlich said passage of cap and trade could wreak havoc on the industry’s cost structure.

“On a state level, our budget is such a wreck (that) it’s going to impact the state department of agriculture, and that has the potential to impact inspection services an how they’re going to be able to serve growers,” he said. “With the budget, it has the potential to cause (problems).”

Ehrlich also said he realized discussing the issue could be a delicate matter.

“I’ve got to be careful with what I say,” he said. “We’re concerned that for irrigated farmers, the impact is going to be more than for farmers that don’t have to irrigate. Specialty crop producers won’t be able to benefit from the carbon credit program that the corn farmers in Midwest can benefit from.”

No-till corn growers, such as those in Iowa, don’t take the hit from cap and trade that potato growers do, Ehrlich said.

“We’re growing crops with high residue,” he said. “When you till the soil, you break down the carbon. If you leave in a no-till situation, it doesn’t break down the carbon so the levels build up. Potatoes are not a no-till crop. You have to move the soil to plant potatoes.”


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