My View: Cap and trade would threaten family farms
I'm a 32-year-old farmer, the third generation to work on our family farm in Clackamas County. We've survived this long because we raise high-quality crops and because we take excellent care of the land, water and air. Decreasing our carbon footprint is part of this effort. Our livelihood depends upon a healthy environment and so does our future.
However, if the Oregon Legislature adopts a cap-and-trade policy by passing HB 2020, it will make it harder for my family farm to survive.
In its very first year, a cap-and-trade law is expected to increase the price of fuel by a staggering 16 cents per gallon. This alone would cost us thousands of dollars a year extra just to keep farming.
Our farm is currently trying to transition more acreage into organic production. While organic farming may mean less use of certain kinds of chemicals, it also means more tractor driving over the fields.
And that means more fuel is needed.
Such a massive hike in fuel prices will cause farmers like me, who're considering getting into organic production, to think again. It might not be financially feasible.
Most farmers use heavy equipment during planting and harvest, large trucks for distributing crops, and a variety of vehicles on the day-to-day job. Fuel is a major operating cost for almost all of us in agriculture, no matter the type of crop raised, or method of farming used.
Unlike other industries, when the cost of doing business goes up, farmers cannot simply raise the price tag on our product. The price for most agricultural products is set by the global market, over which we have no control. Sometimes we don't know how much we'll get for a crop until weeks or even months after it's been harvested and delivered.
Any higher cost we're faced with — like higher fuel prices caused by cap and trade — is a financial hit that my farm is expected to absorb somehow. It's a struggle because we're already operating on a thin profit margin and we're already trying to accommodate new expenses caused by more rules, regulations, and red tape from the government.
If it becomes unviable for Oregon family farms to stay in business, that opens the door even wider to imported food coming from countries like China, Mexico, and Brazil, which have a lot lower environmental standards than we have. Any carbon reductions that Oregon may achieve by cap and trade would quickly be negated by increased carbon emissions caused by more international imports.
I'm also concerned about how cap and trade will affect rural Oregonians. In rural areas, families need to drive farther for everything: for work, for groceries, for medical care. We don't have access to nearly as much public transportation as people in urban areas do. This means rural families will bear more of the financial burden caused by a cap-and-trade policy.
Northwest Natural estimated that the cost for residential natural gas users would rise up to 53 percent by 2040 if cap and trade passes. That will hurt lower-income Oregonians no matter where they live.
Agriculture is the original green industry, and farmers are the original environmentalists. While I agree we should all work together to reduce carbon emissions, I believe this cap-and-trade proposal would cause more harm than good.