Biden Climate Change Strategy Draws Farm Belt Support, Concern

Source: By Heather Haddon, Wall Street Journal • Posted: Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Corn growers say they would like new administration to maintain federal backing for ethanol as fuel additive

Some farms, such as this one in Farmington, Minn., devote portions of their fields to solar panels. Photo: Tim Gruber for The Wall Street Journal

U.S. farmers want President Biden to see them as partners in fighting climate change.

Food producers said Tuesday at The Wall Street Journal Global Food Forum that they want the new administration to give farmers incentives to cultivate crops in ways that capture carbon dioxide in the soil.

“We have a huge opportunity there,” said Megan Dwyer, a corn farmer from northwestern Illinois who belongs to the Illinois Corn Growers Association.

Mr. Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. Agriculture Department, Tom Vilsack, has said he wants to work with farmers on policies to support the administration’s broader efforts against climate change. He said during his Senate confirmation hearing last week that government-funded incentives could get farmers to adopt climate-friendly practices without additional regulation.

Some farmers have said they worried that Mr. Biden would tighten environmental regulations in ways that would restrict their operations, undoing the Trump administration’s easing of rules governing water quality, meatpacking-plant operations and greenhouse-gas emissions.

Farmers said they want the Biden administration to maintain federal support for ethanol, the corn-based fuel additive. “Ethanol should still be part of the mix,” said Larry Hasheider, a grain and livestock farmer from Okawville, Ill. A higher proportion of biological-based additives in fuels could offer further opportunities to farmers, he said.

In the European Union, officials are considering ways to capture in the soil carbon released from burning fossil fuels, also known as sequestration, among other means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from farms, said Janusz Wojciechowski, European commissioner for agriculture. Some EU countries are looking to provide incentives to farmers who reduce the density of livestock production to help lessen methane emissions, Mr. Wojciechowski said at the Global Food Forum.

“This is the great challenge,” he said. “Greenhouse emissions from agriculture is too high.”

In the U.S., some farmers are devoting portions of their fields to renewable- energy production. Renewable-energy producers want the Biden administration to expand tax credits for solar and wind developments.

Ms. Dwyer said she worries about top-quality agricultural land being turned into acres of solar panels. “The land is a finite resource,” she said.

Kimberly Ratcliff, manager of Caney Creek Ranch in Oakwood, Texas, said she has dedicated 1,000 acres of her farm to solar panels. The installation will generate revenue for her entire family, she said, including those who aren’t actively farming.

“If they don’t get some kind of income on the ranch, they aren’t going to survive,” Ms. Ratcliff said about her family’s decision to host solar panels.

Write to Heather Haddon at