How A Carbon Price Could Gut Animal Agriculture Without Taxing Farmers And Ranchers


Jeff McMahon, Senior Contributor, Forbes

Nov 18, 2021


Even a very modest carbon price would offer most farmers and ranchers more revenue than they make raising animals for slaughter, according to the scientist who founded Impossible Foods.


“It’s kind of magical, actually,” Patrick Brown said Nov. 4 at WebSummit in Lisbon. “If there were a carbon market, and a ton of carbon dioxide was priced at $50, almost everyone who’s in the animal-agriculture industry could make much more money by getting rid of their cows, getting rid of their livestock, and allowing the biomass to recover on their land.”


Brown repeated the claim Nov. 9 at the Glasgow Climate Conference, which counted among its accomplishments new ground rules for global carbon markets.


“If, as I think most of us hope and expect, there's a functional carbon market within the next few years, and if the price is at or above the minimum price that economists think is required to meaningfully impact climate change—which is about $50 US per ton of CO2—the vast majority of the land currently being used to raise animals for food could produce much more income by restoring the original biomass and selling the carbon credits from that restoration,” he said in Glasgow.


“There's huge potential – I've calculated what the value of the land would be for that purpose versus the current price – there's large amounts of land around the world that's worth ten to 50 times as much” when used for carbon capture.


Brown and computational biologist Michael Eisen base their calculation on a paper published last year in Nature that estimates the “carbon opportunity cost” of using land for animal agriculture instead of for carbon sequestration.


In the U.S., land used for farming and grazing could sequester 55 billion tons of carbon, which at $50 per ton would generate almost $2.8 trillion.


The value of all U.S. ag land, including buildings, according to the USDA, is $2.7 trillion.


Of that, pasture land is worth only about a third as much per acre as cropland.


If carbon were sequestered over 50 years, U.S. farmers and ranchers could earn $50 billion per year by reforesting pasture land, Brown said. If, as expected, the carbon is sequestered much faster, say in 30 years, they could earn $94 billion per year.


Net farm income, minus federal subsidies, is about $73 billion per year, but the income per acre, again, is lowest on pasture land...


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