Eric Holst, director of EDF's working lands program
Eric Holst, senior director of Environmental Defense Fund’s working lands program, has been reappointed to the California State Board of Food and Agriculture by Governor Jerry Brown.
Holst has served on the board – a fifteen-member state board appointed by the governor to represent a range of agricultural commodities, geographic regions and academic systems – since 2012. The board encourages public participation and input in all matters concerning agriculture and food policy within the state, from hunger and malnutrition to climate change and environmental markets. But the dominant focus over the last year has been drought and how to mitigate impacts on California agriculture.
A natural choice
Holst has been a leader in developing innovative partnerships with farmers, ranchers and foresters to improve environmental and economic performance on working lands for more than a decade, both in California and elsewhere across the country.
Since he arrived at EDF in 2006 (based in Sacramento), Holst has worked with landowners to develop conservation tools like habitat exchanges that benefit agriculture and the environment. He is an expert in developing strategies that improve livelihoods and environmental conditions on working forests, farms and ranches. Read More
EDF’s Innovators Series profiles companies and people across California with bold solutions to reduce carbon pollution and help the state meet the goals of AB 32. Each addition to the series will profile a different solution, focused on the development of new technologies and ideas.
Although the Yurok Tribe is the largest Native American tribe by membership in California, it has struggled for centuries to keep hold of its ancestral land – an integral part of the Tribe’s livelihood. As European settlers moved in, the Yurok culture of living in unison with nature was rapidly and repeatedly challenged, as their land was taken and the natural ecosystems on which they depend were disrupted. In the New World economy that emerged, a person could make money from this acquired land in one of only three ways. The first was by cutting down the trees to harvest timber. The second was by cutting down the trees to create farmland. The third was by selling the land, most likely to someone who was hoping to cut down the trees for one of the first two purposes.
This story has played out countless times across the world, but California’s cap-and-trade program is changing the existing paradigm by creating a fourth way to derive revenue from forestland through the creation of an active carbon offsets market. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has approved five types of offset protocols for use in cap and trade, one of which is for U.S. forestry projects. This offset protocol gives forest landowners that meet stringent certification criteria a financial incentive to keep sustainable inventories of trees, and their carbon, on the land as opposed to cutting and hauling it all away. Companies regulated under the cap-and-trade program may purchase certified offset credits to account for a small percentage of the greenhouse gas pollution they produce. In this way, offsets can provide valuable opportunities to cut pollution while also creating valuable sources of revenue for landowners.
This September, a new crop will be made available to rice producers: carbon offsets.
The California Air Resources Board (ARB) took another important step forward last week when it published the latest draft standard for the development of carbon offsets. The standard lays out the steps a producer needs to take in order to sell his new crop. Once it is approved, producers will be able grow and sell it as a new revenue stream.
So how does this work?
Rice fields are flooded as a part of growing this worldwide staple. It’s necessary for its growth. However, when water comes in contact with organic matter, the organic matter decomposes, generating methane – a strong greenhouse gas. By reducing the amount of methane generated through rice cultivation, a farmer can generate a carbon credit that can be sold to companies to offset their carbon emissions.
What are the practices that produce credits? Read More
Fertilizer use is key to increasing the productivity necessary for farms to feed rising populations. However, not using the right amount in the right place at the right time is one of the biggest threats to a stable climate. Nitrogen fertilizer not used by crops emits nitrous oxide, a heat-trapping gas 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. It also contaminates water supplies, causes algae blooms downstream and erodes soil health.
So, it was welcome news last week when the first greenhouse gas credits for fertilizer efficiency made their debut in the North American carbon market.
The American Carbon Registry issued the credits to Myron Ortner, a central Michigan farmer who voluntarily reduced nitrous oxide emissions from his crops by modifying his fertilizer use. Working closely with researchers at Michigan State University, Ortner tested fertilizer inputs on a 40-acre plot where he grows corn and soybeans in rotation. In an interview with Scientific American, he said he’s down to using 135 pounds of fertilizer per acre, less than the average 200.
"I found out we can use less nitrogen and get away with it through those studies," Ortner told the publication. "I want a few more years on it before I'm going to commit all my acres to it, but I don't think I've lost any yield by doing what we're doing." Read More
There’s a growing excitement around spreading compost on rangelands to help fight climate change. Over the past four years we have learned that grazed rangelands are really good at pulling carbon out of the air and sequestering it in the soil below. And if you add compost just one time, you can capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for more than seven years. Plus, you’ll increase both the quality of the grasses and the ability of the soils to hold water. If we scaled this to just 5 % of California’s rangelands, we could capture approximately 28 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, which is about the same as the annual emissions from all the homes in California.
To measure the capture of CO2, we collaborated with Terra Global Capital to create a protocol to calculate the amount of CO2 and enable ranchers to generate carbon offsets which they can sell on the voluntary carbon market. Right now we’re in the middle of a public comment period for this protocol – Emissions Reductions from Compost Additions to Grazed Grasslands. After public comment is over the protocol will go through a peer review period, and then be approved and published by the American Carbon Registry. A copy of the protocol and instructions for providing comments is available here.
This protocol quantifies the emission reductions from diverting organic materials from landfills and spreading it on rangeland to spur carbon capturing grass growth. Recent waste studies estimate that approximately 72% of the waste stream going to landfills is organic (6% wood, 7% textiles/leather, 13% yard debris, 12% food scraps, 34% paper). By accurately measuring how much we divert and sequester, we can also correctly reward landowners for their good work. With our partners, University of California at Berkeley and the Marin Carbon Project, we’ve already seen the beneficial impacts through pilot projects on rangeland in Marin, Sonoma, and Yuba counties. Read More
The arrival of Spring can’t come soon enough for some, though it came early for the California offset market. Three significant events will spur the development of carbon offsets from rice cultivation. First, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) launched a rulemaking to adopt a compliance offset protocol for rice cultivation projects. The American Carbon Registry (ACR) also approved a rice protocol for the Mid-South (Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas).
And at EDF we announced the listing of the first California rice offset project with ACR.
As a part of ARB’s rulemaking, they released a discussion draft of a compliance offset protocol. This protocol contained three different activities that growers can take to reduce the generation of methane associated with rice cultivation – dry seeding, early drainage, and alternate wetting and drying of fields. All of these practices have been developed using the latest science and have been shown to reduce methane generation without impacting yield. Methane is the second largest anthropogenic source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for 9% of all U.S. GHG emissions from human activities. Methane is also important because it is more than 20 times more potent a GHG than carbon dioxide. At the meeting, the ARB stated that they intend to propose the protocol for consideration at the September 2014 Board meeting. Read More