Category Archives: Sustainable Agriculture

Spring Cultivates Rice Offsets

rp_robert-200x300.jpgThe 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 »

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Plow, or Preserve and Profit?

Konza Prairie Biological Station

This weekend, long-time Minneapolis Star Tribune outdoors columnist and reporter Dennis Anderson wrote a revelatory call to arms about the dire state of conservation in Minnesota:

"This ain’t working, and we need to try something different. Radically different."

Directly to the West of Minnesota in the Prairie Pothole Region of Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, annual losses of native grasslands have averaged approximately 50,000 acres per year since 2007, leading to a significant loss of soil carbon. High prices for commodity crops make it much more attractive to plow grasslands than to keep them intact.

What if a market-based initiative paid farmers and ranchers for keeping grasslands grass? A new carbon offset protocol announced yesterday may just do that.

The protocol officially titled the “Avoided Conversion of Grasslands and Shrublands to Crop Production” was developed through a partnership effort including Environmental Defense Fund, Duck’s Unlimited, The Climate Trust, The Nature Conservancy and Terra Global Capital and was funded in part by the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Innovation Grant.

Just approved by the American Carbon Registry, this first of its kind voluntary protocol will be best applied to grasslands in the Midwest. Producers of these offsets can sell them to any willing buyer in America. Ranchers in the Midwest already recognize the value of their land lies in the soil health below ground where the soil translates to healthy food for their cattle. Now these same producers can quantify this value and sell it through new environmental markets.

“This project provides Northern Great Plains producers with new ways to earn income from conservation activities, expanded opportunity for outdoor recreation and an opportunity to create jobs in their communities,” said Robert Bonnie, USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment. “The American Carbon Registry’s approval of this innovative ACoGS protocol enables vital projects like our partnership with Ducks Unlimited to preserve a treasured national landscape, while also preventing the release of greenhouse gas emissions.”

This first project the Under Secretary mentions, is estimated to perpetually conserve 5,000 – 6,000 acres of native mixed-grass prairie. The protection of grasslands will also indirectly protect 500-600 acres of seasonal and semi-permanent wetlands situated in the protected grasslands.

And these lands are protected not through onerous regulations or hollowed out federal conservation programs but through innovative new revenue streams for the agriculture sector from emerging environmental markets such as California’s carbon market.  Between now and 2020, companies in California can purchase more than 200 million metric tons of offsets.  This protocol has the opportunity to help supply that demand.

This is an exciting step forward for Midwest producers. By making ecosystems a part of the economy ranchers and their families will benefit from diverse opportunities to make more money off their land.

 

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611,622 Offsets and Counting!

Yesterday the California Air Resources Board (CARB) delivered a total of 611,622 offsets to four offset project operators.  These offsets can now be used by California compliance entities to meet their obligations under the cap-and-trade requirements of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32).

This is an historic accomplishment for California.  Not only are these the first compliance offsets to be generated for the state’s landmark cap-and-trade program, but it sends a strong signal to compliance entities that there is supply.  It also creates a win-win for developers, like U.S. farmers and ranchers, giving them  the opportunity to generate a new revenue stream for their operations while helping California fight pollution in the process.

EDF looks forward to the further offset issuance from CARB.  There are 62 Early Action Projects under review and we expect those credits to be issued in the upcoming weeks.  In addition to Early Action Projects, offset project operators can develop projects under one of the four CARB compliance offset protocols – Forest, Urban Forest, Livestock, and ODS.  This is an exciting time for the cap-and-trade program.  Offsets are valuable, high quality reductions that have already been achieved.  As Board Chair Nichols said “These offsets have undergone the most rigorous verification of any existing program. They achieve real greenhouse gas reductions under ARB-approved protocols, and deliver a range of additional environmental benefits."

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Offset Market Alive and Well in California

Offset Issuance
Congratulations to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) as they announced plans to issue the first CARB Offset Credits or ARBOCs.  These 600,000 metric tons of offsets helps the state move closer towards our emissions reductions goals.  Compliance entities, such as utility and oil and gas companies, can use these offsets to meet up to 8% of their compliance obligation.

As I said before, this is the first of many offset milestones we expect this year.  The CARB has listed 62 Early Action offset projects and 66% of them are in the forest and agriculture sectors – 15 forest projects and 26 livestock manure management projects.  This is important because, as the largest uncapped sector under the cap-and-trade program, agriculture represents a major potential to reduce near-term greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. has more than 442 million acres of cropland.  EDF is working to identify opportunities for producers to generate revenue from their environmental stewardship on these lands.  This is why we support the CARB’s development of protocols like the Rice Cultivation Protocol.

These Early Action projects have generated approximately 12 million metric tons of offsets, most of which is anticipated to be approved for use in the cap-and-trade market.  These Early Action projects are expected to generate Registry Offset Credits (ROCs) later this year and, as required in the regulations, these ROCs will then be reviewed by CARB and converted into ARBOCs within 45 days of issuance.

Anaerobic Digestion, Compost, and Rangeland Opportunities
In addition to issuing offsets, the CARB, in coordination with CalRecycle, held a public workshop this afternoon to discuss updates to the draft Waste Management Sector Plan.”  This plan is an integral part of the Scoping Plan update which will be completed by the end of this year.  Two opportunities of the Waste Sector Plan are of particular interest.  Both relate to further developing Composting and Anaerobic Digestion programs to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from organic waste streams. The Plan estimates that 4.54 to 5.62 million metric tons (MMT) of GHG reductions can be generated by diversion of organic waste from landfills. About half of these reductions (2.06 MMT) can be handled by anaerobic digesters which can convert farm and food waste into both offsets and energy.  California is one of the few states in the country that have incentives in place to generate both these benefits.

The other half of the reductions are forecasted to come from the composting of organic waste.  The Plan states that composting infrastructure has not grown over the past ten years and one of the reasons is a lack of demand for compost.  As a part of a USDA grant, EDF is developing a protocol for the application of compost to rangeland.  Our research has shown that applying one-half inch of compost (made from diverted landfill waste) to grazed rangelands can generate GHG emission reductions of 1.3 to 3.2 MT CO2e per hectare per year.  With approximately 23 million hectares of rangeland in California, there is an enormous potential market to purchase the increase in compost generated.

California policymakers are continuing to create markets for farmers and ranchers to generate revenue from their environmental stewardship.  I look forward to seeing this market continue to develop and expand.

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Agricultural Offsets are to 2013 as Energy Efficiency was to 1973

In 1973 Chase Manhattan Bank saw “virtually no scope for conservation” of electricity.  In 2011 the total market for energy efficiency in buildings was worth $68 billion and is expected to grow more than 50% by 2017.

The same thing is being said about greenhouse gas (GHG) protocols for agriculture today as energy efficiency 40 years ago.  When the California Air Resources Board (CARB) stated that they plan to consider a protocol for rice farmers in California and the Midsouth, some stated that the reductions from the protocol would be “very small” and not “widely used.”  These criticisms miss a key point.

The rice protocol is the jumping off point for a wide-range of agricultural offsets.  The rice protocol will demonstrate the benefits from the use of biogeochemical models, such as the DeNitrification DeComposition (DNDC) model, pioneered by the University of New Hampshire over the past two decades.  It will show how agricultural producers can aggregate their reductions with fellow farmers to create an offset project.  It will revolutionize ways to verify large amounts of data through risk-based sampling.  In short, this is the start of something significant.

Once the rice protocol is approved, CARB can turn its attention to other crops such as corn, wheat, or leafy greens.  They can look at grazing practices on land across the United States.  These practices, just like energy efficiency, add up fast.  It is entirely possible to achieve annual GHG reductions of one hundred million metric tons of CO2e reductions, equivalent to taking more than 20 million cars off the road, over the next ten years.

Because agriculture is the largest uncapped sector under California’s cap-and-trade program, it has a unique potential to help California meet its 2020 target.  To play a role in the program, the rice protocol needs to be adopted this spring and additional offset protocols from agriculture need to be considered in the upcoming years.

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The Future of Offsets Just Got Brighter

Yesterday the California cap-and-trade program hit another milestone. The American Carbon Registry, an approved Offset Project Registry, issued the first compliance offset credits, a significant breakthrough because these offset credits are the first ones that can be used by California companies to comply with the requirements of AB 32, California's greenhouse gas law. The credits were issued for a refrigerant destruction project which collected refrigerants from residential, commercial, and industrial sources. While these gases came from a variety of geographic areas, a significant amount came from California sources like kitchens, garages, basements, and attics.

This is the first of many goals we expect from the offset market in 2013.  Earlier this year, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) planted a seed when it launched a process to develop a carbon offset protocol for rice growers. California is the second-largest rice growing region in the U.S., and the ground that is being plowed here, both literally and figuratively, will set the stage for the development of future agricultural offset protocols across the country with practices such as fertilizer management for lettuce and corn.

As the largest uncapped sector under the cap-and-trade program, agriculture represents a major potential to reduce near-term greenhouse gas emissions.  Unlike refrigerants, offsets generated by agriculture are perennial and a grower can get a long-term income stream for their practices. Because the U.S. has more than 442 million acres of cropland, agriculture has many opportunities to reduce greenhouse gases.

EDF's research and pilots have demonstrated that it is possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decrease input costs, maintain yields, and generate revenue – all at the same time – creating a win-win for both farmers and the environment.

Consider this: If just 5% of U.S. agricultural land were able to reduce or sequester half a ton of CO2e per acre, more than 11 million tons could be reduced – equivalent to taking more than 2 million cars off the road for a year.  By approving the rice offset protocol this fall, the ARB will take the first step toward unleashing this potential.

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Rice Protocol – First Crop-Based Agriculture Offset in Landmark California Climate Program

Yesterday the California Air Resources Board (CARB) launched a rulemaking process to develop a rice carbon offset protocol.  EDF is excited about the development of this protocol – it is a market-ready solution which paves the way for the agriculture sector to participate in California’s landmark cap-and-trade program.  The agriculture sector represents a potential of more than 100 million metric tons by 2020.  At today’s prices that represents more than $1 billion in carbon offsets revenue for growers and landowners.

Rice farmers are leading the way on developing crop-based offsets.  This isn’t surprising.  The rice industry has long been at the forefront of agricultural-environmental innovation – whether it is conserving critical habitat for 230 species of wildlife to modernizing irrigation and pesticide management.  From research to modeling methane management practices to developing a protocol to pilot practices in the field, no other farming sector has done this amount of work to scientifically prove compliance-grade credits from the agriculture sector.

Through developing this protocol CARB sends a signal to rice farmers specifically and all farmers in general that growers can generate additional revenue by adopting practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions without having an adverse impact on yield.  What is equally as important is to do this in a way that allows multiple landowners to aggregate their fields into a larger project that can reduce transaction costs.

EDF looks forward to continuing to work with CARB to develop protocols that generates high quality, environmentally sound offsets from U.S. agriculture.

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Auction results present golden opportunity for California landowners

Last Friday, results from California’s second cap-and-trade auction were released and by all accounts it was a huge success. More importantly, it sent a signal that this is a strong and viable carbon market and presents a golden opportunity for landowners.

Through agricultural offsets, landowners have the potential to provide companies a lower priced option for meeting California’s greenhouse gas targets than available through the auction. Companies that must meet the requirements of the cap-and-trade program are allowed to use offsets for up to 8 percent of their greenhouse gas obligation and the price of carbon is going up with each auction — there was a 27 percent increase in the price of allowances between the November and February auction, from $10.09 to $13.62 per metric ton.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has approved four types of offset projects for use under California’s cap-and-trade program: forestry (improved management, avoided conversion, and reforestation), livestock methane capture and destruction, refrigerant destruction (limited to specific ozone depleting substances), and urban tree planting. At the end of March, CARB will start a rulemaking process for the consideration of two new protocols – rice cultivation and coal mine methane destruction. EDF is working closely with stakeholders throughout the U.S. to help develop and implement a rice protocol.

A related and positive development for the offset market occurred on December 14, 2012 when the Climate Action Reserve and American Carbon Registry were named as official "Offset Project Registries." The registries can now issue offset credits from protocols that have been approved by CARB. As additional agricultural offset protocols are approved, farmers throughout the United States can begin offering agricultural offset credits to companies to help them comply with California’s cap-and-trade program. We expect the first offsets to be issued by the registries and approved by CARB in the next three months.

While prices vary by year and type of offset, offsets were trading between $10 and $12 per metric ton prior to the second auction. This price will go up now that the results of the auction have been released. This means that agricultural producers will have an opportunity for a new and steady income stream for their conservation stewardship and for being part of the climate solution.

To learn more about agriculture's ability to offset climate change please visit EDF's web page here: http://www.edf.org/climate/agricultures-ability-offset-climate-change.

 

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Climate Protocol Approved for CA Rice Farming

 Today, the Climate Action Reserve (CAR) approved a new protocol for measuring the climate benefits of reducing  methane emissions from rice farming practices.  

CAR developed the protocol with participation from Environmental Defense Fund and other groups over several months.  The American Climate Registry (ACR) and the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) are expected to adopt rice protocols in 2012. 

EDF worked for the past several years on quantifying the benefits that can be achieved from changing current farming practices toward more climate-aware and ecosystem-beneficial practices.  In California, the most productive agricultural state in America, opportunities abound to maximize ecosystem services throughout the state – including:

  • changes to rice farming and fertilizer management;
  • application of compost to rangelands; and
  • restoring wetlands. 

 These practices, if credited by California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) as approved protocols, will not only reduce pollution from California’s agriculture sector, they will yield additional economic benefits to farmers as offsets that can be sold to companies that must comply with the state’s cap-and-trade program that is the cornerstone of its landmark climate law, AB 32

High-end estimates indicate that, if fully subscribed for optimal profits, about 180,000 tons per year of greenhouse gas pollution can be cut from changing to low-carbon rice management.

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Sustaining Environmental Capital in the Mokelumne River Watershed

Solar panels power Vino Farms (Mathew Grimm)

In July 2011, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology issued a report to President Obama on Sustaining Environmental Capital: Protecting Society and the Economy that called for a national inventory on the services that ecosystems provide and a better valuation of those services. The report recognized that environmental capital is a key underpinning of public health and economic recovery. Natural systems provide a wealth of services including clean water and air, productive soils and protection from floods and fires, among many others.

Mokelumne River (Mathew Grimm)

We are happy to announce that in late August, Sustainable Conservation, in partnership with Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Incentives, Protected Harvest and the Sierra Nevada Conservancy was awarded a $372,000 Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop a pilot program to measure environmental benefits in California’s Mokelumne River Watershed. Once developed, the program will attract funding to pay farmers, ranchers and foresters to enhance nature’s benefits, including water purification, erosion control and wildlife habitat. In addition, the program could potentially help establish better tools for valuing ecosystem services in watersheds throughout the country as called for in the report to President Obama. To read more about it please visit the Western Farm Press

The Mokelumne Program will provide economic incentives to landowners in the region (Mathew Grimm)

The Mokelumne River, which originates in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and crosses the Central Valley before joining the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, provides significant environmental and economic benefits to California and the region. The Mokelumne watershed produces hydro-electric energy, high value crops, timber, important habitat for wildlife, and recreational benefits like whitewater rafting and popular trout fishing.  Notably, the Mokelumne delivers water to 1.4 million people in San Francisco’s East Bay and provides agricultural water supply and storage within the watershed to irrigate over 800,000 acres of vineyards and other crops. 

In recent years, however, the Mokelumne watershed has faced an increased risk of catastrophic fire, significant development pressures, a lack of economic vitality and diversity in its communities, and high unemployment. In addition, development and poor vegetation management have contributed to fire, habitat degradation, diminished species populations and impaired water quality. Climate change is predicted to decrease the amount of water retained in the snowpack and will require dams to be operated differently to protect communities from increased risk of flooding. To address these threats holistically, EDF, in collaboration with other NGO’s, state and federal agencies, and a broad array of watershed stakeholders, is developing a watershed management approach that focuses on community participation. Specifically, the management approach focuses on compensating landowners for resource stewardship and habitat restoration. 

The Mokelumne Watershed Environmental Benefits Program will create a performance-based environmental accounting system so that public and private land managers can consistently pay for and track environmental improvements, and create a meaningful understanding of how conservation efforts in the upper and lower watershed benefit local communities, water users, hydroelectric power generators, and the California economy. Ultimately, this will raise investor confidence in restoration by showing the “bang for the buck” of each investment.  Investors in restoration, such as the USDA, the State of California and the private sector are particulary interested in improving how they target their limited resources so that there is greater accountability, efficiency and effectiveness.

EDF's Belinda Morris gets a tour of Vino Farms from viticulturist Chris Storm (Mathew Grimm)

The next stage of the Program will focus on developing metrics to better quantify the environmental outcomes associated with restoration activities that provide environmental benefits, such as improved water quality and increased water storage. We will build on current efforts underway in other regions where tools have been developed to measure improvements in habitat, water quality and instream flows, which are critical resource needs of the watershed.  This information will help us target those restoration activities (e.g., riparian vegetation restoration, instream channel stabilization, water conservation, etc.) that can result in the greatest environmental outcomes. We will partner with agricultural landowners to test the quantification tools and to measure the environmental outcomes from restoration activities. In addition, we will aim to demonstrate a watershed-wide approach to achieve conservation actions that will support local communities and other beneficiaries of the services that the watershed provides. Most exciting is the fact that the diverse ecosystems and valuable land uses across the Mokelumne Watershed are representative of many California watersheds, therefore by developing and proving out this innovative model in the Mokelumne, we believe there is huge potential to replicate it throughout California and possibly beyond.

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