Growing Returns

Remembering an agricultural pioneer

Credit: University of New Hampshire

Dr. Changsheng Li. Credit: University of New Hampshire

You may not know the name Dr. Changsheng Li, who passed away last week after a courageous battle with cancer, but his legacy will live on for generations.

A professor at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), Dr. Changsheng developed and refined a model that has been used in more than 20 countries to calculate methane and nitrous oxide emissions from crop production.

A UNH faculty award from 2009 noted that “it is rare to meet a person who fairly radiates humility and compassion. Changsheng Li of the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space is just such an individual.” He will be sorely missed by his friends at Environmental Defense Fund – and across the entire agricultural world.

His work took on new meaning and unprecedented momentum over the past few months with several big developments in the field of agricultural carbon markets – successes that would not have been possible without his pioneering work.  Read More »

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How to overcome big data’s barriers

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Credit: Flickr user Marcos Gasparutti

As I wrote earlier this week, data analytics technology has the potential to dramatically change the way we produce food, making it more abundant and sustainable. But a number of obstacles remain.

Here’s how we can address some of the biggest challenges and hasten ag’s big data revolution for the benefit of people and the planet.

1. Protecting privacy

Many growers have told me they are willing to share data – if they know exactly where it’s going and how it will be used, and if they can benefit from the data analysis that occurs. However, big concerns remain about data being used for regulatory compliance purposes, given to rival farmers, or shared with seed and fertilizer companies that would gain a competitive advantage. Read More »

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Ag’s big data explosion can benefit the environment too

Almost daily, I see new stories on how agribusinesses, entrepreneurs, and traditional technology companies are making big investments in precision agriculture tools and digital platforms that collect data from farms.

These data include information such as fertilizer rate, prescription accuracy, yield by square foot, seed type, and soil type. When analyzed at a large scale, the data can determine best practices for farm operations to maximize yield and minimize input costs.

This is an exciting trend, with big and small companies alike getting into the data game, and the tools used to collect this data becoming ubiquitous. And although these technologies weren’t necessarily started with sustainability in mind, they have tremendous potential to benefit the environment. Read More »

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Grasslands protocol opens another carbon market for farmers

GrasslandsGrowers with grasslands on their property have a new reason to leave that land untouched.

On July 22, the Climate Action Reserve, a non-profit organization that creates offset standards and serves as one of the offset registries for California’s cap-and-trade program, approved a new protocol that rewards farmers for avoiding the conversion of grasslands to cropland.

The new “grasslands protocol” highlights a growing trend in agriculture: farmers being paid for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Read More »

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It’s official! Rice farmers now eligible for carbon offset payments

Credit: Brian Baer Photography

The door is officially open for crop-based farmers to participate in carbon markets and earn new sources of revenue. The California Air Resources Board (ARB) just approved a new protocol for rice growers, representing the first ever carbon offset protocol for crop-base agriculture in a compliance market.

This means rice growers who implement conservation practices to reduce methane emissions can create and sell a greenhouse gas credit, commonly referred to as a “carbon credit.” Regulated California companies needing to reduce their emissions under California’s cap-and-trade program can now buy rice growers’ carbon credits.

The rice protocol milestone marks a new chapter for sustainable farming and shows the central role agriculture can play in solving the climate challenge.

ARB can now move forward in developing other agricultural offset protocols. The most interesting is a nutrient management protocol that would reward farmers who reduce nitrogen fertilizer losses to the air.

This “fertilizer protocol” has enormous potential for farmers and the environment – more than 400 million acres of cropland could be eligible for participation, and growers could contribute millions of tons of greenhouse gas reductions.

Here’s how the rice protocol works. Read More »

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Action by California farmers necessary to reach state’s new emissions target

Robert Parkhurst was in Los Angeles yesterday speaking at a conference on Navigating the American Carbon World. His panel is discussing the “Future Offset Supply.”

Robert Parkhurst was in Los Angeles yesterday speaking at a conference on Navigating the American Carbon World. His panel discussed the “Future Offset Supply.”

California Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order this week ramping up the state’s already ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goal, setting a new target to reduce emissions by 40 percent over 1990 levels by 2030.

“With this order, California sets a very high bar for itself and other states and nations, but it’s one that must be reached — for this generation and generations to come.” – California Governor Jerry Brown

This new target is a timely and significant step in securing a more resilient future for California, which is currently experiencing one of the most severe droughts in the state’s history. But it’s a tall order – and one that will require an array of aggressive strategies across all sectors.

Fortunately, crop-based farmers are well-positioned to help. Read More »

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California takes giant step toward approving first crop-based carbon standards

CA rice farmA significant milestone was achieved today in the California cap-and-trade market. For the first time, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) considered a land-based carbon offset protocol that will allow U.S. rice growers to earn additional revenue for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cultivation.

This is a big deal. U.S. agriculture has tremendous potential to not only provide the nation with the food we eat, but also the climate solutions we need to sustain our growth.

Farmers grow carbon credits

The protocol covers rice cultivation practices in both the Sacramento Valley of California and the Mississippi River Valley, which encompasses Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Growers here can implement any combination of three practices – dry seeding, early drainage or alternate wetting and drying – and collect data to be independently verified to create a carbon credit.

Nearly two dozen farmers have already expressed interest and are starting to gear up their operations to generate offsets in the spring of 2015. Read More »

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Why an Arkansas rice farmer is betting on California’s carbon market (and you should too)

Mark Isbell on his farm. Photo credit: Farm Flavor.

Mark Isbell is a rice farmer in Arkansas. He is participating in a pilot project to generate carbon credits by modifying growing practices to reduce the generation of methane and save water.

These practices are being considered by the California Air Resources Board at their meeting on December 18. I asked Mark to tell me why he got involved in this pilot and what it means to growers in his region.

What things did you consider as a part of participating in the agricultural carbon market?

Zero Grade (fields precisely leveled to have no slope) and Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD) are the primary practices we have implemented. These are the best candidates for creating carbon offsets while also increasing efficiencies in other areas. Careful nitrogen management is another practice. Extra nitrogen not only leads to unnecessary nitrous oxide emissions, but also provides no benefit to the crop. It can actually be detrimental. The key is finding just the right amount of nitrogen. We are open to trying other practices as we move forward, and have some new ideas in development that we believe may add another layer to this. Read More »

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Five things to like about California’s proposed rice protocol

EDF's work on the rice protocol was featured in an article from The Fresno Bee: California Rice Farmers Could Get Pollution Credit. Photo credit: California Ag Today.

EDF’s work on the rice protocol was featured in The Fresno Bee: California Rice Farmers Could Get Pollution Credit. Photo credit: California Ag Today.

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) has been developing the first crop-based protocol that will allow U.S. rice growers to participate in California’s cap-and-trade program. The final draft of the standards – a product of meticulous research and stakeholder input – is now out for review.

There’s a lot to like in the draft, which demonstrates the ARB’s diligence in developing a greenhouse gas reduction program that is good for both farmers and the wildlife that depend on rice fields for habitat. Here are my five highlights:

1) It creates a new revenue stream for farmers:  Rice farmers across the U.S. can volunteer to implement one of three methods included in the protocol – dry seeding, early drainage, or alternate wetting and drying – to reduce their greenhouse gas footprint. In doing so, they will be able to generate offsets to sell in California’s carbon market, providing revenue for growers while contributing to the state’s clean air goals.

Read More »

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California’s salad bowl tosses up new ideas in sustainability

EDF’s Robert Parkhurst participated in the 2014 California Educational Fellowship, organized by the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation and its alumni.

EDF’s Robert Parkhurst participated in the 2014 California Educational Fellowship, organized by the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation and its alumni.

I recently had the unique opportunity to learn firsthand how central California farmers are constantly changing the way specialty crops are grown, squeezing more from fewer resources and reducing their impacts on the environment.

I joined a handful of other ag policy experts in a visit to the Salinas Valley, considered “the salad bowl of the world,” where we learned about the current issues and complex challenges facing the state’s farmers and ranchers. The trip was organized by the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation.

Running about 90 miles from Monterey to San Luis Obispo, the Salinas Valley alone grows more than 85 percent of the nation’s artichokes, 55 percent of the nation’s lettuce and 30 percent of the nation’s strawberries. It also leads the state of California in the production of broccoli, celery, mushrooms and cabbage.

Read More »

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