Growing Returns

Why investments in agricultural carbon markets make good business sense

Farmers shaking handsOver the past decade, private investment in conservation has more than doubled, with sustainable forestry and agriculture investments as the main drivers of growth. This unprecedented expansion in “impact investing” or “conservation finance” has occurred as investors seek good returns that can also benefit the environment.  According to Credit Suisse, sustainable agriculture is particularly appealing to investors as it offers a wider array of risk mitigation approaches than sectors such as energy and transportation.

Yet despite this boom, there has been very little investment from private capital in emerging ecosystems markets, especially in the agricultural sector.

We’ve blogged before about the benefits growers – and the environment – realize from participating in agricultural carbon markets or habitat exchanges. But here’s why the private sector, food companies and retailers should invest in agricultural carbon markets. Read More »

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Want to bring ag sustainability to scale? Collaboration, not confrontation.

Farmers picking cornOne year ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced 10 “building blocks” for climate-smart agriculture and forestry, with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by over 120 million metric tons by 2025.

The agency’s focus on partnering with farmers and ranchers – as well as with the private sector – was a huge step in the right direction toward widespread implementation of climate-smart agriculture techniques and programs.

Tomorrow, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack will announce another big investment in conservation stewardship and climate-smart agriculture approaches to advance the building blocks agenda. I’ll be joining Secretary Vilsack to talk about EDF’s partnerships within the agricultural supply chain and our collaborative approach to ag sustainability.

Working across public-private sector lines, through a collaborative approach, and with the entire ag supply chain is the only way to bring sustainability to scale while protecting farmers’ livelihoods.

Here’s what key sectors of the ag supply chain are doing – and can do – to improve water quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase agricultural resilience. Read More »

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The science behind agricultural carbon markets

Dry seeding rice reduces early season methane emissions.

Dry seeding rice reduces early season methane emissions.

There’s been a lot of recent attention on the California Air Resources Board’s (ARB) rice protocol, the first ever carbon offset protocol for crop agriculture in a compliance market.

The protocol, approved in June 2015, allows rice farmers who reduce methane emissions to become eligible for carbon credits through California’s cap-and-trade program, though growers from any rice-growing state can participate. The momentum is building. In less than one year, rice growers on more than 22,000 acres have expressed interest in the protocol – representing nearly 1 percent of all rice grown in the U.S.

When the first credits become available for purchase this summer, policymakers and regulated companies can have confidence in the rice protocol’s ability to improve climate stability, and growers can earn extra revenue, thanks to the sound science that measures emissions reductions. Here’s a primer. Read More »

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Carbon markets in agriculture are the next big thing

Scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef.

I knew I wanted to focus my career on protecting the world’s great places, says Robert Parkhurst, pictured snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef.

In 2006 California passed AB 32, legislation requiring the state’s Air Resources Board to develop market mechanisms to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. It was a watershed moment, and I was lucky enough to be at the event where Governor Schwarzenegger signed the bill.

Even back then I saw the potential for environmental markets to improve climate stability by engaging, rather than penalizing, business. That’s why I’ve spent the past 10 years – seven with electric and information technology companies and the most recent three at Environmental Defense Fund – working to make agricultural GHG reduction programs a reality.

But my passion for conservation started long before passage of AB 32. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I spent nearly all my free time outdoors, largely through Boy Scouts where I became an Eagle Scout. The moment I earned merit badges for water and soil conservation, I knew I wanted to focus my career on solving environmental challenges and protecting the world’s great places. I’ve been extremely fortunate to spend Thanksgiving atop Mount Kilimanjaro, Christmas on the Great Barrier Reef, and New Year’s Eve soaking in the natural beauty of New Zealand.

I believe carbon markets are the best tool we have for limiting emissions from agriculture, maintaining yields, and ensuring a food secure future.

These days my camping excursions involve my son and daughter, who are lobbying me to buy a plug-in electric car. Seeing my kids share that same excitement for solving environmental challenges brings a smile to my face like nothing else can.

That’s why I’m working to build a $2 billion market for agricultural greenhouse gas reductions by the end of 2020. I believe carbon markets are the best tool we have for limiting emissions from agriculture, maintaining yields, and ensuring a food secure future. Read More »

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Why grasslands can bring in the green for growers

grazingcows_8475832_shutterstock.com_RFRebecca Haynes is a High Meadows Fellow with EDF’s Agriculture Greenhouse Gas Markets program.

Next week, hundreds of ranchers, landowners, land trusts, and environmental groups will gather in Stockton, California, for the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition’s annual summit. The event isn’t new, but the enthusiasm from attendees is unprecedented and palpable.

Why such a bustle in the grasses? Because of two recent landmark developments that reward ranchers for avoiding the conversion of grasslands to croplands:

  • In August, the Climate Action Reserve (one of the offset registries that oversees carbon credit development) approved a new voluntary grasslands protocol that offers payment for conservation activities.
  • In September, the Climate Action Reserve received a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) from the USDA to create a pilot grasslands project in coordination with EDF. This project will assist participating landowners in generating carbon credits. If adopted by the California Air Resources Board in the future, these credits could be sold in the California cap-and-trade market.

These two developments are part of a rapidly growing trend that offers landowners payments for conservation measures. Protecting grasslands means big wins for the planet and for ranchers, who have been committed partners in conservation and now have the opportunity to receive additional incentives to protect their landscapes. Here’s how it all works. Read More »

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How 2015 set the table for major agricultural and environmental success in 2016

agricultureIn 2015, U.S. agriculture proved to be a willing and powerful partner in the path to sustainability. We’ve seen farmers, ranchers and food companies make major headway in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving soil health, restoring habitat for at-risk wildlife and protecting freshwater supplies.

Here are some of this year’s highlights:

  • Approval of the first carbon offset protocol for crops in a cap-and-trade market (for U.S. rice growers), followed by approval of a grasslands protocol and a huge investment from USDA to develop a fertilizer protocol. These protocols reward farmers for conservation measures that reduce emissions and offer businesses new opportunities to offset the environmental impacts from their operations.
  • Launch of the innovative SUSTAIN platform throughout the United Suppliers agricultural retailer network. SUSTAIN, developed in coordination with EDF, trains ag retailers in best practices for sustainable farming and aims to enroll 10 million acres in the program by 2020. So far, over 300 sales representatives in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Ohio have attended training. And food companies interested in making SUSTAIN a feature of their sustainable sourcing work include Campbell’s, Unilever, Kellogg’s, General Mills, and Smithfield.
  • A “not warranted” listing decision for sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act, due in large part to ranchers’ commitments to develop and implement conservation solutions for the bird. Habitat exchanges – a solution developed by EDF and partners in agriculture and industry – are now available in Colorado, Nevada and Wyoming for landowners to earn new revenue for protecting and enhancing greater sage-grouse habitat.
  • Release of Colorado’s first-ever water plan to ensure the health and vitality of the state’s streams, rivers, communities and wildlife – without harming farmers. The plan addresses development of financial mechanisms to incentivize participation in alternative water transfer mechanisms and subsidize agricultural water system optimization. This innovative water planning can now be a model for other water-stressed communities.

So what lies ahead for 2016? We asked our experts to share their thoughts and wishes for the New Year. Read More »

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Who will protect farmers’ privacy in the big data boom?

shutterstock_171929321When it comes to technology and agriculture, policymakers are wrestling with the role government should play in protecting the intellectual property rights and privacy of farmers.

This discussion came to a head recently when the House Agricultural Committee held a hearing to examine the impacts of “big data” on the entire agricultural life cycle. With farmers and companies collecting and storing data on everything from fertilizer rate to yield to soil conditions, there are important concerns to consider: Is the data secure? Who owns analyzed data? Will companies sell the data to others or make new products based on sensitive information?

Ahead of this hearing I wrote a blog post detailing the hurdles farmers must overcome to fully integrate data as a way to increase the abundance and sustainability of modern food production. The main challenges I highlighted were:

  • Privacy: Farmers need to know they won’t be willingly revealing trade secrets when deciding to share data about their farming techniques.
  • Format: Not all data collection platforms use the same language, so a uniform way to understand what is being collected must be created.
  • Complexity: Many growers are intimidated by the vast quantity of data they collect, so we have to help them understand what matters and what doesn’t.

Read More »

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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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Why almond lovers can breathe easy again

It’s been a tough year for the almond. Vilified and beaten down, the nut has come to symbolize the California drought. While the reasons for and solutions to the drought are complicated and nuanced, the almond’s reputation has nonetheless suffered.

Meanwhile, farmers across the board are under increasing pressure – from regulatory requirements and increasing consumer demand for transparency – to modify their fertilizer application practices and thereby reduce nitrogen losses to the air and water.

Fortunately, there’s good reason for the almond to cheer up – a new Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) from the California Department of Food & Agriculture will support the state’s almond growers in their ongoing efforts to make nut production more sustainable, without sacrificing yields. 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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