Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): California Air Resources Board

California’s new nitrogen assessment highlights promising solutions for reducing fertilizer losses

Sara KroopfA team of researchers spent seven years dissecting, analyzing and reporting on California’s nitrogen cycle, and the results are eye-opening.

Nearly 2 million tons of nitrogen are imported into the state each year. Almost a quarter of it is lost through leaching into groundwater – with runoff from cropland accounting for nearly 90 percent of this leaching. Excess nitrates in drinking water can cause health problems when consumed by at risk populations. Four percent of the state’s nitrogen is lost to the atmosphere as nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

But the California Nitrogen Assessment (CNA), released by UC Davis’ Agriculture Sustainability Institute, also provides a never before seen level of detail on nitrogen movement in the state. There’s no silver bullet for reducing environmental impacts while keeping growers profitable. Yet information is power and the more we know, the more we can tailor and prioritize solutions.

The UC Davis team investigated various political, social and economic ideas for reestablishing our state’s nitrogen balance. Two of the most promising solutions for California agriculture to address what the CNA calls “critical control points” include enhancing fertilizer efficiency and expanding carbon markets for agriculture. 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 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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Agricultural carbon markets get yet another boost

farmIn the past three months, three new revenue opportunities have emerged for growers. In June, the first ever carbon offset protocol for crop-base agriculture in a cap-and-trade market was approved for U.S. rice growers by the California Air Resources Board (ARB). The “rice protocol” announcement was followed shortly after by approval of a voluntary grasslands protocol, which rewards farmers for avoiding the conversion of grasslands to cropland.

And now, USDA has demonstrated its interest in and support of another market-based approach for growers: increasing fertilizer use efficiency. Thanks to a new grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), EDF and partners will be helping almond and corn farmers reduce fertilizer runoff and nitrous oxide emissions, and earn greenhouse gas credits that can generate revenue.

Here’s what this project will entail: 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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Why the food movement is alive and well

silverware 2 up closeMark Bittman’s recent New York Times op-ed, “Let’s Make Food Issues Real,” is a grim assessment of the current state of the food movement – in fact, he questions whether a food movement exists at all.

Bittman states that the lack of major change to government food policies means the food movement is not winning. “I’ll believe there’s a food movement when Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are forced to talk directly about food issues,” Bittman writes.

I’ll take that bet. With the drought in California threatening the nation’s produce and the other impacts climate change pose to our food supply, I think it’s likely that the next group of presidential candidates will discuss food issues on the campaign trail. Read More »

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Four incentives that will push fertilizer efficiency to scale

fertilizerWe need fertilizers to maintain and increase farm productivity and feed a rapidly growing population, yet 50 percent of the nitrogen fertilizer applied to crops is lost to our waterways or into the air.

That’s not good – not for the grower, nor  for the environment.

I’m optimistic that nutrient losses will soon be trending downward while productivity climbs. Here are four reasons why:

Read More »

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Setting the table for more sustainable food in 2015

Reducing GHG2014 was a milestone year for sustainable agriculture across the United States and around the world. In the U.S., we saw food companies and agribusiness like United Suppliers step up to the plate to meet Walmart’s new demand for sustainable grains, and EDF’s launch of the new Sustainable Sourcing Initiative. We also saw the launch of the United Nations’ Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, which aims to enable 500 million farmers worldwide to practice sustainable farming.

On the Colorado River, countless stakeholders including U.S. and Mexican policymakers, conservation organizations and farmers came together to orchestrate and witness the Colorado River Delta pulse flow – the temporary release of water across the United States-Mexico border that brought relief and restoration to the dry, empty river delta ecosystem – an historic accomplishment for people and the environment.

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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