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.

2) It sets an important precedent: As the state’s first crop-based protocol, the rice program opens the door for growers of other crops to reap financial benefits while helping the environment.

3) It preserves farmland: The ARB determined that the standards would not result in the conversion of farmland in any of the rice-growing states, easing concerns over the ongoing loss of cropland.

4) It provides flexibility in drought: The ARB considered the impact that potential emergency laws could have on growers’ ability to implement or maintain projects and determined that, as with many other practices, growers can halt the practices in the protocol during periods of drought.

5) It safeguards wildlife habitat: Both California and the Mid-south (the largest rice-growing regions in the U.S.) are critical bird habitat with California being on the Pacific Americas Flyway and the Mid-south on the Mississippi Americas Flyway. The ARB evaluated impacts to water birds and determined that the “activities would be within the natural variability of rice farming, and would not cause a significant effect on bird populations.” The ARB went even further and excluded the Butte Sink Wildlife Management Area in California’s Sacramento Valley, which has the highest concentration of waterfowl per acre in the world, to ensure that this important wildlife habitat is unaffected by the implementation of any rice cultivation projects. In some cases, the protocol could actually help species.

Developing this protocol was a challenge. Unlike the protocols for livestock or forests, complex methodologies needed to be developed and tested to calculate the emission reductions. Soon, after 20 years of testing on crops in geographies around the world, U.S. rice farmers will be able to utilize these methods to generate emission reductions and reap the financial rewards for doing so.

The ARB will vote on the rice standards in December. This landmark vote will allow rice growers to get paid for the environmental benefits their lands produce, as well as set the stage for additional offset protocols from other U.S. agricultural practices.

The seeds of progress have begun to sprout, and the harvest will result in a cleaner, healthier California.

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