Growing Returns

How regional accounting can boost the integrity of the voluntary soil carbon market

As enthusiasm for agricultural soil carbon as a climate mitigation strategy grows, carbon registries and private companies are developing carbon crediting protocols to bring soil carbon credits into the voluntary market. Credits need to accurately represent net greenhouse gas reductions and be equivalent to each other.

An analysis by Environmental Defense Fund and Woodwell Climate Research Center found that this isn’t the case across the board, which creates uncertainty and confusion in the marketplace.

In a new paper published in Science, scientists at these organizations recommend a regional framework to boost market integrity and support farmers, governments and the private sector in delivering high-quality credits.

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How banks can move toward net zero agriculture portfolios

Banks representing over 40% of global bank lending have joined the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative’s Net Zero Banking Alliance and committed to align their lending and investment portfolios with zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. By 2024, participating banks with substantial loan portfolios in agriculture will need to set net zero targets for the sector and rapidly embark on reducing emissions.

For this to be possible, banks must accurately measure the emissions they finance in agriculture. This is a particular challenge in agriculture, a sector that includes a vast array of different crops and livestock, farm sizes, and access to tools and technology. Read More »

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Breakthrough agricultural loan rewards farmers for environmental stewardship

Quantifying the long-term financial benefits of conservation practices that build farm resilience and recognizing that value in the financing offered to farmers would be transformative for farms, lenders and the environment.

That idea received a major boost when Farmers Business Network, a global farmer-to-farmer network and ag tech company, launched a new farm operating loan that includes a lower interest rate incentive for farmers who achieve climate and water quality benchmarks.

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3 ways the Growing Climate Solutions Act will help farmers and rural communities thrive

More than forty senators have co-sponsored the reintroduced Growing Climate Solutions Act — the first major piece of bipartisan legislation to help ensure that farmers, ranchers and foresters benefit from being part of the climate solution.

The bill has a real chance of becoming law this year — a sign of hope for collaboration on climate on Capitol Hill. It advanced unanimously out of the Senate Agriculture Committee and has growing bipartisan support in the House of Representatives.

Here are three ways this bill advances agricultural climate solutions, with benefits that extend far beyond the farm. Read More »

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The market for grassland carbon credits is on the rise. Here’s why.

A new study from UC Davis found that “grasslands and rangelands are more resilient carbon sinks than forests in 21st century California.”

While forests remain vital to global climate mitigation efforts, the increasing frequency and severity of wildfires has heightened the need to explore additional carbon sinks in fire-prone regions. Grasslands lock carbon into the soil, and they don’t release it during wildfires.

Photo credit: Nicole Rosmarino, Executive Director of the Southern Plains Land Trust

It’s because of this resilient carbon-capturing power that grasslands and rangelands are essential to meeting climate goals. Unfortunately, these ecosystems are being converted into croplands at the highest rate in decades. Landowners converted 1.6 million acres of long-term grasslands – those that have existed for 20 years or more – into croplands between 2008 and 2012.

Record high land rental values make land conversion a compelling economic choice, but a new market opportunity may soon change this calculus. Read More »

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These farmers sparked agricultural carbon markets across the U.S.

Rice held by Jim Whitaker of Whitaker Farms

Rice held by Jim Whitaker of Whitaker Farms. Credit: Adam Jahiel.

I want to tell you a story about a handful of growers whose commitment to sustainability and desire to innovate inspired an ag carbon credit movement.

Today, the first ever carbon credits generated from rice farmers were sold to Microsoft, all because of a handful of pioneers who tested out a radical idea – that by implementing conservation methods on their crops, farmers could reduce methane emissions and thereby generate a carbon credit that could be later be sold on the carbon market. Not to mention the fact that these farmers also reduced water use by as much as 30 percent. Read More »

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Farmers and environmentalists want the same thing

Farmers and environmentalists want the same thing

I’m spending time on this year’s National Ag Day thinking back gratefully to a recent meeting I had with farmers.

I was attending the annual farm exchange program offered through the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation, which facilitates learning opportunities on California farms. This year’s program brought together state environmental policy professionals and growers from the Central Coast, an epicenter for growing the nation’s specialty crops, such as lettuce, broccoli, and strawberries. My aim was “to see sustainability through the eyes of farmers.” We toured various agricultural operations, had thoughtful discussions, and stayed with host families in the local farm community.

My host was Erin Amaral, who manages 1,170 acres of vineyards near San Luis Obispo. Erin and I got along immediately – and our conversations kept coming back to one central tenet: farmers and environmentalists want the same things. Read More »

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Impact investors eye bigger allocations to sustainable agriculture

Impact investors eye bigger allocations to sustainable agricultureIn early December, I flew out to Amsterdam to attend the Global Impact Investor Network (GIIN) Forum with 600 other delegates ranging from managers of pension funds and banks to individual investors from at least 30 countries.

Along with the growing interest in impact investing so evident at this well-attended forum, a key takeaway for me was that food and agriculture are poised to benefit. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the GIIN, more impact investors – a third of all respondents – plan to boost investment in food and agriculture than in any other sector.

As a research fellow working on market mechanisms to reward farmers who practice conservation, the survey was music to my ears. Read More »

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Measuring methane emissions from cows is elusive, but we’re getting closer

Cows cause high methane gas emissions

Photo credit: aleks.k

Americans’ fondness for milk, yogurt, cheese and juicy burgers requires a huge livestock industry, with nearly 90 million head of cattle in the U.S. in any one year. All those cows mean significant methane emissions.

With estimates from the United Nations that methane accounts for 44 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production, and new determination – including legislation in California – to reduce methane emissions from farms, we need to figure out how to quantify and then reduce those emissions.

Yet measuring methane emissions has been an elusive science. Methane is a colorless, odorless gas that packs a powerful punch: Methane has 84 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide in the short term. Read More »

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How agriculture can help drive a low-carbon economy

Reducing methane emissions from cows is a step in the right directionThe White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) recently released an intriguing report on how the United States can transition to a low-carbon economy by 2050 while continuing economic growth. The report gives a starring role in this job to agricultural lands.

Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Decarbonization” outlines a 3-pronged strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent while accelerating job-creating innovation. Calling each strategy “critical,” CEQ first lists the familiar call to transition to renewable and low carbon forms of energy.

The second key strategy, however, is less often discussed: the potential of cropland and grassland soils, as well as forests, to store and sequester hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 annually. The report – informed by decades of scientific research – describes the opportunities to explore in this area. Read More »

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