Opinion | How farmers may combat local weather change (and make a revenue)

Agriculture has by no means been on the middle of greenhouse gasoline discount efforts. However agricultural emissions – which make up about 10% of the U.S. complete – come underneath growing scrutiny as Democrats take the reins of farm coverage and farmers themselves get up to threats. of local weather change. One technique particularly is gaining consideration this yr: encouraging farmers to view emission reductions and carbon sequestration as potential sources of revenue.

The concept is kind of easy. Farmers would take measures to cut back their carbon manufacturing, akin to lowering tillage to keep away from releasing carbon from the soil, planting cowl crops to retain carbon within the soil, making use of manure therapies and “digesters” to restrict methane emissions, and extra particularly to make use of nitrogen fertilizers for decrease nitrous oxide emissions. In return, they may promote credit to firms seeking to cut back their very own local weather footprint. Non-public markets for such credit are already growing, and Congress took steps to encourage comparable commerce within the 2008 Farm Invoice.

However there’s nonetheless a lot to be accomplished on this idea, together with the basic query of the best way to measure the local weather worth of varied agricultural practices. Right here, the US Division of Agriculture may assist. A Senate invoice launched final yr would direct the USDA to create requirements to measure the effectiveness of local weather safety measures on farms, to certify folks to assist farmers take such measures, and to confirm their worth, and to work with the Environmental Safety Company to watch non-public carbon. credit score markets.

Such exchanges may go a great distance in encouraging farmers to cut back their emissions and sequester carbon. However they may solely work if regulators can be certain that they may really ship substantial local weather advantages. The hazard is {that a} carbon credit score system may as an alternative enable airways, funding funds, power firms, agro-industries and different firms to excuse their very own greenhouse gasoline emissions by shopping for cheap and largely meaningless offsets.

By setting measurement and verification requirements and monitoring non-public markets, the USDA can maximize the potential of “carbon agriculture”. It could actually additionally lengthen the advantages past giant farms, which may most simply display emission reductions, to small farms – serving to them take part in collective efforts. If these metrics show to be dependable, the Biden administration’s proposal to create a authorities ‘carbon financial institution‘ – which might purchase credit from farmers at a assured value per tonne – may present a robust incentive for farmers giant and small. .

Carbon credit alone won’t be sufficient; they need to be seen as a complement to different efforts to encourage climate-friendly agriculture, together with present USDA applications that assist farmers finance conservation efforts (which additionally enhance soil well being and crop yields) and Division of Power analysis on carbon seize in soils. Congress also needs to make potential improved mortgage phrases and decreased crop insurance coverage premiums for farmers that restrict emissions (and water air pollution) and preserve carbon.

That stated, carbon buying and selling holds nice promise for limiting on-farm emissions – offered it’s based mostly on verifiable practices that can enable markets to precisely assess credit. Step one is to get the proper knowledge.

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