4 pilot projects to watch: Farmers raise yields, climate hopes

Sara Kroopf

Traditionally, governments haven’t factored farms and ranches into their climate mitigation and adaptation planning. Instead, the focus has mostly been on protecting urban communities. But that is all changing.

That’s because in order to protect people, 81 percent of whom live in urban areas, we’ll need to protect what’s around where they live, too.

It’s largely rural areas, like the farming town of 1,100 people where I grew up, and their working lands and farms that provide valuable services to urban areas. These services include food security, flood and drought protection, recreation and water storage.

But agriculture can also play – and is already playing – a big role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Pilot programs are proving that we can tackle climate change through agriculture while maintaining or increasing yields – and while offering additional income for farmers.

Here are four examples of such programs already under way:

    1. In the Mississippi River Delta, a voluntary program incentivizes landowners and farmers to restore wetlands on their property. These wetlands can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help buffer coastal populations from storm surges.
    2. The American Carbon Registry recently announced a carbon accounting method that allows ranchers who apply compost to their fields to earn credits that can be sold in voluntary carbon markets. The compost stimulates plant growth and increases forage for cattle. It also improves the soil’s ability to store carbon. If ranchers applied compost to just 5 percent of California’s rangelands, emissions would be reduced by 28 million metric tons, the equivalent of the annual emissions from all the homes in the state.
    3. The California Air Resources Board recently approved a protocol that would allow rice farmers to generate carbon credits by reducing methane emissions while sustaining production and providing critical wetland habitat for migratory birds. This is the first crop-based protocol, setting the stage for other agricultural protocols in the near future.
    4. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched its Climate Hubs program, which helps farmers connect to adaptation and mitigation resources. The program is divided by region, so farmers and ranchers across the U.S. can get the most relevant information for their geography and soil type. 

A lot is happening, in other words, but it’s not enough and more financial resources are needed.

This is why local governments must step up to the plate and invest in the rural climate change adaptation and mitigation programs. It will benefit us all, wherever we call home, because we’re all in this together.

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