Greenhouse gas markets for agriculture

Carbon markets are enlisting farmers and ranchers in the climate change fight

Farmers, ranchers and forestland owners have always been at the front lines of climate change, but now they have the opportunity to mitigate and adapt to climate impacts through participation in carbon markets.

Under these markets, landowners can generate quantifiable climate benefits and earn financial rewards for practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester and store carbon.

EDF is working to implement existing protocols and develop new protocols, policies and pilots projects for working landowners to use in the voluntary and compliance carbon markets, including California's cap-and-trade program.

The rice protocol

In June 2015, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) approved a pioneering protocol to allow U.S. rice farmers to generate offsets to sell in the state's cap-and-trade market. The Rice Cultivation Projects Compliance Offset Protocol will provide financial benefits for growers while advancing the state's goal of achieving its emissions reduction targets by 2020.

With the adoption of the rice protocol, ARB can now move forward in developing other agricultural offset protocols, including a nutrient management protocol that would reward farmers who reduce nitrogen fertilizer losses to the air. This "fertilizer protocol" has enormous potential for farmers and the environment – more than 400 million acres of cropland could be eligible for participation, and growers could contribute millions of tons of greenhouse gas reductions.

The rangelands protocols

A new voluntary grasslands protocol offers farmers and ranchers payment for conservation activities and avoided conversion of grasslands to croplands, thereby keeping more carbon in the soil. Along with an existing compost protocol that also supports carbon sequestration, ranchers have an unprecedented opportunity to help in the fight against climate change.

This project rewards ranchers for stewardship activities that help store carbon in their soils, while improving soil health and the productivity of their land.

Robert Bonnie, Former USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment

In addition to providing a sink for carbon, rangelands provide a wide variety of other natural benefits to society, including food, fiber, habitat, watershed health, open space and cultural value. Rangelands in the West are currently under pressure of conversion to other land uses, like urban development and croplands. Therefore, finding new revenue streams for ranchers helps keep them on the ranch and enhances these valuable natural areas.