A year-long assessment of the potential to create a scalable nutrient management program for farmers-and commercialize the resulting carbon credits-finds that there is enormous potential to incentivize changes in nitrogen fertilizer application practices on cropland.
The report, supported by Carbon Credit Solutions and Jarecki Enviro Consulting, and prepared by Portland-based nonprofit The Climate Trust, provides a roadmap to minimize the risk of investment in nutrient management, and the successful large-scale adoption of nutrient stewardship.
Addressing emissions from agriculture is imperative. The vast majority of this sector's emissions can be traced to two powerful greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide (N20), the latter of which can occur within the soils nitrogen cycle following nitrogen applications, and has a global warming potential 280 times that of carbon dioxide. This report focuses on N20, and the ways in which carbon markets may help to incentivize practice changes in the fertilization of crops that can reduce these emissions.
In 2011, a coalition of partners including The Climate Trust and The Fertilizer Institute, undertook work on a Conservation Innovation Grant provided by USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service. The goal of this project was to incentivize corn and soy growers in the Midwest to adopt best management practices for the application of nitrogen fertilizers.
The project culminated in a comprehensive report in the summer of 2014. An extension of this initial work was undertaken by The Climate Trust; producing a new report, "Promoting Increased Nutrient Use Efficiency Through Carbon Markets."
The report has two major components. Part 1, the Protocol Road Test Report, examines credit generation potential from four existing nutrient management credit generation methodologies. Part 2, the Credit Generation and Commercialization Report, explores common barriers to nutrient crediting and provides recommendations for how some of those barriers might be overcome.
As a conservative estimate, nutrient management techniques identified in this report could generate 770,000 to 2.7 million offsets-the equivalent of taking 162,000-568,000 cars off the road each year. There is also the potential for many more nutrient management offsets from additional acreage, crops and regions.
However, initial study findings also showed that given current barriers, a fully-scaled nutrient crediting sector is likely a longer term proposition (within the next 5-10 years), unless successful pilot projects can demonstrate low-risk to potential buyers; considerably shortening the timeline.
"The Climate Trust was pleased to be able to help lead this important work and begin unlocking the huge potential for nutrient management credits in the U.S.," said lead author Elizabeth Hardee, senior analyst for The Climate Trust. "By capitalizing on the economic benefits offered through carbon credits, farmers will be able to address the growing threat that greenhouse gas emissions pose to their operations-in the form of drought and flooding. With the right roadmap, agriculture itself may become a change agent capable of reducing global emissions."
The Climate Trust's commitment to this research is tied to their belief that nutrient management projects hold the potential for large greenhouse gas benefits, and can play a crucial role in slowing or reversing the acceleration of climate change. Carbon markets exist to facilitate the development of these types of projects; placing a monetary value on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
The United Nations has named 2015 the International Year of Soils, with good reason. Producing enough food to feed a worldwide population over seven billion strong requires massive resources for agriculture-a system which contributes roughly 14% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, recently surpassed deforestation as the world's largest land-based source of climate pollutants, and from which emissions are still increasing.
The Fertilizer Institute worked in coordination with The Climate Trust to extend the initial project's efforts. Grower adoption of fertilizer application best management practices through 4R Nutrient Stewardship are key for agriculture.
"By creating innovative incentives that encourage farmers to adopt responsible nutrient management practices, we can make a big environmental impact," said Lara Moody, senior director, stewardship and sustainability for The Fertilizer Institute. "Utilizing best management practices provides a wealth of benefits including water quality protection and an improved bottom line for farms."
"The opportunity to engage in this emerging sector and help provide a path for nutrient management to enter the carbon markets has been a worthwhile undertaking and a journey we're excited to continue," said Sean Penrith, executive director for The Climate Trust.