A new Conservation Cropping Protocol is now available for use by farmers to get paid for making environmental improvements. By increasing soil carbon levels through no till management and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fuel use, farmers can earn carbon offset credits.
.
The newest opportunity is for farmers in the Brown and Dark Brown soil zones who can replace areas of summerfallow with no tilled crops. “A growing crop seeded with low disturbance no till equipment increases biological carbon capture and storage compared with uncropped fallow fields,” notes Sheilah Nolan, climate change specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. “The soil carbon increase from cropping summerfallowed land is more than double the soil carbon increase from no till management, so carbon credits more than double.”

Carbon credits are based on the amount of decrease in area of summerfallowed land at the end of five years, compared with a three-year average baseline for the same farmed area. Previous history of summerfallow activity and the use of no till crop management must be confirmed with records.

Companies who buy the offset credits are regulated under Alberta’s Specified Gas Emitters Regulation (2002). Companies can use carbon credits as a way to meet their requirement to reduce greenhouse gas emission intensities by 12 per cent each year. Carbon credits can be created from farm practice improvements that have a proven scientific basis for lower greenhouse gas emissions, are above and beyond business as usual, and can be verified by independent third parties.

The new Conservation Cropping Protocol includes updates to the old Tillage System Management Protocol. The new protocol adjusts for higher rates of conservation tillage, which means that there’s less land to shift from full till. Reduced till no longer qualifies for offset credit, but no till credits are available for all soil zones in Alberta until at least 2017 when a review is scheduled.

The new protocol also lists the positive proof requirements needed to meet new verification standards for all protocols in the Alberta Offset System, effective January 1, 2012. Positive proof means that only go-forward credits are allowed, so no historic offsets can be claimed.

“Some of the records needed to meet the new standards are the same as those needed for the Tillage protocol,” says Paul Jungnitsch, greenhouse gas offset agrologist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. “Other records such as crop plans, photos of equipment, or calculations of cropped areas and soil disturbance can be collected by farmers themselves or with the help of professional agrologists.”

A detailed checklist of evidence needed to claim offset credits using the new protocol is available online. Along with new incentives for environmental improvements, this protocol gives opportunities for farmers to become familiar with the verifiable records needed for other types of emerging environmental markets. Management to reduce greenhouse gases also brings benefits of improved production efficiencies and increased adaptation to climate change.

Funds for these initiatives were provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through the Agricultural Flexibility fund, as part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan. This is a cost-shared project between Agriculture and Rural Development and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

More details are available by calling the Ag-Info Centre at 310-FARM (3276) or by emailing.