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Conservation Grant Helps Rice Growers Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Posted by Ciji Taylor, Natural Resources Conservation Service in Conservation
Feb 21, 2017
A California farmer harvests his rice field.  Photo by Robert Parkhurst, Environmental Defense Fund (used with permission).
A California farmer harvests his rice field. Photo by Robert Parkhurst, Environmental Defense Fund (used with permission).

Note: Three projects funded by a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant were recently honored by the American Carbon Registry for innovative approaches to environmental stewardship. The winners included Ducks Unlimited, Delta Institute and Terra Global Capital. Ducks Unlimited’s work aimed to generate a carbon credit system for North Dakota landowners, which not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions but also restores wetlands and grasslands that are crucial to waterfowl. Delta Institute is working with farmers to reduce use of nitrogen – one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, Terra Global Capital and many others partners are working on a credit system for rice growers in California and the Midsouth. The below post provides more information on this project.

USDA is helping to provide rice growers in California and the Midsouth with new opportunities to voluntarily execute conservation practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions while cultivating a new income stream.

The California and Midsouth rice projects are funded by a Conservation Innovation Grant from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is providing more than $1 million to help identify and develop new conservation methods. The grant also leverages new and emerging ecosystem income for landowners while addressing climate change.

Methane and nitrous oxide are potent greenhouse gases that are given off when rice fields are cultivated and fertilized. Precise water management and conservation-based nitrogen management can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while maximizing water-use nitrogen fertilizer efficiency.

Arkansas and California are the two largest rice growing states in the country, providing them with an opportunity to reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions while maintaining yields.

This carbon offsets project was under development for many years and is the first of its kind from U.S. rice production. Partners include the Environmental Defense Fund, The American Carbon Registry, Terra Global Capital, California Rice Commission and the White River Irrigation District. NRCS has provided grant funding and technical support for the project.

By employing voluntary management practices, such as dry seeding, precise water management and nutrient management, farmers can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and generate carbon offset credits. These rice carbon offset credits are expected to be available to the California Air Resources Board’s regulatory compliance market later this year.

In order to quantify carbon offsets, the partners developed the “Voluntary Emissions Reductions in Rice Management Systems” quantification methodology that was recently approved by the American Carbon Registry. This will allow producers to quantify and validate their carbon reductions. The credits are then verified by a third party to ensure the integrity of the carbon credits.  Once the carbon credits are verified and approved for sale, the credits can be sold into the carbon market.

The carbon credits generated by farmers are also expected to be the first agricultural credits exchanged in the California regulatory market.   The adoption of the first crop-based agriculture offset methodology also opens the door for other agricultural opportunities.  California’s regulatory market is seen by many people as a gold standard throughout the world.  Since credits can be sold into California’s market from anywhere in the country, this project has a broad scope of rice producers that include Arkansas, Louisiana and other Midsouth states that grow rice.

The conservation techniques applied to reduce greenhouse gas emission can also help farmers manage water more efficiently, manage nitrogen fertilizer more efficiently and maintain yields while maintaining aquatic wildlife habitat.

Category/Topic: Conservation

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Jim Cook
Apr 02, 2014

While my comment will have no effect on the outcome of this scenario or the future of "carbon offsetting" due to the amount of money that the "traders" stand to make on carbon trading, the good work of an environmentally progressive entity that generates "carbon credits" resulting from good stewardship of the planet, so those "credits" may be used by another entity who is essentially a polluter that can't or won't be environmentally compliant is a poor solution at best and a scam at worst.

While on paper some might see "carbon offset credits" as "carbon neutral", trading/buying/selling credits that have been "certified" is not a 1:1 relationship, no matter how well intentioned.

Reducing emissions and being a good steward of the land should be the "standard". Companies that are negligent or indifferent about polluting should be dealt with accordingly and not be able to play their "absolution card". So yay for NRCS, Conservation Innovation Grants, and North Dakota landowners--everybody else--not so much...

Phil Robertson
Jun 05, 2014

In a perfect world, trading wouldn't be necessary, emitters would be required to change on a dime. In an imperfect world it makes short-term sense to soften the impact. On the other hand, of course, there's nothing to keep an entity (whether govt., NGO, or corporate) from buying credits and then retiring them without trading for emissions elsewhere - then the benefits would be immediate and real.