Corn+Soybean Digest

Trading Places: Carbon Markets Expanding In U.S.

It's been said that money makes the world go 'round, and now it can also make it more environmentally friendly.

Farmers who practice no-till or any other tillage-limiting production technique can earn a few extra dollars by carbon trading – the latest push for a greener environment that rewards growers who sequester, or keep carbon in the soil.

Carbon trading efforts have been expanding across the U.S. and involve energy industries paying no-till farmers through bilateral agreements, or agricultural groups working in the open market on farmers' behalf.

The Chicago Climate Exchange – – is a voluntary rules-based greenhouse gas emission and trading system, and the place to go to trade carbon credits in the open market. Currently, carbon is trading at $1.70/ton of carbon dioxide, which roughly translates into a dollar-per-acre for the farmer. On average, Ohio soils can sequester about one half ton of carbon per hectare, or roughly 2.5 acres, which is equivalent to 500 lbs./acre.

"Currently, the financial returns aren't that great, but at that rate a farmer with 1,000 acres of no-till could earn $1,000 annually for merely continuing his established practices," said Mark Wilson, president of Land Stewards LLC in Columbus, Ohio.

Wilson spoke about carbon trading to no-till farmers during the recent Ohio State University Extension Ohio No-Till Conference in Plain City, Ohio.

"No-till in and of itself is a carbon credit," Wilson said. "If someone is willing to pay you to do what you've been doing, then why not get involved? You are just leaving money on the land if you don't."

Examples of carbon trading efforts throughout the U.S. and elsewhere include: Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association, which works with Entergy, an electric company based in Louisiana, to "lease" carbon credits to Washington state farmers.

Greenhouse Emissions Management Consortium, a Canadian company whose efforts to trade carbon with farmers has expanded into the western U.S.

World Bank in Washington, D.C., which has mobilized the BioCarbon Fund to alleviate poverty and promote biodiversity conservation by aiding farmers in developing countries to practice no-till. For more information, log onto and then click on "Carbon Funds."

Carbon sequestration, also known as carbon farming, refers to the storing of atmospheric carbon in plants and soil so that the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will reduce or slow.

Though carbon trading varies at the Chicago Climate Exchange, credits can reach more than $2 a ton. Some industries have rewarded farmers with as much a $5 a ton for sequestered carbon, Wilson said. However, carbon trading in the U.S. holds no candle to the revenue European farmers generate – in some instances as high as $58 per ton. It's conservatively estimated that the European Union will trade as much as $1 billion worth of carbon emissions annually by 2010.

For more information on carbon sequestration and carbon trading, visit the following Web sites: American Farm Bureau U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service Pew Center

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