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[GreenYes] Fwd: [USCC] Carbon Farming article in Washington Post

>From: Jim McNelly <>
>Date: Tue, 27 Aug 2002 14:34:39 -0500
>>On Farms, a No-Till Tactic on Global Warming
>>By Kari Lydersen
>>Special to The Washington Post
>>Monday, August 26, 2002; Page A07
>>For farmers struggling to make a living with corn and soybeans, a new cash
>>crop may be on the horizon: carbon. Although it can't be used to feed
>>animals or make vegetable oil, "farming" carbon could provide extra income
>>for farmers and provide significant environmental benefits.
>>A $15 million project being carried out by 10 universities in the Midwest
>>has the goal of encouraging farmers to use methods, including "no-till"
>>farming, that keep carbon in the soil rather than releasing it to the
>>atmosphere as carbon dioxide gas. Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse
>>gases considered a culprit in global warming.
>>Widespread carbon "sequestration" by farmers could reduce the expected
>>increase in carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent per year, according to
>>leaders of the project, called CASMGS (Consortium for Agricultural Soils
>>Mitigation of Greenhouse Gases).
>>And many agricultural experts expect that a private market will develop in
>>"carbon credits," meaning farmers who sequester carbon could sell their
>>credits to industrial companies that emit high levels of the gas. This
>>could be done now on a voluntary basis to help companies "green" their
>>image. If Congress or state legislatures pass carbon caps, the credits
>>could be sold to corporations that are above the legal limit. A similar
>>market in sulfur dioxide credits already exists.
>>Estimates vary on how lucrative the credits would actually be and how soon
>>a private market for carbon credits might develop. CASMGS leaders say the
>>value of credits could be anywhere from $4 to $30 an acre.
>>"There are a lot of questions about how this would proceed, like, 'What is
>>the value of carbon? What would the length of the contracts be? What
>>happens if it doesn't work out for the farmer? Could they get out of their
>>contract?' " said CASMGS director Charles Rice, a professor of soil
>>microbiology at Kansas State University.
>>Other methods of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, including increasing
>>efficiency in automobiles and industry and developing cleaner energy
>>sources, such as solar and wind, have been discussed more widely than
>>agricultural sequestration. But the possibilities of no-till agriculture
>>are becoming more widely recognized.
>>"Unless the government puts hard caps on CO2, it won't be a hard market,"
>>said John Kimble, a USDA research scientist who has been working on carbon
>>sequestration techniques for several years. "If they do, the market will
>>develop. It's already something that's starting to happen at the state 
>>In the more immediate future, farmers may benefit from government
>>incentives for carbon sequestration and practices, such as no-till, that
>>trap carbon. Carbon sequestration has been discussed as one of the
>>conservation credits offered under the recently passed farm bill, according
>>to Bill Richards, a farmer for almost 50 years and head of the soil
>>conservation service under President George H.W. Bush.
>>"Carbon sequestration not only takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere,
>>but it increases the fertility of the soil," Richards said. "It's a win-win
>>Carbon sequestration means delaying the decomposition of the organic matter
>>left over from crops after the harvest. As plants grow, they take carbon
>>dioxide from the air, use the carbon to form their organic tissue and
>>release the oxygen into the atmosphere -- the process known as 
>>When the plants die, their woody and leafy material containing the carbon
>>lie in the soil. As these tissues decompose, or break down through
>>microbial activity, the carbon combines with oxygen from the air and forms
>>carbon dioxide gas. The practice of tilling, which was started with wooden
>>plows in the early 1800s and is carried out with high-tech plowing
>>machinery today, vastly hastens decomposition, because it turns over and
>>aerates the soil, stimulating microbial activity. Although some might think
>>tilling is a necessary step in planting new crops, crops can be planted
>>amidst the residue of last year's harvest.
>>No-till farming has other benefits for the farmer. It increases the overall
>>health of the soil, reducing water runoff and increasing the retention of
>>nutrients. It also tends to increase the overall yield of the crop. And it
>>costs less, because the farmers save on tractor usage, fuel and hours of
>>No-till farming is not uncommon; 17.5 percent of the country's total
>>farmland is no-till, according to a January report by the group
>>Conservation for Agriculture's Future (Core 4), for a total of about 51
>>million acres. No-till is most common after a crop such as soybeans, which
>>leaves relatively little residue. It is less common after a crop such as
>>corn, which leaves long stalks and other heavy residue behind.
>>In the Midwest, corn and soybeans are usually alternated on the same field.
>>There was significant growth in the practice of no-till farming in the
>>early '90s, according to Core 4, with the practice leveling off in the past
>>few years.
>>"When I was doing no-till in the 1980s, my neighbors thought I was crazy,"
>>said John Haas, a Kansas farmer who fs corn, soybeans, sorghum, wheat
>>and other crops on his 4,600 acres. "But they saw I was producing good
>>crops, so more people started getting interested in it."
>>There are drawbacks to the process. Instituting no-till farming often
>>requires the purchase of expensive new equipment, such as no-till planting
>>machines that replace traditional plows. And no-till fields frequently
>>require more pesticide, because the organic material left on the ground is
>>a haven for pests. Part of the CASMGS project is outreach to farmers,
>>convincing them that the drawbacks to using no-till for carbon
>>sequestration are worth the environmental and economic benefits.
>>"You have a greater chance of succeeding with pushing environmental
>>practices where you have an economic benefit like the carbon credits," said
>>Purdue associate professor Sylvie M. Brouder, who is heading the outreach
>>part of the CASMGS project for the Corn Belt. "Even small payments can act
>>as an incentive for farmers to take a risk."
>>While industry is responsible for the majority of carbon dioxide emissions,
>>scientists involved with CASMGS say widespread adoption of carbon
>>sequestration would have a concrete effect on greenhouse gases.
>>"We're trying to offset the increase that's happening every year," said Ron
>>F. Turco, director of the Environmental Sciences and Engineering Institute
>>at Purdue. Turco said that the total carbon content of the country's soil
>>has been reduced by about 50 percent since the advent of plowing, but that
>>widespread carbon sequestration practices by U.S. farmers could restore the
>>original level of carbon within 40 years.
>>"We're looking at anywhere from 75 million to 200 million metric tons of
>>carbon that could be sequestered each year," he said. "This isn't going to
>>solve all of the greenhouse gas issues, but this can be a stopgap in the
>>increasing emissions for 30 or 40 years until better technologies come 
>> 2002 The Washington Post Company
>Jim~ McNelly
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