Report: Washington Farmers May Profit from CO2 Capture

Washington’s farmers could play a positive and potentially profitable role in combating climate change, according to a report by a panel of agricultural producers, economists, and scientists.

The Agriculture Sector Carbon Market Workgroup determined that Washington agricultural producers could sequester or capture as much as 7 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. The report suggests that Washington’s farmers and ranchers could profit from selling carbon credits under a free-market system to reduce the emissions that cause climate change.

“Today’s farming practices represent both a source of greenhouse gas emissions and a strategy to capture them,” said Chad Kruger of Washington State University, a co-chair of the workgroup. “Because farms are businesses that operate on narrow margins, producers need to recover the costs of implementing practices that mitigate climate change. We’ve identified some key farming practices that will further reduce emissions, capture additional gases, and help farmers sell to other greenhouse gas emitters in the carbon credit markets.”

Current agricultural practices in Washington are estimated to capture more carbon than is released during farming. Several practical strategies highlighted in the report would further reduce emissions and capture more greenhouse gases, including:

• Reducing nitrogen fertilizer use, making fewer passes in the field and implementing precision farming practices;

• Expanding the use of farmland conservation programs that sequester carbon by allowing producers to earn carbon emission credits on enrolled lands; and

• Capturing more methane from manure in anaerobic digesters that create energy.

“Climate change offers a real opportunity for our producers,” said Kirk Cook, a hydrogeologist with the Washington State Department of Agriculture and workgroup co-chair. “While changing climate and rainfall patterns are a real threat to production agriculture, the strategies we identified will increase the competitiveness of Washington’s farmers. None of the strategies we point to would put Washington’s producers at a disadvantage.”

The workgroup also provided guidance on how to improve the accuracy of estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from farming, as well as the amount of gases captured in agricultural sequestration projects. A reliable baseline of carbon emissions by the state’s farmers, including data that reflects the diversity of crops in Washington, has yet to be established.

The full report is available at www.ecy.wa.gov/climatechange/2008FAdocs/Ag_Offset_Recc_Pkg_FINAL.pdf.

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