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Recent Developments in Agricultural Greenhouse Gases

Published: August 13, 2014 by Editorial Team

The Coalition on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (C-AGG) is an organization composed of private, nonprofit and government stakeholders who are working to advance the voluntary reduction of GHG emissions from the agricultural sector, which make up 10% of national emissions. We were pleased to attend C-AGG’s most recent meeting in Denver, July 15-16.

Themes that emerged from the meeting included:

The policy landscape is changing.
It is highly unlikely that the EPA’s Clean Power Plan—otherwise known as section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act—will allow agricultural offsets to be used for compliance with greenhouse gas reduction targets, which may significantly reduce the potential applications for these instruments. The 111(d) comment period is open until October.

In California, livestock methane projects credits have tripled within just the last few months, likely as a result of changing California policies and the potential that livestock methane may be regulated in the future.

Protocols are being developed to fill gaps in the market.
California’s Air Resources Board (ARB) is in the final stages of approving an offset protocol for rice cultivation. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and C-AGG have called for supportive comments on this protocol. Meanwhile, new protocols are being researched for soil carbon offsets.

Many tools are being developed, with varying goals.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture just released its Greenhouse Gas Methods Report, and is making significant improvements to its COMET-Farm tool for nutrient management, including interactive mapping of fields, to help farmers understand the impacts of changing their fertilizer application practices. Field to Market is developing a tool that will collect large volumes of field data from growers and agribusinesses in order to verify sustainability claims made by large agricultural retailers about their supply chains.

USDA is rolling out several agriculture and climate-related programs, with Agricultural Climate Hubs at seven land grant universities, including one at Oregon State University. These Hubs are intended to provide science-based and practical information to farmers, ranchers, and foresters that will help them adapt to climate change and weather variability by coordinating with local and regional partners.

Technology proliferation is helping us understand opportunities.
New satellite and remote imaging technologies from NASA and others hold the potential to allow verifiers access to visual proof of practice changes, particularly for rice. For example, to aide in decisions of where compost additions are made to grazing lands, there is a heat map that guides appropriate compost application—incorporating soil type, response to compost, and distance to compost facilities.

Additionally, the first utility-scale anaerobic digester project in Colorado is informing the community about barriers for large-scale renewable energy from dairies.

This is an exciting time for climate-friendly agriculture and there is increasing focus on whole farm/ranch accounting, bio-economy, and information flow and decision tools to agricultural producers. Though much work remains to be done to capture the full potential of the sector, the discussion and collaboration fostered at C-AGG inspires confidence that agricultural greenhouse gas reductions are both possible and likely.