Carbon Credits and Farmers

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Conservation cropping | Reducing nitrogen emissions from fertilizers | Afforestation (tree planting) | Microgeneration of electricity | Energy from biomass | Anaerobic decomposition (biogas) | Increasing energy efficiency | Beef cattle | Dairy initiatives | Conclusion

As global concern over the potential effects of greenhouse gas continues to grow, the Province of Alberta has developed a practical way for various sectors to collaborate in helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When the Alberta Carbon Market was first created by the Province of Alberta in 2007, it was one of the first of its kind in the world.

Alberta’s carbon offset laws require facilities that produce over 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases to reduce emissions intensity by 12%. Companies can do this by improving their technologies and effectiveness, but they are also able to pay into a research fund or purchase carbon offsets. Purchasing carbon offsets from other sectors can be less expensive than paying into the research fund. Offsets are purchased from sectors that can achieve greenhouse gas reductions but are too small to regulate for carbon reduction, such as agriculture and other smaller industries. The Alberta Carbon Market is a unique and innovative forum that engages various sectors in Alberta’s reduction of greenhouse gases.

The vision of the Alberta Carbon Market is to reduce overall greenhouse gases by increasing collaboration between all sectors, including agriculture. Our sector currently produces approximately 8% of Canada’s greenhouse gases. Participation in the Agricultural Carbon Offsets Market is voluntary, but farmers and ranchers do get paid for their efforts to reduce emissions. Although this has moderate financial rewards, it provides a new opportunity for income, one that has the potential to increase in the future.

Record-keeping is a vital aspect of every carbon offset project. In order to receive carbon offset credits, a farmer must keep records before and after the implementation of an emission-reducing project. This helps develop a baseline.

At the moment, farmers can obtain carbon credits by undertaking any of the following activities:

Conservation Cropping
When soil is tilled, some of the stored carbon and nitrogen is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2) or nitrous oxide (N2O). The Conservation Cropping Protocol was introduced in 2012, replacing the Tillage Protocol that was in place from 2007-11.

“Conservation cropping” means making fewer passes on a field to help reduce soil disturbance and the use of fossil fuels in farm equipment. Under the protocol, “no till” fields must either have one pass with an opener (seeding, fertilizer, or manure) with up to 46% soil contact, or two passes with an opener with up to 38% soil contact.
Projects in the Dry Prairie Area have a “Carbon Harvest Rate” (reduction) of .06 tonnes per acre per year, while the rate is 0.11 tonnes per acre per year for the Parkland Area. (Irrigated farms in the Dry Prairie Area are considered at the Parkland Area Carbon Harvest Rate.) To calculate the amount of the carbon offset, the number of acres of the crop is multiplied by the appropriate Carbon Harvest Rate. The resulting number is multiplied by the price per ton, which is currently about $9 to the farmer. Please click here for more information.

Reducing Nitrogen Emissions from Fertilizers
The goal of this protocol is to limit nitrogen emissions from fertilizers by improving the efficiency of fertilizer use. The central principle of the 4-R Nitrogen Stewardship Plan is Right Source @ Right Rate, Right Time and Right Place™. This best management practice takes a holistic approach to fertilizer use by considering all relevant factors. Please click here for more information.

Afforestation (Tree Planting)
Carbon dioxide from the air is stored in trees. The current draft is for planted trees only, with the land not being in forest for at least 20 years previously, and it has to be locked into trees for at least 60 years. The trees could have been planted in 2002 or later, but the carbon would be only claimable from the start of the project.

Carbon credits for small scale solar and wind power may be available in the future. The generation has to be small scale (under one megawatt) and connected to the grid. Power production records are needed. They are produced by almost all solar systems, usually kept either by the installation or distribution company.

Micro-generation of Electricity
Carbon credits for small scale solar and wind power may be available in the future. The generation has to be small scale (under one megawatt) and connected to the grid. Power production records are needed. They are produced by almost all solar systems, usually kept either by the installation or distribution company.

Energy from Biomass
Biomass includes forest and mill residues, agricultural crops and wastes, wood and wood wastes, animal wastes, livestock operation residents, and organic municipal and industrial wastes. When biomass is stockpiled or disposed of at a landfill, it decomposes and releases methane into the atmosphere. To receive carbon offset credits, a farmer could choose to bring their biomass to a combustion facility that converts it to generate heat, power, or electricity. This would help reduce reliance on fossil-fuel derived energy. Please click here for more information.

Anaerobic Decomposition (Biogas)
In this context, the word “anaerobic” refers to decomposition of an agricultural material in a manner that does not involve air. Agricultural materials can include things such as manure, silage, dead animal stocks, crop residues etc. Anaerobic decomposition produces biogases, which can be used instead of fossil fuels. Farmers who install biogas-producing facilities, such as anaerobic digesters, on their farms can receive carbon offsets for their efforts. Please click here for more information.

Increasing Energy Efficiency
A farmer’s efforts to increase energy efficiency can result lower energy costs and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Solutions can range from complex changes to simple and low cost amendments. Please click here for more information.

Beef Cattle

  • Residual Feed Intake (RFI)
    The Residual Feed Intake (RFI) carbon offset uses advancements in genetic selection to create cattle that have lower maintenance requirements and consume less feed for the same level of production. Please click here for more information.
  • Reducing Age at Harvest
    When a farmer harvests a beef animal at a younger age, methane and nitrous oxide emissions are reduced from both the animal and its manure.
  • Reducing Days on Feed
    This is very similar to the protocol for reducing the age of beef cattle at harvest, except it applies specifically to the feedlot finishing phase. Cutting back the time cattle feed under the feedlot finishing phase helps reduce emissions. Please click here for more information.

Dairy Initiatives
Under the Emission Reductions from Dairy Cattle Protocol, a dairy farmer could obtain carbon offset credits in four ways:
  • Increased Milk Production
    Annual milk productivity per cow is increased, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions per unit of milk produced.
  • Increased Feed Efficiency
    Diet is modified to reduce the proportion of gross energy converted to methane.
  • Retaining Fewer Replacement Heifers
    Fewer heifers are retained as replacements to reduce emissions derived from replacement animals, which reduces methane emissions from the animals and their manure.

Since farms do not produce enough carbon offsets to work directly with the purchasing companies, aggregators (or brokers) exist to help guide the process and facilitate the sale of carbon credits in the Alberta Carbon Market.

For more information, please visit the Agricultural Carbon Offsets webpage and contact the staff listed therein.
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Jeana Schuurman.
This information published to the web on September 15, 2014.
Last Reviewed/Revised on July 19, 2017.