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Farmers can cut carbon for cash

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ANN MARIE AMES
July 30, 2008

It’s like a commodity you can’t see or feel.


But it’s still worth cash, and the Wisconsin Farm Bureau wants farmers and foresters to get in on the ground floor of this emerging market.


The product for sale is carbon credits.


Major manufacturers want those credits to supplement their attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Farmers using some environmentally friendly practices naturally create carbon credits by sequestering, or holding, carbon in fields and forests.


Supply and demand.


The farm bureau has traveled the state with representatives from AgraGate, an agricultural carbon credit aggregator headquarted in West Des Moines, Iowa.


An aggregator is like a broker, farm bureau spokesman Casey Langan said. AgraGate pools the credits from farmers and foresters and makes them available to members of the Chicago Climate Exchange.


The climate exchange was created in 2003 as the world’s first voluntary trading system designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to its Web site. Members include the Ford Motor Company, DuPont, Miami-Dade County, Fla., Sony Electronics, the city of Chicago, Michigan State University and many others.


It works like this: A manufacturing plant emits gasses as it works. First, the company must prove it’s working to reduce its emissions. It might install scrubbers in its smokestacks, as one effort.


To meet the rest of its emission-reduction goal, the company can pay for farmers and foresters to prevent carbon emissions in their fields and woodlots.


Trees and grasses naturally prevent carbon emissions. Paying farmers for that prevention helps them commit to green practices, said Lavonne Baldwin, AgraGate’s customer services manager.


“It’s an opportunity and a reward for early environmental practices … for those who are taking initiative and making the change,” Baldwin said.


The number of credits farmers and foresters can get paid for depends on the type of soil and the type of practice, Baldwin said. Qualifying production practices include:


-- No-till planting—new crops are planted over the top of last year’s cornstalks or other debris. This prevents erosion and reduces the amount of carbon emitted from the soil during plowing.


-- New grass planting—Former fields planted into grass since Jan. 1, 1999.


-- New forest planting—Forests planted after January 1990.


The interest in forestry options surprised Langan as he traveled the state introducing the program. He expected to see interest in forests in northern Wisconsin and interest only in no-till in southern Wisconsin.


Langan saw high interest in sequestering carbon through forestry practices statewide.


“People want to know what they can do with that five-acre lot,” he said.


The number of carbon credits traded is on the rise, Langan said. From Jan. 1 to July 1, 45.7 million carbon credits had been traded on the Chicago Climate Exchange.


That compares to 22 million credits in all of 2007, Langan said.


Farmers can get $4 to $7.50 per acre per year for carbon credits, Langan said. That’s not a lot of money when you consider a Rock County farmer could get 150 bushels of corn at $7 per bushel from one acre.


But it costs a lot in fuel and fertilizer to grow that corn. It takes nothing to sequester carbon once the practice is established, he said.


“It’s not a huge amount of money,” Langan said. “But it’s payment for something in some cases these landowners are already doing.”


TO SIGN UP FOR CREDIT

The Wisconsin Farm Bureau and AgraGate encourage farmers to get paid for carbon emissions they save through environmentally friendly practices.


If you want your 2007 no-till or grass planted acres included in your carbon credit contract, you must sign up before Friday, Aug. 15.


To learn more:


-- Call AgraGate at 1-866-633-6758; write to AgraGate Climate Credits Corp., 5400 University Ave., West Des Moines, Iowa, 50266; e-mail info@agragate.com, or visit www.agragate.com.
-- Call the Wisconsin Farm Bureau at 1-800-261-3276 or visit www.wfbf.com.
-- Visit the Chicago Climate Exchange Web site at www.chicagoclimatex.com.

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