Experts look for bottom line in carbon sequestration plan
Climate change speakers address pending legislation
By MATTHEW WEAVER
The future of cap and trade legislation remains both uncertain and unlikely to help farmers break even.
It appears unlikely that agriculture will be regulated for carbon sequestration under any greenhouse gas reduction program, said Stephanie Page, renewable energy specialist for the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
"Ag is a relatively small percentage of greenhouse gas emissions nationally," she said.
Voluntary practices can help reduce emissions and sequester carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.
An agricultural carbon work group in Oregon found that several practices, such as anaerobic digesters or soil sequestration, would probably be eligible for financial incentives to offset costs, Page said.
But the sequestration rate per acre is fairly low, so the challenge is getting enough of a payment to be worthwhile for farmers to go through the process.
An Oregon State University consultant advised that farmers probably won't be able to come out ahead with any nutrient enhancement practices, but will probably break even, Page said. As such, incentives are going to be important to encourage producers to take them on, she said.
Another challenge is determining the date of eligibility for projects, in order to reward people who adapted to efforts early, Page said.
Mike Hoffman, carbon sequestration specialist for the Idaho Soil Conservation Commission, said it's impossible to see a clear front runner with regard to whether carbon sequestration will take place in the United States -- or to guess when a decision will come.
Various bills to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have been introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, but they either offer a supposed reward such as cap and trade legislation or a political threat to have the Environmental Protection Agency return to requirements under the Clean Air Act, he said.
The Chicago Climate Exchange is currently North America's only voluntary, legally binding trading corporation for carbon credits, but there is currently no cropping region through the corporation in California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho, Hoffman said.
China is leading the developing nations in recognizing the tradeoffs between economic development and emission reductions. All are clearly picking development, Hoffman said.
"I don't think anybody can afford any kind of emission reduction, at least with the price tags being thrown around out there," he said.
As a former president of the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association, Genesee, Idaho-based farmer Russ Zenner was involved in the negotiation of a carbon sequestration contract to sequester 3,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. That contract is currently in its seventh year.
The value of carbon sequestration is going to be directly related to the regulatory requirements for reductions, Zenner said.
"All of that is going to raise our cost of doing business," he said. "I don't think realistically there's any way we're going to get close to covering the additional cost of doing business."