An Arizona-based "eco-timber" company, World Tree USA LLC, is reaching out to farmers in Washington and Oregon, seeking to build a market for carbon stored in trees and produce specialty hardwood on farmers' land.
Some farmers, like Lori Fults of Garden of Eden LLC in Junction City, Ore., are excited about the opportunity.
Most carbon offset companies pay landowners not to cut down trees; World Tree's model is different.
The company has two markets: lumber and carbon.
On the lumber side, the company provides farmers with Paulownia, or Empress Splendor, seedlings, a hardwood tree that produces the lumber used to make guitars, surfboards and other high-end wood products.
World Tree carries the up-front costs, providing farmers with seedlings for free. The farmer is then responsible for planting the Empress Splendors, the world's fastest-growing trees, which take just 10 years to mature.
When the trees are ready, World Tree pays for harvesting them, finds a market for the wood and splits the profits 50-50 with the farmer.
According to Roy James, farmer outreach coordinator at World Tree, the company has contracts with 280 farms in five countries. Because the company is only five years old, it has yet to complete a harvest cycle.
The carbon side of the company is under development. Empress Splendors have enormous, heart-shaped leaves that suck carbon from the air at high rates, making them efficient at sequestering and storing carbon.
James said the company is developing a carbon market so carbon emitters such as gas companies can buy carbon offsets while the trees are in the ground.
"There's a lot of acreage we aren't using that we can now make money on. It's such a win-win all around," said Fults, the Junction City farmer.
Fults is one of four Pacific Northwest farmers who have contracted with World Tree.
This year, the company is partnering with a Northwest nursery that will produce 5,000 saplings for distribution throughout the region. World Tree's marketing director, Curtis Gobbett, declined to name the nursery, citing "confidentiality concerns."
The company uses two specially developed non-invasion varieties of the Paulownia tree, the Paulownia elongata and Paulownia fortunei.
One other type that World Tree says it avoids, the Paulownia tomentosa, is known to be invasive.
Some researchers, including Dan Stark, a forest health and invasive species expert at Oregon State University, say they are concerned that planting non-native trees can have unintended consequences.
He encourages anyone considering planting an unfamiliar species to consult with a local extension, forestry, USDA or Fish and Wildlife Service expert.