Reducing on-farm greenhouse gases.

Carbon stewardship is a valuable practice that can be rewarding. “To most farmers, talk about climate change, global warming and greenhouse gas emissions might seem to be just hot air from environmental activists and politicians,” says Ron Heller, an agronomist with Reduced Tillage LINKAGES, Vermilion, AB.

Although the science behind greenhouse gas issues cannot yet accurately measure net emissions, the main agricultural focus has been on how much and when various farm practices influence the carbon flux associated with three culprit gases: nitrous oxide, methane and carbon dioxide. The majority of predictable agricultural greenhouse gases are linked to livestock, manure, and fertilizer-three very specific operations with risks and rewards for farm managers.

“While carbon stewardship directly benefits farmers, it's not a simple cheque in the mail,” says Heller. “Governments don't yet agree how to quantify or allocate carbon removal and reduction credits. The missing link in carbon trading appears to be deciding on a value for carbon as a commodity. Contract offers and verification between eager buyers and willing sellers remains very intricate and cautious.

“As a reduced tillage agronomist I feel agriculture is actually in an enviable position with regards to carbon stewardship,” says Heller. “That's because investment today in beneficial management practices will pay dividends in the future.”

Some practical ways prairie farmers can reduce on-farm greenhouse gases:

“These methods not only lower greenhouse gas emissions but, more importantly, tend to improve a producer's input efficiencies and profit potential,” says Heller. “In other words, good stewardship pays even if the actual carbon payback so far is small.”

Soil carbon amounts differ significantly by soil zone and climate. However, individual farm and field practices such as reduced tillage and dynamic crop rotations can increase soil carbon.

“But these practices must be appealing and make economic sense for the current occupants of our farmland, not just for future generations,” says Heller.

The following sites are useful sources of information on climate change, carbon trading, and beneficial agricultural practices that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions:

-From the November 3, 2008 issue of Agri-News