Carbon Copy

Posted in: Environment     

Albertans have all the fun.

0913 Carbon copyFirst it was the oil wealth, now farmers in that province are reaping the benefits resulting from a government that was the first — and so far, only — in North America to legislate a greenhouse emission reduction program.

In order to comply with the regulations, industrial emitters in Alberta are buying carbon offsets, often from farmers. To date, Canada’s only ISO-certified agricultural carbon consulting business, AGRI-TREND Aggregation Inc. (ATAI), has sold over 2.6 million tonnes of agricultural carbon offsets, returning a hefty $25 million into the pockets of Alberta farmers.

Other provinces and U.S. states are looking at ways to copy this model, and it appears that Saskatchewan farmers are the closest to cashing in. The provincial government there is looking closely at implementing a system for industrial emission reductions similar to Alberta’s, though the timeline remains uncertain.

This opportunity may never be available from a provincial perspective to Manitoba farmers, who live in a province where hydro-electric power keeps emissions low. However, a federal emissions reduction program, currently being assessed by Ottawa, would be open to all Canadian farmers.

Of the seven major greenhouse gasses threatening the planet, three can be linked to agricultural operations, which accounts for 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Nitrous oxide, partially a byproduct of nitrogen fertilizer, makes up most of that 20 percent. Plants utilize the nitrate from nitrogen fertilizers, but if over-applied or applied incorrectly, the nitrous oxide can either volatilize into the atmosphere or move into nearby water sources.

Farmers can limit this, and precisely how is outlined in the internationally accepted Nitrous Oxide Emission Reduction Protocol (NERP). It outlines best management practices including the using the Right source, the Right timing, the Right rate and the Right placement of nitrogen. These four Rs highlight ways to greatly improve nitrogen use efficiency.

So far Alberta farmers may be the only ones, pocketing cash for carbon offsets but any effort to improve nitrogen use efficiency increases farmers ability to increase yield goals and it benefits the environment, so everyone wins.

Alberta’s carbon offset revenue stream may soon be available to feedlot operators, too. Bill Dorgan, president of ATAI, says that  he has started working with feedlots in Alberta to generate data that will create offsets that measure overall methane emission reductions.

Meantime, there are rumblings that the actual price of carbon offsets in Alberta could rise above the current $15 per tonne. The regulator of the program, Alberta Environment, will ultimately decide if and when the price will change. But any signal of an increase in commodity prices — and carbon offsets are an agricultural commodity — is good news for farmers.

About the Author
Tracy Tjaden

Tjaden is a Canadian journalist who has spent the majority of her career writing and editing for magazines, primarily business-related titles.

She grew up on a farm near Winnipeg, worked at several newspapers in Canada before specializing in magazines, with a focus on business, finance and agriculture.

Tjaden was Editor of BCBusiness Magazine in Vancouver and Managing Editor of a financial magazine in New York City before returning to Winnipeg. She is currently editor of the AgAdvance Journal and agadvance online, and can be reached at


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