Agricultural Solutions to Reduce Carbon Emissions
Significant opportunities are emerging for California farmers to earn income from directly reducing their greenhouse gas emissions or storing carbon in the soil. The income is generated from selling carbon credits that businesses or individuals can purchase to offset their own emissions. Sustainable Conservation works with farmers and scientists to evaluate and promote farming practices that:
- Store carbon in the soil;
- Reduce carbon dioxide or reduce fossil fuel emissions from farm vehicles;
- Capture or prevent methane emissions;
- Reduce nitrous oxide emissions.
Carbon Sequestration: Storing Carbon in the Soil
Soil is a major reservoir for carbon and nitrogen. It contains twice as much carbon as terrestrial vegetation (primarily trees) and the atmosphere combined. Approximately 3 million metric tons of carbon equivalents could be stored in California soils.
Sustainable Conservation promotes carbon-storing approaches that make environmental and economic sense. Examples include:
- Conservation tillage: With this cost-saving cultivation method, farmers plant the crop's seed directly into last year's crop residue, which enhances carbon storage. This method cuts the number of tractor passes through the field by more than 50%, which means less diesel consumed and less carbon dioxide emitted. More about conservation tillage.
- Cover crops: Cover crops are sometimes used to improve soil health, add nitrogen, prevent wind and water erosion, and produce a forage crop for livestock. California farmers have not used cover crops as widely as they could.
- Soil amendments and compost: Adding amendments to the soil (such as manure or compost) can increase the soil's organic matter content, which builds up carbon.
We are also working to develop protocols for carbon offsets tailored specifically for California farming.
Nutrient Management: Reducing Nitrous Oxide Emissions
Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a potent greenhouse gas - 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in driving climate change - and agriculture accounts for about 70% of the nitrous oxide emissions in the U.S. These emissions can stem from the application of commercial and animal-based fertilizers, particularly when farmers apply more fertilizer than the crops naturally take in or apply excess irrigation water.
Sustainable Conservation helps farmers reduce their nitrous oxide emissions by promoting methods that use nitrogen fertilizer and/or irrigation water more efficiently.
Are you a farmer? Try nutrient management best practices risk free through our Best Management Practices Challenge.