National Farmers Union has begun offering a carbon credit program.
The program allows farmers to earn income for no-till farming practices or for long-term grass plantings.
Farmers trade metric tons of carbon much like they trade a bushel of corn, said Dale Enerson, director of the NFU carbon credit program, speaking at the Minnesota Farmers Union annual convention Nov. 18. Enerson works for the North Dakota Farmers Union, which is conducting the program for National Farmers Union.
Credits were trading at $1 per metric ton to $2 per metric ton three years ago when Farmers Union began looking into carbon credit trading. Now, credits have stabilized around $4 per metric ton after hitting as high as $5 per metric ton, he said.
"The future potential looks pretty good," Enerson said. "We're not going to get rich on it." Besides cropland, contracts are also available for forestry and methane digesters. The crop acreage can be enrolled using an online procedure, but the forestry and methane digester enrollments will be done on a case-by-case basis.
NFU has 1.1 million acres enrolled in the program, Enerson said, and it will start selling credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange on Jan. 2, 2007. About 800,000 acres are from North Dakota. The remaining 300,000 acres are from the other 14 states eligible to participate.
The Chicago Climate Exchange approved the territory in 2003 for the Iowa Farm Bureau, Enerson said. IFB and NFU are the two farm groups who offer the carbon credit program.
The Chicago Climate Exchange sets the rate and NFU will enroll farmers' land into blocks of credits that can be traded on the CCX, Enerson said. Individual farmers can't trade on the climate exchange, he said. The CCX doesn't buy credits in blocks of less than 12,500 metric tons.
"Farmers who use no-till practices, maintain grasslands for the long-term, have forestland or have other conservation methods can get financial benefits by enrolling land," said Minnesota Farmers Union president Doug Peterson in a press release. "The amount of benefit will vary based on the practice and the prices offered through the CCX." "It's not every farmer and every field that's going to qualify," Enerson said. Only a select group using no-till or strip-till that disturbs less than 30 percent of the soil surface may qualify.
The idea behind the Chicago Climate Exchange is that farmers can help control global warming by sequestering carbon in the soil.
Some think that industrialization has put more carbon into the atmosphere and contributed to global warming. History has shown that over the last 400,000 years the most carbon was in the atmosphere at the warmest periods.
North Dakota is anticipating this, Enerson joked. The state plans to become the Fort Lauderdale of the north.
Joking aside, U.S. cropland has the potential to sequester 75 million to 208 million metric tons of carbon per year, he said. The global annual carbon dioxide emission is 30 billion metric tons, with 6 billion metric tons coming from the United States alone.
The program is a way for farmers who already practice no-till or have hay or grass lands to earn extra income off their land, Enerson said. Their income from the program will vary depending on the price paid by the CCX, less a 10 percent fee charged by Farmers Union.
Using a $4 per metric ton price, farmers who no-till can earn about $2 per acre per year, minus fees. It's about $3 per acre per year, less fees, for those with hay or grasslands.
Farmers can enroll in the program at any time, with new enrollees aggregated and sold in the following year.
For now, the United States does not have a mandatory carbon dioxide emission cap, but other countries who signed the Kyoto Protocal do. If the United States does approve a mandatory cap, Enerson predicts the value of carbon credits will increase.
For more information on the program, farmers should go to www.nfu.org. Farmers need not be Farmers Union members to participate in the carbon credit program.