Mississippians are exploring the relatively new and growing market for carbon offsetting, although many issues related to this market remain under discussion.
Larry Oldham, a soil specialist at Mississippi State University Extension Service, said normal daily activities such as driving, manufacturing, industrial production and farming practices release carbon into the atmosphere.
“The carbon is released into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide, where high levels help trap heat,” Oldham said. “Legislation and regulations adopted by industrialized countries aim to reduce carbon emissions and stabilize or lower the levels of carbon and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. “
In the United States, government regulations deal with the amount of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide that a business can generate. While also finding ways to reduce its carbon footprint, a carbon-generating industry can also buy carbon credits as an offset.
“While companies such as power producers may be required to reduce their footprint under the Clean Air Act, others may voluntarily choose to participate,” Oldham said.
According to the Carbon Offset Research and Education program, a carbon offset credit is a transferable instrument certified by governments or independent certification bodies to represent a reduction in emissions of one metric ton of carbon dioxide, or an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. other greenhouse gases.
“The buyer of an offset credit can ‘withdraw’ it to claim the underlying reduction for their own GHG reduction goals,” the program says. “The key concept is that offset credits are used to pass a net climate benefit from one entity to another.”
This means that an individual or business that does not produce greenhouse gases has a resource – carbon credits – that has financial value. Mississippi, with an abundance of forests and farmland, has the potential to monetize these resources in new ways.
Oldham said the soil sampling that row crop growers are already doing could serve more than a basic fertility management tool in the future.
“The carbon in everything that used to live is transformed into organic matter in the soil through biological decomposition,” Oldham said. “In plants, it is estimated that 20 to 70% of the carbon recycled in the soil is taken up, or fixed, in the roots of annual crops.
This means that active farmland potentially stores carbon rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. In developing markets, landowners can sometimes sell this asset as carbon offsets to industries trying to reduce their carbon footprint.
“Vendors need to realize that what is traded is not just carbon, but data that includes soil carbon, information about tillage operations that may affect it, and nutrient management in the field. , and that raises a series of questions, ”Oldham said.
The players in this emerging market are looking for answers to many questions. They want to determine the soil carbon benchmark so that levels above the benchmark can be monetized, as well as how crop rotation affects the benchmark. Other issues include who verifies the data, the carbon ownership situation between landowners and tenants, and who ultimately owns the data.
As the market situation changes, the MSU Extension Service’s Soil Analysis Laboratory can quantify the amount of organic matter in the soil and detect both the total carbon and nitrogen content of samples. Oldham said growers looking to enter the carbon market should immediately assess their current levels of soil carbon.
“By knowing the carbon content of their soil, landowners can assess the potential for increase by adopting certain best management practices such as reducing tillage, using cover crops and implementing crop rotations can increase carbon content, ”Oldham said.
“With this information, producers can assess whether the ‘additionality’ of new soil carbon construction practices on their farm is feasible,” he said. “Additionality is shaping up to be a significant issue because it indicates that producers will have to adopt some type of new practice in order to participate in the market.
“It is not clear at this time whether producers who already follow management practices that store carbon efficiently will be paid to continue them, or only for adding new practices to increase carbon storage,” said Oldham.
Shaun Tanger, a forestry economist with MSU Extension, said woodlands are another potential source of carbon credits.
“Existing carbon exchanges offer landowners the opportunity to monetize their forests in the form of wood-generated carbon credits,” Tangier said. “Some exchanges monetize timber conservation, some pay a price each year for postponed harvests, while others purchase certain management practices beyond those commonly seen in logged forests. “
In May, Tangier hosted a webinar with a representative from San Francisco, Calif. Based carbon exchange company NCX – currently the only exchange available to residents of Mississippi. Jeff Wright of NCX explained that carbon forestry projects actually started in the early 1990s, although they have increased significantly in public awareness and importance in recent years.
“Forest owners can be paid for carbon capture in standing trees, as this will reduce some of the impacts of climate change,” Wright said.
Trees are high sources of carbon, with carbon accounting for 50% of the dry weight of wood and 25% of the green weight.
NCX is a company that has mapped the entire country with the goal of paying landowners for the series of ecosystems they provided for free in the past, Wright said.
“This includes managing forests for water quality and quantity, forest health, wildlife habitat, fire risk reduction, habitat preservation for endangered species, and species control. invasive, ”he said.
Many Mississippians have already taken advantage of this form of carbon marketing. Wright said 42% of the properties his company works with are under 500 acres. The most recent annual payments ranged from $ 15 to $ 70 per acre for marketable timber that was deferred for a year.
Interested property owners can submit their area for review at no cost or obligation. The NCX determines how many crop deferral credits the landowner has on their property, with typically 25 green tons equivalent to one crop deferral credit, Tangier said.
“If they then choose to participate, landowners specify the amount per harvest deferral credit they are willing to accept in return for not harvesting salable timber for a year as part of an appeal process. offers, “Tangier said. “If their prices are at or below the clearing market price for the auction, then all of their carry-over units will be purchased and the owner will be paid at the end of the contract period.”