Carbon deals add to no-till

Photo of Russ Zenner

Breaking new ground with no-till: Russ Zenner explained the benefits to the delegates at the 2005 SA No-Till Farmers Association Conference. PHOTO: Emma Leonard




Would you like to be part of a group which receives a US$75,000 payment for adopting no-till farming? That is exactly what the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association (PNDSA) received when they established the first-ever carbon contract developed between agricultural producers and a US energy producer.

PNDSA was started in 2000 by a group of farmers with the goal of increasing no-till farming on the steep cropping land in Idaho, Oregon and Washington states. They are aiming to have 800,000 hectares sown using no-till after five years. The group also has a major interest in value-added opportunities based on adopting environmentally friendly cropping systems.

"We know that using no-till seeding generates huge environmental advantages, due to less soil erosion and reduced carbon emission," explained Russ Zenner, founding president of the PNDSA, at the 2005 SA No- Till Farmers Association conference in March. "In our area dust storms have led to serious crashes on the freeway; systems that reduce soil erosion are good for our farms and for our community but we also wanted to add value to our businesses by adopting no-till."

Like Australia, the US has not signed the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions. However, Entergy, the fourth-largest power generator in the US, voluntarily offered carbon contracts, perhaps in anticipation of them becoming compulsory.

After much consideration PNDSA opted for a carbon-leasing, rather than carbonselling, contract with Entergy. They negotiated a 10-year lease in which they agreed, by the use of no-till, to sequester 30,480 tonnes of carbon at 3048 tonnes per year. The carbon emissions avoided due to no-till are credited to Entergy, which offsets them against emissions from its power plants in the US for the term of the lease.

Entergy paid PNDSA US$75,000 for the 10-year lease. PNDSA retain 50c per tonne while the majority is distributed to participating members on an annual basis.

The area that each farmer can include in the scheme is capped at 40 hectares, for which they receive a payment of about US$2.50/ha per year for 10 years.

"These payments provide our group with a secure revenue stream for the next 10 years and allow 66 of our 300 members to participate in this ground-breaking scheme. The money is a bonus for adopting no-till, not an incentive for adoption."

PNDSA has also worked with the Food Alliance to establish certification standards for no-till cropping systems. This has led to another grower group, made up of PNDSA members, marketing certified no-till grain in much the same way as grain marketed under an organic accreditation - and consumers are prepared to pay a premium.

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