Greenhouse gas emissions offsets issued in first agricultural offsets transaction

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) announced the first agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions offsets transaction based on validation and verification methodology developed by EPRI and Michigan State University (MSU).

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) announced the first agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions offsets transaction based on validation and verification methodology developed by EPRI and Michigan State University (MSU). The methodology enables farmers to participate in emerging carbon markets by creating GHG offsets, which can be sold to other carbon market participants to meet GHG emission reduction targets or to achieve corporate sustainability goals.

The American Carbon Registry issued the offsets, called Emission Reduction Tons, to a Michigan farmer for voluntarily reducing nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions by curbing the amount of nitrogen-based fertilizer used to grow corn.

“This project demonstrates that through improved nitrogen application efficiency, farmers can reduce fertilizer use and GHG emissions without reducing crop yields, and be compensated for the GHG emissions reductions they create,” said Phil Robertson, professor in the MSU Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences and MSU AgBioResearch scientist.

“Offsets are a potentially important tool for achieving GHG emission reduction targets, and this project shows that by connecting the agriculture industry with offset markets, farming practices can be a source for emissions reductions and tradable credits,” said Adam Diamant, EPRI technical executive and a co-author of the MSU-EPRI methodology.

The offsets generated by the farmer’s project are being purchased by The Climate Trust, an Oregon-based nonprofit organization engaged in efforts to reduce GHG emissions and generate offsets. This also is the first offset project to be included in the new Nitrogen Credit Program created by the Delta Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating and implementing market-driven solutions in the Great Lakes region. Working in partnership with The Climate Trust, the Delta Institute program uses the MSU-EPRI methodology across Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Nitrogen fertilizers represent one of the largest sources of GHG emissions from agricultural production, resulting in significant emissions of N2O, a GHG with approximately 300 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide (CO2). In 2012, N2O emissions from cropland soils in the United States were approximately 195 million metric tons of CO2 – equivalent (CO2e), according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2014 National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, equivalent to the GHG emissions of approximately 41 million passenger vehicles annually.

“Farmers already manage fertilizer, but are often reluctant to further reduce its use because they fear doing so will curb crop yields,” said Robertson, co-author of the MSU-EPRI methodology. “Our research shows fertilizer use can be reduced to get N2O emission reduction co-benefits while maintaining crop yields.”

Corn is among the most intensive uses of nitrogen fertilizer and represents a significant opportunity for efficiencies that could reduce emissions. A large proportion of agricultural-related N2O emissions in the United States stems from corn crops. The estimated technical potential of emission reductions using the MSU-EPRI methodology in the Midwest is approximately six million metric tons of CO2e per year.

The science that underlies the offsets issued to the Michigan farmer represent results from three years of scientific research by MSU scientists, and more than three years of methodology development by EPRI and MSU. The research was conducted at the National Science Foundation’s Kellogg Biological Station Long-term Ecological Research site and on commercial farms in Michigan.

The MSU-EPRI methodology, called “Methodology for Quantifying Nitrous Oxide (N2O) Emissions Reductions from Reduced Use of Nitrogen Fertilizer on Agricultural Crops,” has been approved by the American Carbon Registry, and a similar version has been approved by the Verified Carbon Standard. Key aspects of this methodology also have been incorporated in a nitrogen management offset protocol approved by the Climate Action Reserve. Additional background information on the methodology is available for download from EPRI’s website.

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