MSU finds way for farmers to participate in carbon markets

Researchers at MSU Kellogg Biological Station have helped develop a way for farmers to participate in carbon markets and get paid to reduce their use of nitrogen fertilizer.

Phil Robertson

Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) have helped develop a way for farmers to participate in carbon markets and get paid to reduce their use of nitrogen fertilizer, one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production.

The methodology was developed for the American Carbon Registry with support from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).  It will allow farmers to participate in carbon markets by creating greenhouse gas offsets through reducing the amount of nitrogen used to fertilize crops. These offsets can be sold to other carbon market participants to meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets or requirements.

“Farmers already manage fertilizer to avoid large nitrogen losses, but they are often reluctant to further reduce fertilizer use because they fear doing so will decrease crop production,” said Phil Robertson, AgBioResearch scientist, MSU distinguished professor in the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences , and the principal investigator for the new methodology. “The MSU-EPRI methodology uses an innovative approach to pay farmers to apply less nitrogen fertilizer but apply it more precisely so that crop yields aren’t jeopardized.” 

The methodology was developed at the MSU Kellogg Biological Station’s Long-Term Ecological Research site, one of 26 National Science Foundation LTER sites and the only one that focuses on agriculture.

Additional bonuses include the methodology being easy to understand and implement, added MSU scientist and lead author Neville Millar.

Agriculture offsets are being considered by California regulators for eligibility in the state’s new regulated market, where greenhouse gas emitters such as power plants and oil refineries are mandated to reduce or offset their emissions starting in 2013.

Regulatory approval of a fertilizer management offset methodology would enable greenhouse gas emission offsets created by farmers to be sold to regulated entities with mandatory emission reduction obligations under the cap-and-trade program.

For complete details of the announcement, visit the National Science Foundation's website.

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