Carbon credit scheme proposed for forages

Organizations are stepping up lobby efforts to convince the Alberta government that a carbon credit program for pastureland is needed.

A partnership has developed between Pachaterrae, a group that helps farmers measure carbon in soils, and the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI), a not-for-profit organization that tracks wildlife and their habitats.

Kimberly Cornish, co-founder of Pachaterrae, said the organizations are working together so Pachaterrae can convince the province to create an offset program for pastureland.

She said ABMI will provide maps with data that indicate where the soil carbon is, and Pachaterrae will use that data to determine where they should collect samples. They would like to do tests this summer, particularly on land that hasn’t been tilled for decades and is surrounded by cropland.

“We would like to sample them and then sample neighbouring farms to see the difference in carbon,” she said. “They (people with pastureland) know they’ve had good results, but we need to really see those differences to quantify it. We would then like to give the Alberta government an idea of how much carbon is actually being sequestered.”

Many groups, particularly ones that represent forages and grazing, have long been pushing for a similar credit program.

They say pastureland is under threat of being developed, arguing it’s easy to sell to developers or farmers looking to grow crops because there’s more money in that. As well, ripping up pastureland creates problems related to climate change. When it’s tilled, carbon is released into the atmosphere, adding to emissions rather than absorbing them.

But if a compensation program was in place, forage groups argue that perhaps less pastureland would be plowed. As well, some farmers might be convinced to grow perennials.

“We’ve seen through a lot of studies that pastures hold a lot more carbon and sequester a lot more carbon,” said Amber Kenyon, who runs Greener Pastures Ranching near Busby, Alta. “That’s better for the environment, better for wildlife and keeps producers wanting their land in forage.”

While it’s been tricky to convince the government in the past, Cornish said a program like this wouldn’t be a novelty. She pointed out that there’s already a similar program in Australia, which has been in place since 2011.

She said it would be a good time for Alberta to get on board. The province and the federal government have committed to reducing emissions, so it would make sense for them to use soil carbon as a way to show they’re offsetting emissions, she said. As well, soil-sampling technology is more attainable because costs are going down.

“I know a lot of people aren’t big fans of the NDP or the Liberals, but there’s a high responsiveness from these governments around these issues,” she said. “We’re hoping we have a compelling enough story. There’s more focus on reaching targets for emissions than there was 10 years ago.”

Renato Gandia, press secretary to provincial Agriculture Minister O’neil Carlier, said in an email that the Alberta Climate Change Office hasn’t received an intent to develop such program but those interested in developing one can submit a request. The climate change office would then review it and decide whether to proceed.

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