LANGHAM, Sask. — The protocols for carbon credits used by Alberta for the past 10 years may soon be adopted in Saskatchewan, says one carbon credit aggregator.
Bill Dorgan, business unit leader for Trimble Agriculture, told those at the Ag in Motion farm show near Langham last week that the Saskatchewan government is likely to use most if not all of Alberta’s methods when it employs its own carbon credit program.
“The government of Saskatchewan is going to adopt most of the ag protocols that we currently use in Alberta. They’re going to just cut and paste them,” said Dorgan.
“(The Saskatchewan government is) underway now on the protocol selection process. They’re analyzing protocols from all over the world. They’ll adopt most of the ones out of Alberta because that’s been done by a whole bunch of other people already.”
Saskatchewan laid out some of its climate change strategy in December 2017 and said standards would be developed this year. They will target facilities that emit more than 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually, and such facilities are expected to be able to buy offsets from farmers or pay into a provincial fund.
Those are the broad strokes already used in Alberta, said Dorgan.
Trimble is one of several companies that combine smaller carbon sequestration projects into one, thus aggregating them into one project to save on verification costs that must be conducted by an independent third party. Then the aggregators disperse the funds back to those with the initial sequestration projects.
Many of those are farmers who voluntarily provide offsets on land that they own. They can also provide offsets on land they rent if permission is obtained from the title holder.
Dorgan said that since 2002, Trimble has aggregated carbon offsets in Alberta from 32 million acres, which sequestered 3.8 million tonnes of carbon equivalents, and has returned more than $40 million to producers.
Alberta has the highest carbon footprint of any Canadian province, said Dorgan, primarily because it generates most of its electricity from coal.
Canadawide, the country is responsible for about two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. About 25 percent of that is generated by oil and gas activity, 23 percent by electrical generation, 10 percent by agriculture and the rest from buildings, transportation and other activity.
“Agriculture is an important part of the mix,” said Dorgan.
Although there are seven regulated greenhouse gases, only three involve agriculture: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.
Carbon dioxide is released during soil cultivation, methane is produced by livestock and manure, and nitrous oxide is released from fertilizer, said Dorgan.
For the sake of labelling, all greenhouse gases are measured as carbon dioxide equivalents ( CO2e).
Conservation cropping such as zero tillage, nitrous oxide emission reductions, beef feeding efficiency and composting-landfill diversion of organic waste are among the ways farmers can conserve or reduce carbon, thus providing offsets to large emitters.
Carbon sequestration benefits from zero tillage were the start of Alberta’s program, but Dorgan said Trimble generated about 50,000 tonnes of offsets from four southern Alberta feedlots last year, which were the first fed-cattle offsets ever created.
“We’re quite happy about that,” he said.
Offsets from feedlots are possible by measuring animals’ total feed intake and thus are not available to cow-calf operations, where feed intake cannot be accurately tracked.
For the sake of policy, Alberta does not recognize offsets created from zero tillage before Jan. 1, 2002.
Saskatchewan, in its Climate Change White Paper released in 2017, noted the need to acknowledge more recent data.
“In 1990, Saskatchewan soils were considered to be a net emitter of carbon,” the paper said. “As a result of these changing modern agricultural practices, our soils sequestered an estimated 11.4 (tonnes) of carbon in 2014. The percentage of seeded acres in zero till went from 10 percent in 1991 to 70 percent in 2011.
“Another 20 percent of seeded acres in 2011 were farmed using minimum tillage practices. Summer fallow acres decreased from 14.5 million acres in 1990 to 1.7 million acres in 2015. Saskatchewan has a higher percentage of seeded acres in zero till in 2011 than Alberta.”
Dorgan said food companies and consumers now frequently demand carbon footprint information, so he believes offset programs will be increasingly important.