USDA Funds New Pilot Project

Taylor HillmanCorn, Tree, nut & vine crops

almond board
The Almond Board of California (ABC) will join with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and other partners in carrying out a new USDA-funded pilot project designed to give both almond and corn growers greater access to greenhouse gas markets like those under California’s cap-and-trade program.

The $960,000 project is part of a $20.5 million allocation from the USDA Conservation Innovation Grant Program (CIG) to help farmers and ranchers implement practices that will make their operations more resilient to climate change.

This will be the first large-scale pilot project generating greenhouse gas credits from nutrient management practices in growing almonds and corn. The goal is for growers to enter the cap-and-trade market and sell carbon credits to companies and industries seeking to meet their emission targets.

“The new project builds on nearly ten years of funding by the Almond Board of California to improve nitrogen management and better understand greenhouse gas emissions, particularly nitrous oxide (N2O), from almond orchards.  In particular, the project plans to use an almond nitrogen budgeting tool developed from previous Almond Board-funded research,” said Dr. Gabriele Ludwig, Director of Sustainability and Environmental Affairs at ABC.

The project dovetails with Almond Board-funded research to better understand energy flows and the associated greenhouse gases over the average of 25 years of an almond orchard’s life.  Recently published in the prestigious Journal of Industrial Ecology, this almond orchard Life Cycle Analysis developed by University of California, Davis experts shows progress by the industry toward becoming carbon neutral with respect to greenhouse gas emissions, or even carbon negative if policy changes and production advancements work hand-in-hand. The new study shows that utilizing coproducts from producing and harvesting almonds is key to the industry’s current environmental impact and further reducing carbon emissions.  However, the LCA study did not include possible greenhouse gas reductions from nutrient or soil management, which this CIG grant will help to define.

In June, the first ever carbon offset protocol for crop-based agriculture in a cap-and-trade market was approved for U.S. rice growers by the California Air Resources Board (ARB).

Now USDA has demonstrated its interest in and support for another market-based approach for growers by increasing fertilizer use efficiency. ABC, EDF and the other partners will work to demonstrate and quantify how growers can alter farming practices to fine tune how nutrients are fed to the plant, reducing climate change impacts from greenhouse gases and environmental impacts.

EDF’s on-the-ground partner for California Almonds, the Almond Board, recently released a research-based nitrogen budgeting tool that helps almond growers fine-tune their nutrient practices. The tool helps almond growers determine the right rate, time, place, and type of fertilizer to fulfill each tree’s needs and ties in with this new pilot project.

As part of the project, almond growers will track nutrient application data which can be used to quantify the reduction of greenhouse gases from their orchards and fields. This becomes a saleable carbon credit.  EDF will work with growers to help connect them with appropriate market opportunities. They also will advocate for a new compliance-grade California Air Resources Board fertilizer protocol, allowing pilot project growers to participate into the state’s cap-and-trade program.

“We look forward to working with EDF on this important project and applaud the success they’ve had with U.S. rice growers in establishing the first ever carbon offset protocol for crop-based agriculture,” says Dr. Ludwig. “This project will build on the legacy of decades of air quality research funded by the California Almond industry.”

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