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Viterra Reaches Carbon Credit Milestone

Posted on Oct 26, 2010 by Clean Seed Capital in Agriculture,No Till Farming

CALGARY, ALBERTA, Oct 26, 2010 (MARKETWIRE via COMTEX) -- Viterra Inc. ("Viterra") /quotes/comstock/11t!e:vt (CA:VT 9.88, +0.13, +1.33%) (asx:VTA) is pleased to announce that its carbon credit program has aggregated over one million offsets, representing over $10 million paid to Alberta farmers, since its launch in March, 2008.

Viterra purchases and aggregates carbon offset credits, based on the Alberta government's protocols for tillage system management. They are generated through no till or reduced till practices on agricultural land, which decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

"Viterra's carbon credit program illustrates our commitment to developing solutions that bring value to our farm customers while encouraging sustainable farming practices. Reaching this milestone is a testament to the success of our program and to our employees, who work closely with our customers." said Doug Wonnacott, Viterra's Senior Vice-President, Agri-products.

In November, 2008, Viterra signed a long-term supply agreement with ENMAX Energy Corporation ("ENMAX Energy"), Alberta's leading competitive electricity retailer. Through this arrangement, Viterra customers have access to a reliable market for their carbon offset credits.

"We would like to congratulate Viterra on the success of its carbon credit program. Innovative solutions such as these are excellent examples of what can be accomplished through collaboration and a shared commitment to environmental best practices," said Corey Wilson Commercial Manager, ENMAX Energy.

Should the next green revolution be brown?

Posted on Oct 16, 2010 by Clean Seed Capital in Agriculture,No Till Farming

Philanthropist Howard Buffett

Could the next green revolution be brown? Philanthropist Howard Buffett, who has joined Microsoft founder Bill Gatesin pouring money into agriculture development, used an appearance at the World Food Prize symposium on Wednesday to call for a “brown revolution” that would involve boosting food production through improving the soil.

And the theme continued during the symposium on Thursday and at a side event sponsored by the Worldwatch Institute, a group that focuses on sustainability issues in agriculture.

Conserving organic matter in the soil will improve fertility while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Across the globe, north, south, east and west, we have major problems in the soil,” said Hans Herren, past World Food Prize laureate.

Brian Halweil of Worldwatch said that improving soil fertility through mulching, reducing tillage or planting cover crops has been shown to increase corn yields in Kenya by at least 20 percent.

Herren said more money needs to be put into measures like educating farmers on how to make compost properly.

Rolf Derpsch, a conservation expert and a panelist during the symposium, said that about 25 million acres of agricultural land is lost to soil degradation every year, with the worst losses in the tropics and sub-tropics. He said that plowing is a leading cause of the problem and that no-till farming “can no longer be ignored” as a solution, he said.

In the United States, farmers have been conserving soil through the use of genetically modified herbicide-immune seeds that make it easier to grow soybeans and corn without plowing between crops. An official with biotech seed giant Syngenta said the benefits (of no-till farming) “we’ve seen in the developed world are even more needed in the developing world.”

Greater focus needed on carbon sequestration in the world's soil

Posted on Oct 8, 2010 by Clean Seed Capital in Soil,Agriculture,No Till Farming

The world's soils have the potential to store about 3000 megatonnes of carbon per year by the end of the 21st century, according to a new study. It suggests that restoring carbon to cropland and peat soils through practices such as afforestation and no-till farming could help solve global problems of food insecurity and climate change.

Most countries suffering from food shortages are in the developing world where farming typically consists of small landholders using intensive practices. As a result the soils have low levels of organic carbon, making them prone to soil erosion, low levels of nutrients, poor water retention and less biodiversity. Poor soil quality means that crop yields are more dependent on rainfall and temperature and more affected by pest infestations.

The loss of soil organic carbon (SOC) can be remedied using recommended management practices (RMPs), such as afforestation, conversion of degraded and marginal cropland to pasture, no-till farming, use of compost/manure and crop rotations. Using figures on carbon sequestration gained by different practices, the study estimated that, depending on soils and climate, the potential of these RMPs for the next 50 to 100 years is in the range of 100-1000 kg of carbon per hectare per year. On a global scale, this could translate to as much as 3000 megatonnes a year. Not only would this improve the state of soils and food security but, according to previous research1, it could also reduce atmospheric CO2 by 50 parts per million by 2100.

The study investigated the potential impact of this restoration of soil SOC on crop yield. By pulling together information on the relationship between SOC in the root zone and crop yield in various parts of the world, the study concluded that SOC tended to contribute more to productivity in soils that were coarse, poor quality, received low rates of chemical fertilisers and were rain fed rather than irrigated. Depending on climate and other variables, it estimated the proposed increase in SOC could increase cereal and grain legume production in developing countries by 32 million tonnes per year, and roots and tuber production by 9 million tonnes per year.

Finally, the study offered a rough estimate of the cost effectiveness of paying farmers to improve the sequestration of carbon in soil. If farmers were compensated at a rate equivalent to the cost of carbon capture and storage, roughly $367 per tonne of carbon2, then even at the modest rate of carbon sequestration of 250 kg per hectare per year this would equate to $90 per hectare per year. Rewarding farmers even at $25/ha/yr ($10/acre/yr) could provide an incentive for adopting RMPs by small land holders and resource-poor farmers. As such the study suggests that paying farmers and managers to use RMPs to sequester carbon, either through schemes such as the Clean Development Mechanism or by paying for ecosystem services, is an important strategy to improve both regional and global food security. It suggested the concept of 'farming carbon' where credits gained by sequestering soil carbon could be sold and traded using transparent and fair prices based on the valuation of ecosystem services.

  1. See: Hansen. J. et al. (2008) Target atmospheric CO2: where should humanity aim? Open Atmospheric Science Journal. 2:217-231.
  2. See: McKinsey & Co. (2009) Pathways to low-carbon economy. Version 2 of the global greenhouse gas abatement cost curve. P190.
Source: Lal, R. (2010) Beyond Copenhagen: mitigating climate change and achieving food security through soil carbon sequestration. Food Security. 2:169-177.

Conserving and Rebuilding Soils

Posted on Oct 8, 2010 by Clean Seed Capital in Soil,Agriculture,No Till Farming

Earth Policy Institute on October 6, 2010

By Lester R. Brown

The literature on soil erosion contains countless references to the “loss of protective vegetation.” Over the last half-century, clearcutting, overgrazing, and overplowing have removed so much of that protective cover that the world is quickly losing soil accumulated over long stretches of geological time (see “Civilization’s Foundation Eroding”). Preserving the biological productivity of highly erodible cropland depends on planting it in grass or trees before it becomes wasteland.

Soil Conservation: The American Experience

The 1930s Dust Bowl that threatened to turn the U.S. Great Plains into a vast desert was a traumatic experience that led to revolutionary changes in American agricultural practices, including the planting of tree shelterbelts (rows of trees planted beside fields to slow wind and thus reduce wind erosion) and strip cropping (the planting of wheat on alternate strips with fallowed land each year). Strip cropping permits soil moisture to accumulate on the fallowed strips, while the alternating planted strips reduce wind speed and hence erosion on the idled land.

In 1985, the U.S. Congress, with strong support from the environmental community, created the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to reduce soil erosion and control overproduction of basic commodities. By 1990 there were some 14 million hectares (35 million acres) of highly erodible land with permanent vegetative cover under 10-year contracts. Under this program, farmers were paid to plant fragile cropland to grass or trees. The retirement of those 14 million hectares under the CRP, together with the use of conservation practices on 37 percent of all cropland, reduced U.S. soil erosion from 3.1 billion tons to 1.9 billion tons between 1982 and 1997. The U.S. approach offers a model for the rest of the world.

Another tool in the soil conservation toolkit—and a relatively new one—is conservation tillage, which includes both no-till and minimum tillage. Instead of the traditional cultural practices of plowing land and discing or harrowing it to prepare the seedbed, and then using a mechanical cultivator to control weeds in row crops, farmers simply drill seeds directly through crop residues into undisturbed soil, controlling weeds with herbicides. The only soil disturbance is the narrow slit in the soil surface where the seeds are inserted, leaving the remainder of the soil undisturbed, covered by crop residues and thus resistant to both water and wind erosion. In addition to reducing erosion, this practice retains water, raises soil carbon content, and greatly reduces energy use for tillage.

In the United States, where farmers during the 1990s were required to implement a soil conservation plan on erodible cropland in order to be eligible for commodity price supports, the no-till area went from 7 million hectares in 1990 to 27 million hectares (67 million acres) in 2007. Now widely used in the production of corn and soybeans, no-till has spread rapidly in the western hemisphere, covering 26 million hectares in Brazil, 20 million hectares in Argentina, and 13 million in Canada. Australia, with 12 million hectares, rounds out the five leading no-till countries.

Once farmers master the practice of no-till, its use can spread rapidly, particularly if governments provide economic incentives or require farm soil conservation plans for farmers to be eligible for crop subsidies.

Farming practices that reduce soil erosion and raise cropland productivity usually also lead to higher carbon content in the soil. Among these are the shift to minimum-till and no-till farming, the more extensive use of cover crops, the return of livestock and poultry manure to the land, expansion of irrigated area, a return to more mixed crop-livestock farming, and the forestation of marginal land.

The Global Battle to Conserve and Rebuild Soil

Posted on Oct 6, 2010 by Clean Seed Capital in Soil,Agriculture

The literature on soil erosion contains countless references to the "loss of protective vegetation." Over the last half-century, clearcutting, overgrazing, and overplowing have removed so much of that protective cover that the world is quickly losing soil accumulated over long stretches of geological time (see "Civilization's Foundation Eroding"). Preserving the biological productivity of highly erodible cropland depends on planting it in grass or trees before it becomes wasteland.
The 1930s Dust Bowl that threatened to turn the U.S. Great Plains into a vast desert was a traumatic experience that led to revolutionary changes in American agricultural practices, including the planting of tree shelterbelts (rows of trees planted beside fields to slow wind and thus reduce wind erosion) and strip cropping (the planting of wheat on alternate strips with fallowed land each year). Strip cropping permits soil moisture to accumulate on the fallowed strips, while the alternating planted strips reduce wind speed and hence erosion on the idled land.
In 1985, the U.S. Congress, with strong support from the environmental community, created the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to reduce soil erosion and control overproduction of basic commodities. By 1990 there were some 14 million hectares (35 million acres) of highly erodible land with permanent vegetative cover under 10-year contracts. Under this program, farmers were paid to plant fragile cropland to grass or trees. The retirement of those 14 million hectares under the CRP, together with the use of conservation practices on 37 percent of all cropland, reduced U.S. soil erosion from 3.1 billion tons to 1.9 billion tons between 1982 and 1997. The U.S. approach offers a model for the rest of the world.

Another tool in the soil conservation toolkit—and a relatively new one—is conservation tillage, which includes both no-till and minimum tillage. Instead of the traditional cultural practices of plowing land and discing or harrowing it to prepare the seedbed, and then using a mechanical cultivator to control weeds in row crops, farmers simply drill seeds directly through crop residues into undisturbed soil, controlling weeds with herbicides.

The only soil disturbance is the narrow slit in the soil surface where the seeds are inserted, leaving the remainder of the soil undisturbed, covered by crop residues and thus resistant to both water and wind erosion. In addition to reducing erosion, this practice retains water, raises soil carbon content, and greatly reduces energy use for tillage.

In the United States, where farmers during the 1990s were required to implement a soil conservation plan on erodible cropland in order to be eligible for commodity price supports, the no-till area went from 7 million hectares in 1990 to 27 million hectares (67 million acres) in 2007. Now widely used in the production of corn and soybeans, no-till has spread rapidly in the western hemisphere, covering 26 million hectares in Brazil, 20 million hectares in Argentina, and 13 million in Canada. Australia, with 12 million hectares, rounds out the five leading no-till countries.

Once farmers master the practice of no-till, its use can spread rapidly, particularly if governments provide economic incentives or require farm soil conservation plans for farmers to be eligible for crop subsidies.

Farming practices that reduce soil erosion and raise cropland productivity usually also lead to higher carbon content in the soil. Among these are the shift to minimum-till and no-till farming, the more extensive use of cover crops, the return of livestock and poultry manure to the land, expansion of irrigated area, a return to more mixed crop-livestock farming, and the forestation of marginal land.

Together, restoring the earth's tree and grass cover and practicing conservation agriculture protect soil from erosion and reduce flooding. They also sequester carbon, making them powerful tools in the effort to fight global warming.