New USDA methods will help land owners manage carbon and greenhouse gases

Marlen Eve
USDA Climate Change Program Office
August 1st, 2014 at 12:30PM

A new report issued today by USDA should help farmers and ranchers make informed decisions resulting in better soil and ultimately reduce greenhouse emissions. For the past 3 years, I have worked with a team of experts and scores of reviewers on a report published today, Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Agriculture and Forestry: Methods for Entity-Scale Inventory.

If you are a landowner, scientist, or conservationist looking for new tools to estimate carbon storage and greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes, you will want to take a look at this report.  It provides the scientific basis and methodology to assess the GHG benefits of conservation practices and farm, ranch and forest management. This information will help producers gauge progress in building healthy, carbon-rich soils and, ultimately, more resilient production of food, fiber and fuel.

America’s farm, ranch and forest managers are stewards of the land, and have long recognized the significance of managing soil health, plant productivity and animal nutrition. Conservation practices and other management changes can reduce GHG emissions and increase carbon storage while improving soil health, crop or livestock productivity, and resilience to drought and other extreme weather. State and regional GHG offset programs and voluntary GHG markets can help make these practices less costly to implement and may even increase the producer’s bottom line. The challenge is that landowners need tools to quantify GHGs in order to participate in these new market opportunities.

Current USDA carbon tools, such as NRCS’ COMET-Farm, are being updated to incorporate the new methods.  Using COMET-Farm, a land manager who is considering a shift to no-till production system can evaluate the soil carbon benefits of that system and consider revenue opportunities provided by entering into a voluntary agreement with a carbon market.  The methods address practices across crop and grazing land production systems, as well as forest management and livestock production.

USDA recently established regional climate change hubs to assist landowners with management challenges that arise from weather variability and climate change.  The methods report and the tools that follow will aid the hubs in providing landowners with real and verifiable estimates of the benefits of various management options. Forest Service and NRCS technicians will be able to use the tools as they work with land managers.

The methods report provides the scientific vetting and transparency that will help to standardize USDA carbon tools, making them more useful for land managers, GHG registries, State and Federal agencies, and other USDA stakeholders.

The report can be downloaded at www.usda.gov/oce/climate_change/estimation.htm. For more information on USDA’s Climate Change activities, please visit www.usda.gov and click on “Climate Solutions”.