Agricultural carbon offsets – All protocols update

Information on offset protocols, including 4 protocols that can produce carbon offset income for agriculture.


Carbon offsets are generated via the voluntary reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. These voluntary actions must meet the standards of an Alberta-approved offset protocol, and be verified by a third party, before they can be listed on the Alberta Emissions Offset Registry for purchase by Alberta’s large final emitters.

Alberta has 19 offset protocols, of which three are agriculture specific. Other protocols offer other industries the opportunity to generate offset credits, and of these the ones focused on biogas production and small-scale renewable energy generation have also been used within the agricultural community.

See the Alberta Emission Offset System for a complete list of offset protocols and technical guidance documents for participants.

Agricultural Protocols

Conservation Cropping

Expiring on December 31, 2021

The Conservation Cropping protocol replaced the Tillage protocol in 2012 and is Alberta’s most widely used offset protocol. The protocol is based on direct or 2-pass seeding increasing the organic matter, and thereby the stored carbon, in the soil. Any soil disturbance must stay under the specifications set out in the protocol. The carbon yield is fixed at 0.11 tonnes/acre in the Parkland area and 0.06 in the Dry Prairie.

For example: Assuming a final offset sale price of $23.00 and a 2:1 farmer- aggregator split a farmer could earn $0.87 to $1.73 per acre for their participation.

The default right to the offset is held by the landowner, but can be signed over to the farmer for rented lands. This protocol ends in December 2021.

For more information see Conservation Cropping Protocol.

Nitrous Oxide Emissions Reduction

The NERP (Agricultural Nitrous Oxide Emissions Reduction Protocol) is based on improving nitrogen fertilizer efficiency, putting more in the crop and less in the air as nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. NERP uses the 4R Nutrient Stewardship (Right Source @ the Right Rate, Right Time, and Right Place®) to improve environmental stewardship on farm, with the co-benefit of an overall reduction in the inefficient use of fertilizer on farm.

It is not a requirement to direct seed under NERP, but if participants choose to do so they may be eligible to participate in the Conservation Cropping protocol simultaneously.

Beef: Feedlot

The Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Fed Cattle Protocol focuses on beef cattle located in confined feeding operations and rewards a reduction in time cattle spend in the feedlot through improved efficiencies. The greenhouse gas reductions are variable and the offsets are based on an improvement over a three-year baseline. The protocol has the co-benefit of savings on feed.

Beef: Genetics

The Selection for Low Residual Feed Intake Markers in Beef Cattle Protocol focuses on breeding cattle for more efficient feed use to reduce methane and nitrous oxide. Research trials are underway in Lacombe and Brooks. Early findings have shown variable greenhouse gas reductions with feed savings appearing to be the main benefit so far.

Other Protocols


The Anaerobic Decomposition of Agricultural Materials Protocol uses agricultural waste as a feedstock to generate biogas (methane and carbon dioxide), which can be used in electricity or renewable natural gas production. It is currently used by two biogas facilities within Alberta.

Micro-Generation Protocol

Carbon offsets from the Micro-Generation (Distributed Renewable Energy Generation) Protocol are a possibility for small scale solar and wind power production. Power generation has to be small scale (under one megawatt) and connected to the grid. The potential return is around a cent per kWh at current carbon prices.

For more information see Micro-Generation Protocol.


The Wind-Powered Electricity Generation Protocol covers large-scale wind generated electricity replacing coal or natural gas fired power. Used on a wide scale, this is the second largest generator of offset carbon tonnes after the Conservation Cropping protocol. There has been little uptake within the agricultural community due to the scale and size of the turbines required. Record keeping requirements are relatively easier than other protocols.


Under the Energy Generation from the Combustion of Biomass Waste Protocol, the combustion of biomass material (for example, wood, straw) is used to replace fossil fuels (for example, coal, natural gas) in energy production. This protocol has been used within the forestry sector, but not within agriculture.

Energy efficiency

The Energy Efficiency Projects Protocol recognizes energy efficiency improvements to buildings through facility improvements. This protocol has been used across several industries and by the City of Calgary. A recorded baseline, and measurement of the efficiency improvements is required to qualify.

Withdrawn or Stopped Protocols


A forage protocol which would reward producers who converted cropped land to perennial forage has been considered, but development of a protocol was stopped. The Ducks Unlimited Forage Program has similar aims.


All wetlands are owned by the Crown within Alberta, regardless if it is located on public or private land, by virtue of the Water Act and Public Lands Act (Alberta Environment and Protected Areas). An activity cannot qualify for an offset if there is a legal obligation to perform it.

Many programs exist to support wetland restoration through ALUS Canada, Cows and Fish, Ducks Unlimited, and other environmental not-for-profits. In addition the Alberta government has a Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program.

Beef: Lifecycle

The Reduced Age at Harvest of Beef Cattle Protocol would have rewarded shortening the entire lifespan of the cattle, from birth to harvest. As backgrounding time may vary based on market conditions, feed availability, and other factors the protocol faced practical challenges related to its uptake and was withdrawn.


The Emissions Reductions from Dairy Cattle Protocol would have rewarded efficient milk production, reducing methane and nitrous oxide emissions. There is an additional market advantage to reducing the carbon footprint of milk, in addition to feed savings and the offset income.

As this is complex protocol, it would seem to be well matched to the highly managed dairy industry, but it faced challenges in becoming operational and was withdrawn. A trial was completed on 50 farms in Alberta with Alberta Milk and the Atlantic Dairy and Forage institute, and a case study was completed on record-keeping technologies.


The information contained here is the interpretation of Agriculture and Irrigation. Alberta’s carbon offset system is managed by Alberta Environment and Protected Areas. Offset projects must comply with the most recent quantification protocols and program requirements outlined under the Alberta Emission Offset System.

Contact 310-FARM

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Toll free: 310-FARM (3276) (in Alberta)
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