Overview

The agriculture industry creates carbon offsets through protocols, using these methods:

  • direct seeding
  • feedlot cattle
  • biogas production
  • small scale electricity production

Other protocols of possible interest are detailed below, a number of which are targeted at various industries. As of September 2019, there are 25 offset protocols in Alberta’s offset system in total. See the Alberta Emission Offset System for more details.

Protocol updates

Conservation Cropping

Overview

Conservation Cropping replaced the Tillage protocol in the 2012-13 season. It is similar as it is based on direct or 2-pass seeding building up organic matter and thereby storing atmospheric carbon in the soil. The carbon yield is fixed at approximately 0.11 tonnes/acre in the Parkland area and 0.06 in the Dry Prairie. As an example, this would work out to around $1.73 to $0.87/acre to the farmer at a carbon price of $23.00 and a 2/3 to 1/3 farmer/aggregator split.

Soil disturbance has to stay under certain specifications, less for 2-pass than for single-pass systems. Default right to the offset is to the landowner, but most sign off to the farmer if renting the land out. Used on a wide-scale on cropland in Alberta. It is set to expire December 31, 2021 but, like all protocols, may be reviewed at any time.

For more information see Conservation Cropping Protocol.

Update

Generally working well, this is currently the main carbon protocol of use to farmers. In 2018, a requirement for sign up of all potential quarter sections in an aggregation project by May 1 of the claiming year was introduced.

Beef: Feedlot

Overview

Aimed at beef cattle, the Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Fed Cattle Protocol rewards shortening the time in the feedlot through improving efficiency. It is similar to the NERP Protocol the carbon yield is variable in that it depends on the improvement over a 3-year baseline. Feed savings should result from the earlier harvest dates, in addition to the income from the carbon payment. The amount of records and practical methods of getting and proving them has been the main challenge for this protocol.

Update

Recently operational and has been used by some feedlots.

Biogas

Overview

Officially named the Anaerobic Decomposition of Agricultural Materials Protocol. Biologically produced gas such as methane from manure is used to create heat or electricity that substitute for coal or gas fired power.

Update

This protocol is being used by 2 biogas plants that use manure and other agricultural materials. To be combined with a wastewater protocol into one ‘Biogas’ protocol.

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.

Update

The first offsets went to market in 2018.

NERP

Overview

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. It uses the 4R principle: right source, right rate, right time, and right place. It looks like the carbon ‘harvest’ would be variable, depending on nitrogen management. Fertilizer savings or yield advantages may result in addition to the carbon payment.

Crops do not need to be direct seeded but, if so, Conservation Cropping carbon payments may also be collected off the same field, ‘stacking’ the income from both. This protocol has been approved for some years but has never become operational, largely because of the complexity and the measurements/proofs required.

Update

Work is still being done to try and make the NERP protocol operational. Similar to the Conservation Protocol, a requirement for the sign up of potential quarter sections in an aggregation project by May 1 of the claiming year was introduced in 2018.

Beef: Genetics

Overview

Under the Selection for Low Residual Feed Intake Markers in Beef Cattle Protocol, cattle bred for more efficient feed use reduce methane and nitrous oxide. Carbon yield is variable. Feed savings appear to be the main benefit so far.

Update

Two research trials at Lacombe and Brooks are underway.

Beef: Lifecycle

Overview

The Reduced Age at Harvest of Beef Cattle Protocol rewards shortening the entire lifespan of the cattle, from birth to harvest. It too has been around for a few years. The amount of records and practical methods of getting and proving them has been a challenge. The tendency of backgrounding time to vary depends on market conditions, feed availability, and other factors.

Update

No projects to date.

Dairy

Overview

The Emissions Reductions from Dairy Cattle Protocol rewards efficient milk production, reducing methane and nitrous oxide emissions. A market advantage from reducing the carbon footprint of milk is expected to be a benefit, in addition to feed savings and the carbon income. Another complex protocol, it would seem to be well matched to the highly managed dairy industry, but getting it operational has been a challenge.

Update

No offsets yet. One 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.

Wind

Overview

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 Tillage/Conservation Cropping protocols. But there has been little uptake by agriculture due to the scale of the wind turbines needed. The carbon yield is currently fixed at 0.59 tonnes of carbon for every megawatt/hr generated, under a tenth of the income of the power generated. Record keeping is relatively easier to measure and prove than other protocols.

Update

Carries on after changing from 0.65 to 0.59 tonnes of carbon per Mw/h in March of 2015.

Biomass

Overview

Under the Energy Generation from the Combustion of Biomass Waste Protocol, the combustion of biomass material (for example, wood, straw) replaces energy from fossil fuels.

Update

No agricultural projects yet, this protocol has been used in forestry.

Energy efficiency

Overview

Carbon offsets for improvements in energy use through the Energy Efficiency Projects Protocol. Adopted by a number of industries and the City of Calgary. Research was done to see if upgrades to barns and other farm buildings (for example, furnaces, lights) would qualify. Difficulties have been with measurements and proofs, especially as improvement has to be shown from a recorded baseline.

Update

Has not been workable so far for farmers.

Trees: Standing (withdrawn/stopped)

Overview

Under the Afforestation Conservation Protocol, carbon dioxide from the air is stored in trees. The current draft is for planted trees only, with the land not being in forest for at least 20 years previously, and it has to be locked into trees for at least 60 years. The trees could have been planted in 2002 or later, but the carbon would be only claimable from the start of the carbon project.

Update

Was undergoing a technical review but development has been stopped for now. Conservation offsets may offer another source of income in the future.

Trees: Harvest (withdrawn/stopped)

Overview

Under the Afforestation Harvest Protocol, carbon dioxide is also stored in trees. However, the trees could be harvested and the carbon considered to be locked in the harvested product, if the end use is lumber. Pulp or paper is not allowed as an end use as they are considered to result in methane being released in landfills.

Update

Development has been stopped.

Forages (withdrawn/stopped)

Overview

The Conversion to Perennial Forages Protocol rewards converting cropped land to perennial forages. This results in increasing the carbon dioxide stored in the soil as organic matter. Some form of locking the land into forages for a time was thought to have been necessary.

Update

Progress has been difficult, and the offset value small. Development has been stopped. ALUS programs in certain Alberta counties offer other incentives for forages, and other programs exist or are in development. View the list of wetland incentives for agriculture (PDF, 106 KB).

Wetlands

Overview

Incentive for wetlands

Update

Protocol has been rejected due to variation in the science with regards to wetlands being sources or sinks as well as legislated wetland protection in the Wetland Policy. However, other wetland incentives are available or in development. View the list of wetland incentives for agriculture (PDF, 106 KB).

Disclaimer

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

Contact

Connect with the Ag-Info Centre:

Hours: 8 am to 5 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
Toll free: 310-FARM (3276)
Phone: 403-742-7901 (outside Alberta)
Email: aginfocentre@gov.ab.ca