Farmers get money for capturing carbon

BISMARCK, N.D. - August 15, 2008 Dobrinski, who farms near Makoti in northwestern North Dakota, said protecting the planet from global warming is not the primary reason he enrolled in National Farmers Union Carbon Credit Program. It's about money.

"I am considerate of the environment, but I'm doing it more for my own pocketbook," Dobrinski said. "It just makes economic sense."

North Dakota Farmers Union President Robert Carlson said 990 farmers and ranchers in the state got about $2.6 million last month for using no-till and other practices to capture carbon dioxide, which is widely blamed for global warming.

The program pools carbon credits for sale on the Chicago Climate Exchange, a private agency that trades greenhouse gases and other pollutants just as other exchanges trade such commodities as crops and livestock.

Members of the exchange, such as corporations or cities, can buy carbon credits to help offset their emissions.

Producers around the country have earned $8.5 million since the voluntary program started in 2006 in North Dakota, Carlson said.

"North Dakota is the largest state in terms of carbon sequestration and program participation," Carlson said.

About 2,300 farmers and ranchers in about 20 states are enrolled in the program, Carlson said. Enrollment has tripled in the past year, he said.

Carlson said the nationwide enrollments in the National Farmers Union Carbon Credit program in 2006 and 2007 captured carbon dioxide from 2.8 million acres, or the equivalent of sequestering carbon from about 320,000 cars a year.

Spot checks are done by administrators of the program to make sure farmers are capturing carbon on their land, Dobrinski said.

Carbon dioxide credits sold on the Chicago Climate Exchange have ranged from $2.50 to $7 a metric ton since the program began, Carlson said. CO2 credits are fetching about $4 a metric ton now, he said.

Farmers, ranchers and landowners can participate in the program by using no-till farming practices or growing grasses and trees to limit the release of carbon dioxide from the ground. Livestock producers also can participate in the program by installing systems to capture methane from manure, Carlson said.

"Methane is one the most destructive greenhouse gasses," Carlson said.

Dobrinski plants durum, malting barley, canola and lentils on his 2,000 acres, all without the use of a plow. No-till farming involves using a machine to inject seeds and fertilizer into standing stubble from a previous crop.

Dobrinski said getting money from the carbon-credit program is a bonus for using no-till farming practices, which he said preserves moisture in the soil and saves on fuel.

"It's a farming method that is cost effective," Dobrinski said. "And every little bit helps."

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