When discussing agriculture alongside potential carbon markets and regulations, many assume it involves “an environmental fringe group and will never affect agriculture,” said Lanier Nalley, agricultural economist with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. However, “it isn’t just environmentalists that care about carbon. We’ll all start caring about carbon in the near future.”

As an example of how mainstream carbon talk has become, Nalley said Wal-Mart is considering the introduction of a “sustainability index” with carbon as a part.

“Whether they go through with it, or not, is a different matter,” said Nalley at the recent Rice Research and Extension Center field day in Stuttgart, Ark. “Essentially, the index has three parts and they’ve sent it out to all their vendors.”

A question directly off the possible index: what is your total annual greenhouse gas emissions reported in the most recent year?

Wal-Mart is “asking vendors, ‘Are you taking a proactive role in measuring the greenhouse gas emissions you have? Have you set publicly available greenhouse gas reduction targets yet? If so, what are they?’

“So, this will probably affect us as an industry and will trickle down to producers.”

Wal-Mart might also ask vendors “if they are measuring water and how much they use. Again, that could affect the rice industry.”

The second part of the Wal-Mart sustainability index — and what Nalley is most concerned with as regards the rice industry — deals with “carbon footprinting.”

What Wal-Mart may want to do “is give their consumers an index … to allow consumers to make up their minds … what products to buy based on a series of environmental factors.”

Those factors could affect agriculture.

“Many businesses — Wal-Mart included — are attempting to obtain a ‘green’ advantage by marketing products as environmentally friendly.”

Starbucks, Nalley pointed out, “has all sorts of logos on their cups for all sorts of environmental groups: the panda bear representing the World Wildlife Foundation, a frog for the National Rainforest Alliance. This is a signal that there’s a consumer demand for this. Consumers are demanding more environmentally-friendly products.”