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- Lowering your carbon footprint typically “runs parallel with increasing economic profit. That’s really good news whether you’re a producer or an environmentalist.” says Lanier Nalley, agricultural economist with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.
- Nalley and Michael Popp, a fellow agricultural economist at the university, co-authored a study that “took a good Extension budget … and carbon foot-printed it. This is on conventional rice on silt loams in east Arkansas.”
Rush to plant hybrids?
That doesn’t mean everyone should rush to plant hybrids.
“There isn’t a carbon market and you wouldn’t get any carbon benefits from doing that. Plus, that (calculation) is just for one county. In other counties, Wells (a conventional variety) is the highest sequesterer.”
As for the politics of carbon, “we often talk about cap-and-trade and carbon offset payments. The big difference is one is a carrot and one is a stick.”
Cap-and-trade “says you can only release X amount of carbon. If you release more, you’ll get slapped on the hand.”
Meanwhile, an offset program “says if you’re a net sequesterer, I’ll actually pay you to reduce the amount of carbon. Or, you can switch crops and I’ll pay you.”
As an example, Nalley pointed to the rice variety Wells. “Its net emissions in Arkansas County are estimated at about 790 pounds. That would be the figure we’d be interested in for cap-and-trade.
“Under a carbon offset payment we’d take into account sequestration, which is very important because all rice takes in CO2 and greenhouse gases and stores it underground.
“It seems to me the agriculture industry, as a whole, should be pushing for the carrot rather than the stick. It looks like there are more opportunities (with an offset program) and agriculture is one of the few industries where carbon is sequestered.”
Given the “three-headed monster” of government, consumer demand and industry pressure, Nalley believes carbon concerns will remain and future programs are coming.
“It’s here to stay. What form it’ll take is to be determined.
“But the take-home message is this: you can either be an environmentalist who happens to increase economic profits or you can be a profit-maximizing producer who happens to be improving the environment.”