Farming Magazine - May, 2012


New England Farmers Union: Got Carbon?

By Bob Wagner

Do your farming practices reduce your carbon footprint or sequester carbon? If so, the New England Farmers Union's Buy Local Carbon Project wants to identify those practices so that carbon credits generated by these practices can be sold in the marketplace. Our goal is to create a viable carbon market for New England farmers who participate in conservation practices that benefit the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Since June of last year, we have been working with Winrock International and its American Carbon Registry to research conservation practices utilized on New England farms that do two things: reduce carbon loading, and have the best chance of being eligible for carbon credits.

At present, most carbon credit methodologies applicable to agriculture are skewed toward the larger, commodity-based farms of the Midwest. So far, we have identified four categories of New England farming practices that have the most potential for aggregating carbon credits:

  • fertilizer usage and application (corn/silage, potatoes, blueberries)
  • manure management and methane capture (dairy)
  • fuel switching (dairy, greenhouse/nursery)
  • pasture management (dairy and livestock)

Despite the collapse of "cap and trade" legislation in Washington, which would have mandated a carbon credit market in the U.S., new markets for carbon have emerged over the last year. General Motors, Bank of America and the state of California have all announced that they want to buy carbon offsets from farmers. Other buyers include New England colleges and universities, such as Green Mountain College, Yale University and College of the Atlantic. New England businesses, including Ben & Jerry's and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, are taking steps to become carbon neutral. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, of which all the New England states are members, has a goal of capping and reducing CO2 emissions from the power sector by 10 percent by 2018. Only recently Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts announced that he wants to see the Commonwealth increase its commitment to reducing carbon emissions beyond this limit.

In the carbon marketplace, a verified reduction of 1 metric ton of CO2 is equal to 1 carbon credit. The more a practice reduces CO2, the more credits a farmer will have to sell in the marketplace. Once recognized and verified by an independent source, like the American Carbon Registry, credits are aggregated from a number of farmers by a carbon credit buyer to be sold on the carbon market, and proceeds of the sale are then returned to the farmers generating the credits.

REF: Rotz, C.A., Soder, K.J., Skinner, R.H., Dell, C.J., Kleinman, P.J., Schmidt, J.P. and Bryant, R.B. 2009. Grazing can reduce the environmental impact of dairy production systems. Online. Forage and Grazinglands doi:10.1094/FG-2009-0916-01-RS.

The sale of carbon credits has the potential to create a new revenue source from agricultural practices that reduce environmental impacts and farm operating costs. For example, an input/output analysis conducted by researchers from the USDA Agricultural Research Service of a typical 250-acre dairy farm in the Northeast switching from a confinement-based dairy operation to a year-round grazing system found that among other benefits, the switch could reduce the CO2 output of the farm by more than 435 metric tons per year. This reduction would thus produce 435 carbon credits to be sold each year.

New England Farmers Union's Buy Local Carbon Project is endeavoring to collect and document similar data from other agricultural practices in New England so that we can quantify the potential generation of carbon credits; determine the demand and potential price for these carbon credits in the marketplace both in the region and across the country; and investigate the development of methodologies for each agricultural practice so that the generated carbon credits can be recognized and verified as eligible for sale in the marketplace.

We are taking the project on the road presenting it to farmers and their organizations to get feedback and input, and to gauge interest in generating and selling carbon credits. So far, we have made presentations at the Vermont Grazing and Livestock Conference, the Northeast Pasture Consortium Annual Meeting and the Financing Regenerative Agriculture Conference. We hope to be at many more such events in 2012. Contact us if you know of a gathering where this information would be welcomed. Also, we would like to hear directly from farmers interested in the project with your comments and suggestions. You can reach us at or at for this project.

More Information

Fact Sheet on the Buy Local Carbon Project:

Bob Wagner has worked in the field of farmland protection since 1981, and has held various senior-level positions at American Farmland Trust (AFT) since 1985. Through his work with AFT, and earlier as a legislative assistant to then-Congressman James Jeffords (VT) and a consultant to the Vermont Department of Agriculture, Wagner has played an active role in the promotion and development of state and local farmland protection strategies and programs throughout the country. He joined the New England Farmers Union team in 2010 to work on NEFU's Buy Local Carbon Project.