Precision Farming and Emissions Trading

Scrappad has an interesting post on precision agriculture, plus some interesting elaboration by Vector One.
Since fertilizer often affects water quality, I wonder if it might make sense to create a market such that there is a cap on the total amount of fertilizer allowed by watershed. Then a market could be opened that allows farmers within a watershed to buy and sell fertilizer permits. This is similar to the concept of emmissions trading, but with the added spatial dimensions of watershed flow relationships. It seems like this would allow market forces to optimize the spatial distribution of fertilizer.

I think they’re already tracking fertilizer pretty closely here in the US, ever since the bombing of the Murrah building, so there’s already a bureaucracy in place.


2 comments so far

  1. Neil Havermale on

    Not a whole lot new IMHO. New Zealand is quite socialized as well as envrionmentally aware. Its more of an ArcGIS story?

    If you are curious as to how the state of Nebraska manages nitrate pollution, you might dig in a bit and find out – more than 20+ years of success and some frustrations. Nitrogen is a big deal: expensive and a huge contributior to the hypoxia problems surrounding the Mississippi Delta. In theNebraska conditon and due to sany porous soils they essentially they allocate nitrogen by soil type and its up to the growers to sort out how and when it is to be applied. Another area of like management plans and sometimes market forces can be found in the watersheds that surround the Chesapeake bay for simple phosphate fertilizer, dairy manures, as well as the poultry industry leakages.

    As for carbon trading, there is an US market via the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) that support a number of farmland projects where growers are contracted to farm via particular farming systems: essentially no-or limited-till. In Mid Western agro-ecologies as well as in limited areas of Oregon and Washington, no-till farming (use of herbicides for weed control) can sequester 500 to 1000 pounds per acre – aprox 500kg/ha. In Europe, a tonne of sequestered carbon is running around $25-30/ton – via the US CCX a ton is around $4. The EU will not accept soil carbon sequestration generally and carbon credits from the US, a non-Kyoto participant, particularly. Importantly, only Chicago will recognize soil carbon as far as I know – European markets depreciate soil carbon. The CCX trades a number of climatic futures.

    Some trade offs – No-till farming systems traded turbid water (water with soil particles and chemical) for clearer water that may be transporting herbicides and other farm chemical in solution. If fact, since these no-till soils are not tilled, the surface inch or three can amass large concentrations of nutrients that in exceptional weather events move by those erosion events. No-till farming systems due to the reliance on herbicides are then also natural candidates for GMO systems where herbicide tolerance is imparted within the genes of the growing crops – Roundup-Read soybean as example. Soil erosion is down – great, but chemical water pollution is likely up and we may have more GMO issues related to our general food supply?

    Agronomically, increased soil carbon is a very good thing for most farming systems. Most US soils have stabilized at less that fifty percent of their native grassland organic matter content… from say four percent to two percent. And that is a heap of CO2! A more biologically active soil with increasing in organic matter pools benefits from improved water retention, faster water percolation, increased soil life, retaining of soil amendments more efficiently as well as increased availability of those nutients, improved soil structure, decreases in toxic material leakages, and makes for healthier crops generally. Simply, soil productivity is improved.

    If the current US market failures for soil carbon could be corrected and US soil carbon credits participate in the established European and world markets at $30+/tonne (smart economists believe the real value of a tonne of carbon to be +$250/ton), that suggests a farmer could gain say $10 – $20 per acre or for no-till corn, the same as a five to ten bushed yield benefit. US corn growers have been known to fight over limited new seed lines that give such a yield advantage. On a thousand acre farm that gains $10 per acre, that makes an extra $10,000 per year or a big part of a college education for a child. What would aggies do if they could access upwards of $100 per acre per year?

    Lastly, IMHO soil carbon sequestration and other bio-sequestrations like forestry, are critical to any industrial carbon trading scheme. Why? Essentially when industry is given a quota each plant must either gain need efficiency or buy credits from others that move more quickly and/or gain credits due to advantageous carbon reduction investment elasticity. If the market place is deficit sufficient carbon credits real market distortion occurs as “regulation” and fines are then imposed. Agricultural carbon credits are then the natural “buffers” for the new system.

    MidNight Mapper
    Aka neil

  2. J on

    Very interesting to hear how differently things are done.

    Cheers 🙂

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