Category Archives: Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The Basics of Carbon Markets and Trends: Something to Keep an Eye On

By Karen Hills, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

Certain carbon markets could provide a win-win for producers and environmental interests pursuing reduction in emissions. Photo: Scott McLeod under CC BY 2.0.

The ability to store carbon in soils—to sequester carbon—has been receiving increased attention lately, including on AgClimate.net. Recent posts included articles about potential for croplands in the inland Pacific Northwest to sequester carbon and an article on the emerging carbon markets and their relevance for fruit and vegetable producers. Carbon markets offer the promise of monetizing the benefits of practices that add carbon to the soil, and are also good for soil health. If these markets are effective, they would provide a win-win for producers and environmental interests.

Thanks to the wonders of a zoom-friendly world, I recently attended a mini-workshop hosted by the University of Florida and the Institute of Food and Agricultural Extension where we explored carbon markets. Continue reading

Reservoirs Store and Release More Than Just Water

By Aaron Whittemore, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

 

Arid landscape with irrigated fields and towns along a wide river, with a large dam across it

The Grand Coulee Dam is one of a system of dams on the Columbia River used for water storage, energy production and flood control. Credit: Bureau of Reclamation.

Reservoirs are common infrastructure across the globe, with myriad benefits and costs attached. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, reservoirs are used for water storage, energy production, and flood control, but they impact salmon by blocking passage to spawning and rearing habitat and also lose water to evaporation. However, few people know that reservoirs are also a significant source of greenhouse gases, releasing emissions on the scale of thousands of teragrams (Tg) per year, globally. For reference, the entire U.S. usually emits between six and seven thousand teragrams of greenhouse gases each year. Estimates of reservoir emissions have remained uncertain, though, making it hard to find ways to reduce these emissions. Dr. John Harrison from Washington State University teamed up with colleagues from the University of Quebec at Montreal to try to narrow down estimates of global reservoir greenhouse gas emissions, which could help pinpoint where limiting emissions would be most helpful and illuminate specific methods for doing so. Continue reading

The ‘Carbon Market Bazaar’: Future Windfall for Producers or Just Hot Air?

By David I. Gustafson, Adjunct Research Faculty at Washington State University

This article is part of a series, Climate Friendly Fruit & Veggies, highlighting work from the Fruit & Vegetable Supply Chains: Climate Adaptation & Mitigation Opportunities (F&V CAMO) project, a collaborative research study co-led by investigators at the University of Florida and the Agriculture & Food Systems Institute. Other collaborators include researchers at the University of Arkansas, University of Illinois, the International Food Policy Research Institute, the World Agricultural Economic and Environmental Services, and Washington State University. This project seeks to identify and test climate adaptation and mitigation strategies in fruit and vegetable supply chains.

 

Sellers along a high-ceiling building show their wares, including rugs, bags, and many other items

Emerging carbon markets for U.S. agriculture today may be compared to a Middle Eastern bazaar: hints of danger and mystery. But there might be a genuine bargain that could be the perfect and profitable fit for your operation. Photo: Blondinrikard Froberg under CC BY 2.0.

I’m a fan of action movies, where a Middle Eastern bazaar is a popular place for high-speed chases. Even without the careening bullets and motorcycles, there are hints of danger and mystery amidst the clamor and unknown languages filling the air. You barter over the selling price of exotic objects that cannot be found anywhere else. Am I about to pay ten times what something is really worth? So it is with the emerging carbon market and U.S. agriculture today. Major companies like Bayer and upstarts like Indigo Ag and Nori are now offering to purchase carbon credits directly from producers for the adoption of new practices they agree to begin employing on their fields. But what is this worth to producers? Continue reading

Here’s the Dirt on Carbon Sequestration Potential in Cropland Soils

By Nicole Bell, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

Aerial view of green and dry center pivot circles with the Columbia River in the background

Soils with carbon sequestration potential can include irrigated croplands in the Columbia River Basin. Photo: Doug Wilson/USDA ARS

In this era with record-setting temperatures multiple years in a row, scientists are looking for methods to sequester carbon to slow the process of climate change. Agriculture plays a key role in not just the global economy, but also the global carbon cycle: cropland soils have the potential to be either sinks or sources of greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide. The conversion of native ecosystems to cropland agriculture has resulted in enormous carbon losses, estimated to be between 20-70% of the original carbon stored in native soils in the US. The Pacific Northwest is an agricultural powerhouse: in 2017, Washington, Idaho, and Oregon produced $22 billion in agricultural production on over 42 million acres. That’s a lot of soil. I recently read a white paper by Georgine Yorgey and colleagues at Washington State University titled “Carbon sequestration potential in cropland soils in the inland Pacific Northwest: Knowledge and gaps,” that summarizes research on carbon sequestration in the inland Northwest. It turns out that it is not a one-size-fits-all answer: the potential of certain croplands to either release or sequester carbon depends on climate, the cropping system, the soil type, and other factors. Fortunately, though, some soils do have great carbon sequestration potential. Continue reading

How Do Grocery and Meal Kit Deliveries Impact the Carbon Footprint of Our Food?

By Nicole Bell, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

This article is part of a series highlighting work from the Fruit & Vegetable Supply Chains: Climate Adaptation & Mitigation Opportunities (F&V CAMO) project, a collaborative research study co-led by investigators at the University of Florida and the Agriculture & Food Systems Institute. Other collaborators include researchers at the University of Arkansas, University of Illinois, the International Food Policy Research Institute, the World Agricultural Economic and Environmental Services, and Washington State University. This project seeks to identify and test climate adaptation and mitigation strategies in fruit and vegetable supply chains.

 

Open box showing small packets of wrapped foods, with the meal kit label

HelloFresh home delivery meal services individually package ingredients for a 2-4 serving meal. Photo: Flickr user wuestenigel under CC BY 2.0.

I explored opportunities to reduce environmental impact related to food preparation and food waste in previous AgClimate.net articles. However, transportation in the food supply chain is a significant contributor to carbon emissions: all the transportation and miles in between the farm and your plate are part of the journey of fruits, vegetables, and all of your favorite foods. Those food miles and methods of transportation look different today than they did several decades ago. The “last mile” that your food travels through before it lands at your door, otherwise known as the stage from the processor or retailer to the consumer’s hands, is changing too, and it has the potential to be a great opportunity for greenhouse gas emissions reduction. Americans are spending 100 billion dollars a year on online groceries alone. The home delivery meal kit industry is valued at 1.5 billion dollars in the United States and is experiencing a growth rate of 25 percent annually (Heard et al.). While 23 percent of Americans were buying their groceries online in 2016, projections indicate that up to 70 percent of consumers will make the switch by 2024, partially due to the rise in home deliveries throughout the COVID-19 pandemic (Food Marketing Institute). What do all of these at-home deliveries mean for the environment? How are our decisions on the manner in which our food arrives at our dinner table impacting the so-called “last mile” emissions? Continue reading

Check it out: Carbon Friendly Meat Consumption Patterns?

By Sonia A. Hall and Chad Kruger

Chicken and beef kebabs on a grill

Since the 1970s, beef consumption in the U.S. has decreased, while chicken consumption has increased. Photo: Flickr user purdman1 under CC BY 2.0.

There is much about economics, especially macro-economics, that I (Sonia) have a hard time understanding. Yet it’s a field that is so important, because there are so many economic factors that affect agricultural production. And though many of his articles are more about the here and now than the future and how climate change may interact with economic factors, I find many of Jayson Lusk’s blog articles interesting and understandable. Dr. Lusk is the Distinguished Professor and Head of the Agricultural Economics Department at Purdue University, and his most recent article directly tackles climate change by integrating information on greenhouse gas emissions from the beef and chicken we consume in the U.S., and provides some rough estimates of how those have changed since the 1970s, as our meat consumption patterns have changed.

It is important to highlight Dr. Lusk’s focus on consumption, because demand for meats is as important to understand as meat production (that is, supply), when exploring greenhouse gas emissions from the industry. Dr. Lusk reached an interesting conclusion (and I quote): “All in all, it seems meat consumption patterns have become much more carbon friendly since the 1970s.” As Dr. Lusk states, that’s not a headline one often sees. So check out Dr. Lusk’s latest blog to read on how he arrived at this conclusion, using existing data and research studies. Because even though there is uncertainty in his estimates, and he didn’t consider all the factors that could lead to variation in these emission numbers, he still found that collectively we’ve made great improvements.

Waste a Lot, Warm a Lot – Reducing Food Waste is Part of Climate-Friendly Eating

By Nicole Bell, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

This article is part of a series, Climate Friendly Fruit & Veggies, highlighting work from the Fruit & Vegetable Supply Chains: Climate Adaptation & Mitigation Opportunities (F&V CAMO) project, a collaborative research study co-led by investigators at the University of Florida and the Agriculture & Food Systems Institute. Other collaborating institutions include researchers at the University of Arkansas, University of Illinois, the International Food Policy Research Institute, the World Agricultural Economic and Environmental Services, and Washington State University. This project seeks to identify and test climate adaptation and mitigation strategies in fruit and vegetable supply chains.

Potatoes cut to make fries, with a pile of "chips" that don't lend themselves to perfect fries, and can contribute to waste

The food waste occurring close to a consumer’s plate plays an important role in the overall environmental footprint of a given product, such as fresh market potatoes. Photo: Ernesto Andrade under CC BY-ND 2.0.

While many scientists, producers, and consumers recognize the importance of quantifying the carbon footprint of agriculture, most efforts focus on on-farm activities. The journey food takes before it lands on a consumer’s plate is complex and requires looking beyond the farm gates: as it turns out, the consumer’s plate plays an important role in the overall environmental footprint of a given product. In a recent article, we explored insights related to preparation of French fries from a study led by Ranjan Parajuli on the relative impact of different parts of the supply chain (on-farm, processor, retail, and consumer) for fresh and processed potato and tomato products. Here, we examine another aspect of supply chain impacts of potato and tomato products: food waste. The results indicate that waste contributes significantly to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Continue reading

Compost Emissions – More Than Just a Matter of Smell

By Karen Hills

This is part of a series highlighting work by Washington State University (WSU) researchers through the Waste to Fuels Technology Partnership between the Department of Ecology and WSU during the 2017-2019 biennium. This partnership advances targeted applied research and extension on emerging technologies for managing residual organic matter.

Large compost pile, with facility in the background

Commercial compost facilities divert organic waste from landfills and create a beneficial soil amendment. Photo: Doug Collins.

Composting organic waste is, in many ways, a win-win scenario. It diverts waste from the landfill, while creating a valuable soil amendment. However, even composting is not without its share of environmental impacts. Large commercial composters know that emissions of smelly compounds can occur and cause unhappy neighbors. But little attention has been paid to less noticeable compounds which could have climate and air quality impacts. But how much is known about the emissions of these compounds from composting operations? Reading a recently published report by Tom Jobson and Neda Khosravi of WSU’s Laboratory for Atmospheric Research helped me to better grasp the state of the science on this question. Continue reading

Check it Out: Can Biochar Be Used for Carbon Dioxide Drawdown in Washington State?

By Karen Hills

Bag full of biochar, a black gravelly material

Figure 1. Biochar has the potential to improve agricultural soils and sequester carbon. Source: USDAgov, licensed under CC PDM 1.0.

This is part of a series highlighting work by Washington State University (WSU) researchers through the Waste to Fuels Technology Partnership between the Department of Ecology and WSU during the 2017-2019 biennium.

In a recent study, Jim Amonette at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Washington State University Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources developed an improved method to estimate the technical potential for biochar (Figure 1)—made from forestry residues and waste wood (Figure 2) and applied to agricultural soils in Washington State—to store carbon, drawing down atmospheric carbon (C) and contributing to mitigating climate change. Amonette selected twenty-six counties in Washington State for application of this improved method (Figure 3). For each county, Amonette developed seven biomass feedstock and biochar process scenarios including one for waste wood harvested from municipal solid waste alone, and six for waste wood combined with forestry residues from timber harvesting operations. The research generated results for each of the 26 counties. Continue reading

Sequestering Carbon in Cross-Laminated Timber

By Chris Schnepf

Panel of five layers of boards glued together perpendicular to each other.

Cross-laminated timber panels are made by gluing together three or more layers of boards perpendicular to each other. Photo: Chris Schnepf.

Most of the articles on AgClimate.net focus on adaptation; that is, how we manage fields, forests, and rangelands to adapt to anticipated changes in climate. But there is another side to dealing with climate change—how do we reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? These efforts are collectively referred to as “mitigation”.

Most of our mitigation focus has been on practices to reduce emissions from cars, tractors, planes, manufacturing, livestock, etc… anything that puts greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. But another part of the mitigation discussion focuses on techniques to place carbon where it can be stored long term and kept out of the atmosphere. In forestry and agriculture there is a lot of research underway on practices that sequester more carbon, from changing agricultural practices, using biochar as a soil amendment in agriculture, to managing forests in ways that retain more carbon, within fire safety limitations.

One of the unique dimensions of carbon sequestration in forestry is how materials generated in forest management are used. Continue reading