“This is the gold standard model.”
– CEDRIC MACLEOD
Canada’s milk producers will soon have a new tool to reduce the carbon footprint of their dairy farms and perhaps make money in the process.
A computer package developed in Atlantic Canada allows dairy farmers to calculate greenhouse gas emissions from their operations and estimate ways to reduce emissions through management changes.
Adopting the program is a good way for dairy producers to show they’re environmentally responsible. But there’s an even more important reason to use it, according to Cedric MacLeod, who developed the program for the Atlantic Dairy and Forage Institute (ADFI).
“Because you can generate revenue from the carbon market,” said MacLeod, a consulting agronomist in New Brunswick.
ADFI’s partners in the project are Dairy Farmers of Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The program goes by the ponderous title of greenhouse gas quantification protocol and calculator software for the Canadian dairy industry.
It is similar to Holos, a greenhouse gas calculator designed by AAFC which analyzes on-farm practices and determines potential reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
This program is the next step up because it enables milk producers to incorporate very precise data, such as feed formulations and forage quality, into their calculations, MacLeod said.
“This is the gold standard model that allows you to do very specific on-farm calculations.”
The model will allow dairy farmers to take advantage of carbon offset trading systems as they come along, said MacLeod.
A carbon offset is a financial instrument and a way to earn credits which can be traded on a marketplace. Each offset credit represents one tonne of carbon dioxide or its equivalent in other greenhouse gases (e. g., methane). Governments or companies may buy carbon offsets available for sale on the market to comply with imposed limits on their emissions.
The most common sources of carbon offsets are renewable energy projects. But agriculture is also a potential offset source. Farmers may sequester carbon in the soil through conservation practices. Or they may reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock herds through management practices (e. g., changes in feeding).
That’s where the dairy calculator comes in, MacLeod said.
By tweaking their management, producers may be able to reduce their cows’ emissions by two to three times. Dairy farmers already keep good records, so adding emission calculations isn’t seen as a huge chore.
Armed with this data, producers will be able to jump on commercial carbon offset trading systems as they come along, said MacLeod.
Right now, opportunities in Canada are limited. The Alberta
offset system is the only one of its kind operating in the country. A national offset system is still in development.
In the United States, the Chicago Climate Futures Exchange (CCFE) offers futures and options contracts on emission allowances and other environmental products.
MacLeod said it’s important to have emission calculators, such as his, available as standards to use in developing offset systems.
“If everybody uses this, we’re all on the same playing field.”
A software package for the calculator is being built and will eventually become available on the Internet. The calculator will be tested on six Maritime dairy farms in April and the results audited.