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Tool Measures Bad Gas

Scientists claim that in 2006, agriculture accounted for roughly nine per cent of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

But just how much any particular farm produces of the bad gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, has been difficult to determine – up until now.

A new project featuring an Internet-based tool offers farmers an easy way to measure their contribution to global climate change.

By entering the number of acres and livestock, amounts of fertilizer used, and land use characteristics into the Holos greenhouse gas calculator, a farm’s total emissions can quickly be measured with an estimated 60 per cent accuracy, according to Kristen Williamson, a MAFRI farm production adviser.

Before the calculator is released for public use, 1,200 farmers across Canada, of which 75 will be from Manitoba, will run their numbers through it and make suggestions for further refinements, she said.

“This could be used to buy and sell carbon credits, so the more accurate we can make this calculator, the better,” she said, adding that the results of the initial trials will be used by scientists to make improvements.

Carbon dioxide gets all the attention these days because it is released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels such as petroleum and coal. What’s less well-known, is that farm practices such as tillage are also a big factor in overall emissions because it causes the carbon in soil organic matter to break down and convert to a gaseous form.

Nitrous oxide, which also emanates from farm soil, N fertilizer volatilization, and manure, is 300 times more powerful than C02 as a greenhouse gas.

Methane comes from digestive processes of ruminant livestock and stored manure, but emissions from the front end of a ruminant amounts to eight times what comes out the back end, she said.

Holos, created by Agriculture and Agri -Food Canada, updates an earlier version of the calculator with a more comprehensive set of parameters covering grain, grazing livestock, dairy, sheep, swine and poultry operations, or any combination thereof.

The computer program, which is based on designated regional eco-districts in Canada, separates productive land into two main categories: cropland and grassland areas. Yard sites were deemed not statistically significant, but areas planted to trees such as shelter belts, orchards and woodlots can be entered into the equation. Results are shown in either report or visual chart form.

The calculator would be especially useful for farmers who wish to test the potential effects of altering production practices or changes in land uses aimed at mitigating their farm’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, she added. [email protected]

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