10:14 am
Fri February 6, 2004

Growing carbon market benefits environment, farmers

KANSAS CITY – One world's worst pollution problems is caused by carbon, belched from factory smokestacks and automobile exhaust pipes. Carbon can latch on to other elements and eventually form the greenhouse gases that many think burn holes in earth's fragile ozone layer. But there's evidence that suggests a way to stop carbon before it contributes to global warming. As K-C-U-R's Matt Hackworth reports, part of the solution to the carbon pollution problem could be found on the nearby plains.

The corn husks are withering away to a pale gray in the same field where farmer Steve Tuttle checks grass-like sprouts of winter wheat poking through the soil:
008- ambi of crunching, this wheat really looks good. It was planted the 20th of September, if I remember right -

Tuttle will harvest his crop in Wyandotte County this summer. In the mean time, the soil will be replenished with nutrients from the decaying corn husks that are crunching under Tuttle's muddy boots. The farmer doesn't till the land when he plants his crops. Tuttle uses a special planter towed behind his green tractor that barely pierces the soil to plant seeds. It's called no-till farming, and Tuttle says it's better for the environment.

Any time you till the soil, you release carbon into the atmosphere by the breaking down of the organic matter in the soil. So by leaving the soil surface undisturbed, and planting into the prior crop's residue, that helps capture and hold that carbon

Scientists say carbon pollution in the air can be absorbed by plants and naturally put into the soil before it harms earth's atmosphere. It's a natural process called carbon sequestration. Professor Chuck Rice of Kansas State University leads a group researching how agriculture might be used to fight global warming.

If you do some of these soil management practices, like re-planting of grasses, uh no-till agriculture, different rotation systems with farming, they all improve the carbon storage capacity of that soil. There's been some work that shows that somewhere around 20 percent of U-S emissions can be sequestered in soil.

A $15 million federal grant is paying for more research into fighting pollution with responsible agricultural practices But there's already a financial opportunity in carbon sequestration. Many are already looking to a developing market that trades carbon pollution in the air for carbon in the soil. Kansas Senator Sam Brownback says he sees a way farmers can supplement their income by selling carbon credits:

We wanna reduce that growth of C-O-2 and one of the key ways it seems to a number of us as a way to do that is to create a carbon market. And in this market you'd have some people securing carbon in the soil and other people would be releasing carbon. Farmers could economically and competitively bid for carbon sequestration, still be able to operate their land but use it as a second income source and a clear environmental benefit.

There's already at least one carbon market exchange in place. An Oregon power plant pays nearby farmers for the carbon their plants put back into the soil. Still, the relatively new practice of no-till farming is slow to replace methods used for generations. Only around 10 percent of Kansas farmers use no-till methods. But there's a movement underway to band Kansas no-till farmers together in anticipation of competing in the carbon marketplace. The hope is that the prospect of earning more money on their land will provide a financial incentive for farmers to change from old ways to new in the years to come.