US Rice Farms Score $1.1M for Methane-Cutting Projects

The USDA will grant $1.1 million to groups testing greenhouse gas reduction projects at rice farms, which could help bring farmers revenue from selling offsets on California's carbon market.

The grant money will go toward demonstrating best practices for rice production in Arkansas and California, the top rice producing states. The Conservation Innovation Grant was awarded to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which is working with nonprofit Winrock International, the California Rice Commission (CRC) and Arkansas rice associations and producers.

The biggest opportunity, say the groups, lies in removing rice straw after harvesting rice, which would reduce emissions of methane, a GHG that is over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in contributing to global warming.

While focusing on California and Arkansas, the projects will also look at how practices can be replicated in other states that grow rice, namely Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas

Along with demonstrating reduction practices, the project aims to measure related methane emissions reductions, using a methodology developed by EDF, the CRC, Applied Geosolutions and Terra Global Capital.

The methodology is currently being reviewed by the American Carbon Registry and the Verified Carbon Standard, and was created to measure the GHG emissions reductions from rice production in California without hurting yields. It also acts as a framework for creating carbon offset projects planning to sell credits on voluntary and compliance markets.

If the methodology is approved, rice farmers who reduce GHG emissions could receive carbon credits for use in California's emission trading market, which is scheduled to begin at the start of 2012, but could face delays due to a court ruling requiring the state to look at alternative ways to cut GHGs. Anyone regulated by the market would be able to buy credits from rice farmers not only in California, but other states to meet their obligations under the market.

Voluntary market prices for offsets are currently around $3-7 per metric ton of CO2 emissions, and pre-compliance offsets approved by the California Air Resources Board are going for $7-10 per metric ton on the voluntary market.

"It holds great promise for U.S. rice farmers to make money on the California carbon market," Belinda Morris, California regional director of EDF's Center for Conservation Incentives, said in a statement, "And to reduce methane gas emissions from rice production both in the United States and around the globe."

Rice field - CC license by IRRI Images/Flickr