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Professors brief Congress on how agriculture could provide carbon offsets for other industries

By sequestering carbon, farmers and other land managers could earn and sell carbon credits. This revenue could provide incentives for best management practices and buffer such land managers from rising fossil fuel costs that may arise from new energy and carbon policies, asserted two Cornell professors in Congressional briefings Nov. 18-19.

Antonio Bento, associate professor of applied economics and management, who studies the economics of biofuels, and David Wolfe, professor of horticulture, who studies the potential effects of carbon dioxide and climate change on natural and managed ecosystems, spoke on "The Role of Agriculture and Forestry in Emerging Carbon Markets," to the House and Senate.

The agriculture and forestry industries are unique, Bento and Wolfe said, because land managers can do more than reduce their own emissions of such key greenhouse gases as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Bento and Wolfe said that they can adopt plant, soil and livestock management practices that will sequester additional carbon and/or replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources -- such as energy from biomass, manure and methane capture -- thus becoming part of the solution and providing carbon offsets for other sectors.

However, there are significant challenges to agriculture and forestry entering the carbon marketplace. The cost of verification on a site-by-site basis -- like detailed soil sampling and analysis -- will lead to high transaction costs, and it is difficult to ensure the permanence of carbon sequestration for an individual small land holding. Bento and Wolfe also discussed some alternatives to meet these challenges and suggested that implementation, monitoring and oversight on a larger geographic scale could be more reliable and cost-effective (using remote sensing, simulation modeling and strategic soil sampling) than at the scale of the individual farm or woodlot.

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Blaine Friedlander