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Putting a dollar value on Saskatchewan soil carbon sequestration

By: Lara de Moissac

June 18, 2021

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In the uncertainty of a national carbon strategy and how a carbon offset system will work, farmers’ contributions to sequestration and carbon emission mitigation efforts are frequently minimized. It seems the more knowledge there is about the exact amount of carbon sequestered in agricultural land, the more power farmers may have in lobbying for exemptions to the carbon tax.

Chelsea Sutherland, who farms at Handel, Sask., and is fresh out of the Agricultural Economics graduate program at the University of Saskatchewan, has completed some research that quantified carbon sequestration over the past 25 years in the province.

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Through the Crop Rotation Survey, over 100 farmers in Saskatchewan answered questions about management practices within two time periods: 1991 to 1994 and 2016 to 2019.

One of the objectives of Sutherland’s project was to provide information to industry, policy makers, and the public on farm-level impacts of management changes relating to soil organic carbon (SOC) gains.

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It’s safe to say that her objective was fulfilled when a portion of her results were presented in front of the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.

Sutherland quantified the change in soil organic carbon using carbon accounting framework adapted from the Prairie Crop Energy Model, which aggregates the regional effects of changes in farmers’ tillage and summerfallow practices, crop type, crop yield, and residue removal techniques. Then, she applied different pricing scenarios to get an idea of what the carbon could be valued at for Saskatchewan farmers.

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“We considered a hypothetical 1,000 hectare (~2470 acres) farm in Saskatchewan, and we found that from reductions in this farm’s tillage practices over the past 25 years, the increase in soil organic carbon being sequestered each year was valued from between $11,000 to $25,000,” says Sutherland. “Then if we consider changes in summerfallow practices affected the soil organic carbon, the value from this farm actually ranges from $30,000 to $70,000.”

The project will expand into Alberta and Manitoba later this year and more information can be found at SAIF’s website. Farmers who participate in the survey will receive a $200 compensation.

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