Published: January 13, 2016

    Credit System Encourages Farmers to Go Green

    Conservation is the name of the game in the long-term to combat the wasteful production and consumption in our country. The disappearance of resources and climate events like the California drought has illuminated how quickly we can run out of resources if we do not give back to our environment. The issue becomes a monetary one; though conservation is ideal, how are businesses motivated to adopt environmentally conscious practices if cutting corners and maintaining the production status quo is cheaper?

    The answer, it seems, may lie in monetizing “green” farming and production practices. Regulators in several regions are leading the charge in building credit systems for business owners like farmers to profit from their conservation practices. The basic principle functions as such: Farmers earn environmental “credits” within the system by reducing water pollution, storing carbon, or maintaining wildlife habitats. Companies that regulators determine are creating too many emissions or pollution then purchase these credits. The theory is that competition will drive many farmers to adopt greener methods of tending the land and water.

    This is more than a concept; Many environmental credit programs are already fully operational. In California, rice farmers are earning money by curbing carbon pollution. The California Air Resources Board approved a proposal that allows these farmers to sell credits once they have lowered their methane emissions. By flooding their fields temporarily upon harvest, rice farmers subvert the decomposition process that contributes significant amounts of carbon pollution to the nearby environment. These reductions in emissions translate into credits, which are purchased by companies emitting too many of their own greenhouse gases in order to offset their contribution to pollution.

    Up the coast in Oregon a program is underway that rewards farmers who replant trees along a vital salmon stream. Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has developed a credit market for planting these trees in order to reduce the water temperature in Oregon’s public water sources. Farmers that plant trees by a crucial watershed earn credits to sell to the Medford wastewater treatment facility. Streams along the Pacific Northwest impaired by high water temperatures are not safe for most salmon populations.

    The recent boom of these markets is mostly attributed to financial factors. The credit system is a cheaper alternative for big companies to paying hefty fines or installing additional expensive equipment to curb pollution. Overall, credit markets lower the cost of reducing pollution and carbon emissions by incentivizing proper practices. The credit system allows the EPA to be more effective by lowering the amount of actions it must take per year against noncompliant companies.

    Congress likely won’t finance a bill to properly regulate the hundreds of thousands of farmers and agricultural companies contributing to carbon and nitrogen pollution. With that in mind these markets are a step in the right direction but avoid the sweeping change necessary in big agriculture. As conservation becomes the norm, consider investing in reusable Pelican Water sports bottles to cut down on plastic bottle waste and reduce your carbon footprint. We must all work together to create a sustainable environment for the future.