USDA announced in June it would fund nine projects across the country focused on various aspects of greenhouse gas mitigation practices. The Obama administration hopes the projects will strengthen the backbone of markets concerned with carbon credits.

Among the projects announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was a $1.1 million grant to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to “develop and implement a first-of-its-kind initiative to demonstrate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in rice production.”

For the project, EDF will partner with Arkansas-based Winrock International. 

Belinda Morris, California regional director of EDF's Center for Conservation Incentives, spoke with Farm Press about what the rice project hopes to accomplish, practices it will study, and how rice producers might profit. Among her comments:

Does this piggyback on the rice work you’ve already done in California? 

Yes, that was the start of this project. We initiated this project back in 2007 with the California Rice Commission to start looking at the potential of reducing methane emissions from rice production.

“We completed that project at the end of 2010 and ended up with a methodology that describes the practices landowners can participate in to reduce methane emissions…

“Now, we’re embarking on the second phase: $1.1 million from the USDA to test out the methodology and implement a carbon project on the ground. (We plan) to move it to a bigger scope and look to include Arkansas and other states in the South.”

The USDA seemed to indicate you’d be working in California for a while before coming to the Mid-South. Is that accurate or will you hit both locations at the same time?

“We’ll hit both locations at the same time. Right now, the way the methodology – the DNDC (DE-Nitrification De-Composition) model – is currently calibrated and validated for California. So, they’ve taken methane emissions measurements from practices in California and validated the model using those measurements.

“We now want to validate that same model in the Mid-South. It will be for the same practices (as in California). But there may be additional practices in the Mid-South we’re able to include in the methodology.

“The next steps in California are to implement the project on the ground, really understanding what it takes to do a project on the ground and to develop a user-friendly technology to reduce the transaction costs of using the methodology. Right now, it’s more expensive for a farmer or aggregator to access the model via the methodology. We want to develop a user-friendly interface for the farmer, perhaps even through an I-Pad application. They could enter information that would feed into the model, which would spit out the results showing the reductions in the practice.”