Ontario farmers are being recruited for carbon offset testing as the province prepares to participate in a cap-and-trade system, which officials say is the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change.
Three pilot projects will be launched this summer to test the feasibility of ways that farmers and others can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in exchange for obtaining carbon credits.
Ontario recently signed onto the Western Climate Initiative - joining members British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec and seven U.S. states - which intends to launch a cap and trade system by 2012.
In June, Ontario and Quebec also reached their own agreement on cap and trade, which is scheduled to be in place by 2010.
Under a cap and trade system, emitters are given pollution limits and if they exceed them, they must pay to obtain carbon credits from others that fall under their targets.
"We think cap and trade is an important way to go," said Terry Stopps, manager of global air issues for Ontario's Environment Ministry. "It fits in better with what other jurisdictions are doing and it guarantees emission reductions.
"This is an exploration of an area of emissions trading that could be included in a future program for us."
The first pilot involves farmers' use of nitrogen fertilizers. Nitrogen in soil creates nitrous oxide emissions, which are about 360 times more potent than carbon dioxide emissions, Mr. Stopps said.
"If farmers can apply nitrogen fertilizers in a better way, and reduce those emissions that come off their field, then we're further ahead in terms of the total amount of greenhouse gases that are getting released from human operations," he said.
The second pilot for farmers involves low-till and no-till farming techniques, in which soil disturbance is minimized during planting so harmful emissions aren't released.
"Instead of opening up the soil by tilling it really actively - where you get a lot of carbon released and get nitrous oxide released during that process - if you keep it closed it keeps the carbon sequestered in the soil," Mr. Stopps said.
The government expects to work with more than 50 farmers in launching the two pilot projects some time soon.
The third pilot will be the last to get started and involves afforestation, which requires planting trees on deforested marginal land.
"By growing new trees you're taking carbon out of the air and you're putting it into the wood and sequestering it there," Mr. Stopps said.
Farmers are excited about the opportunity and are in a great position to help fight climate change while boosting their bottom lines, said Don McCabe, vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
"On a national scale we are 10 per cent of the problem with greenhouse gas emissions, but we can be 20 per cent of the solution," Mr. McCabe said.
"And the pilots that are being identified here in Ontario are also things that can be used at the national scale."
He said carbon credits wouldn't be a farmer's primary source of income, but they could help offset other costs that are a significant burden.
"Society has to recognize farmers are willing to do this but we can't do it - we're not paid to assist," Mr. McCabe said, adding he still wants to see how well the pilot projects work to ensure farmers don't get stuck losing money.
"This is not a widespread 'please come on down and sign up' routine yet. This is just trying to find a few producers to make sure all the dang bugs are out of the system before we go full-scale.
"You don't release your car to the general public until you've had a few runs around the test track and you've had a few chances to test all the buttons."