Agriculture Has Potential to Help Reduce Greenhouse Gases

In the ongoing search for remedies to the planet's greenhouse gas excesses, agriculture is often identified as a key player. Agriculture can reduce its own contributions of these gases (carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide), and it can act as a carbon "sink," a kind of gas storehouse and converter through its soil, plants, wetlands, and forests. But producers need incentives to change their management practices or to adopt a greenhouse gas mitigation strategy. A resource and environmental economist at ISU's Center for Agricultural and Rural Development has been studying the economic feasibility of these strategies. Using mathematical programming, Uwe Schneider and research partner Bruce McCarl of Texas A&M examined the economic potential of a variety of greenhouse gas mitigation strategies in U.S. agriculture and forestry. They entered various strategies, such as reduced tillage and production of energy crops, into an agricultural sector model. They then ran a simulation to see how mitigation strategies compete against conventional agricultural production at various "carbon prices" (a fee paid to producers per ton of carbon equivalent stored). The results show that it is economically feasible for U.S. agriculture to contribute to greenhouse gas reduction. However, some strategies are much more viable than others. The right strategy depends on the right carbon price, and different strategies are optimal for different regions of the country. The full report, "The Potential of U.S. Agriculture and Forestry to Mitigate Greenhouse Gas Emission: An Agricultural Sector Analysis," is available at Contact Schneider, 515-294-6173, or Sandy Clarke, CARD Communications, 515-294-6257.

(Released June 2002)