USDA report aims to provide uniform method for GHG assessment

By Erin Voegele | August 07, 2014

The USDA recently published a report that provides uniform scientific methods for quantifying the changes in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and carbon storage from various land management and conservation activities. The Biotechnology Industry Organization has welcomed the report, noting it can help industrial biotech companies establish the environmental benefits of building the bioeconomy.

According to the USDA, the report, titled “Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Agriculture and Forestry: Methods for Entity-Scale Inventory,” will help department evaluate current and future GHG conservation programs. It will also help the USDA develop new tools and update existing ones to help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners participate in emerging carbon markets.

"America's farm, ranch and forest managers are stewards of the land, and have long recognized the significance of managing soil health, plant productivity and animal nutrition. Conservation practices and other management changes can reduce GHG emissions and increase carbon storage while improving soil health, productivity, and resilience to drought and other extreme weather," said Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie. "In partnership with USDA and the Obama Administration, State and regional GHG offset programs and voluntary GHG markets can help make these practices less costly to implement and increase the producer's bottom line."

Information released by the USDA indicates the report outlines science-based methods for quantifying changes in GHG emission and carbon storage at the local farm, ranch or forest operation. Within the report, the authors explain that the objective of the document is to create a standard set of GHG estimation methods for use by the USDA, landowners, and other stakeholders to assist them in evaluating the GHG impacts of their management decisions.

The report includes chapters dedicated to quantifying GHG sources and sinks associated with several specific agricultural and forestry systems, including cropland and grazing land systems, managed wetland systems, animal production systems, and managed forest systems. The report also includes a chapter on quantifying GHG sources and sinks from land use change.

“American farmers and forest owners can sustainably produce more than 1.1 billion tons of biomass annually, providing raw material for building the bioeconomy. As a groundbreaker in developing industrial biotechnology, the United States can become a leader in manufacturing renewable chemicals and biobased products, opening new opportunities for economic growth and high-tech jobs,” said Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial & Environmental Section.

“This science-based methodology sets a transparent standard for measuring one important indicator of sustainability – greenhouse gas emissions – in biomass production. As we move toward biobased production, we can look to this and other indicators of industrial biotechnology’s contribution to a cleaner, healthier environment and sustainable economic growth,” Erickson continued.

The report is the work of 38 experts in GHG estimation in the cropland, grazing land, livestock and forest management sectors across academia, the USDA and the federal government. It was reviewed by an additional 29 scientists, other federal experts and the public. A full copy of the report can be downloaded from the USDA website.