Counting Carbon in Highlands County
Lykes Brothers is studying the carbon footprint of its 337,000-acre ranch in Highlands County.
John Alleyne thinks Highlands County, already known for its 450,000 acres of prime agricultural lands, has the potential for at least one more significant crop: Carbon credits. Under a cap-and-trade system, which many see coming within the next few years, the federal government is likely to cap carbon emissions for various kinds of activities, from farming to manufacturing. Some enterprises will be able to earn “credits” because they consume more carbon than they produce; others will be able to earn credits because they can easily reduce their emissions well below their limits. In either case, the credits can then be sold to other businesses for whom lowering emissions is tougher.
In Europe, carbon trading is rapidly expanding, from $31 billion in value in 2006 to $78.6 billion last year. The European carbon markets have emerged in response to the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that mandates cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The treaty wasn’t ratified by the U.S., so carbon trading here remains voluntary and less lucrative. Still, for public relations reasons, businesses in the U.S. that produce high levels of greenhouse gases can purchase credits to help offset their excess emissions. Currently, a single carbon credit, defined as a metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent, trades for as low as a dollar on the Chicago Climate Exchange. In Europe, carbon credits can trade for $20 or more. Sandra Kling, chief environmental scientist for Eco 2 Asset Solutions, says the proposed Waxman-Markey climate change bill includes a cap-and-trade plan much like the Kyoto agreement that, if approved, would likely boost the price significantly.
The limits for farm lands will depend on how much carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide is created in growing and harvesting crops. Farms can cut their greenhouse gas emissions and earn carbon credits by implementing greener farming methods, not farming the land at all or planting cleaner crops, such as carbon-absorbing trees. A typical 100 acres of citrus, for example, would garner about 80 carbon credits a year, while 100 acres of longleaf or slash pine trees would equal about 108 carbon credits annually.
Alleyne, director of the county’s agricultural extension office, says land owners and farmers are asking questions about carbon credits particularly as citrus, one of county’s cornerstone crops, continues to fade after 20 years of losses from citrus canker and greening. “Some of the growers are in a transition stage,” says Alleyne, whose office recently hosted the county’s first carbon-credit workshop. “They are looking for new opportunities for revenue.”
Lykes Brothers, which owns the 337,000-acre Lykes Ranch in Highlands and Glades counties, is already getting ready. Sandra Kling, chief environmental scientist for Eco 2 Asset Solutions, a Lykes subsidiary that helps landowners measure carbon emissions, says the ranch’s carbon footprint is under study to determine how many carbon credits it might have to trade. “I see climate change legislation coming,” Kling says. “Eventually, we’ll be transitioning to a carbon-constrained world.”