Concerned with greenhouse gas emissions and intended to provide a solid foundation for carbon-trading markets, the USDA has announced it will fund a set of farm, ranch and forestry projects across the United States. The $17 million in grants is also expected to help finally nail down verification/quantification of carbon credits.

For more, see carbon credits.

This will not be the first attempt to make sure carbon sequestration claims are legitimate – something a transparent market requires. In recent years, both private and federal players have had a go at measuring and standardizing carbon credits. Previous attempts to set baselines and build carbon-trading markets have resulted in mixed success.

For more, see Carbon market ‘in disarray.’

For example, in 2007, a proposal known as the “Duke standard” was floated. At the time, Dick Wittman, an Idaho farmer and former president of the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association said, “Today's carbon market is like the Wild West — anything goes in terms of measurement and verification standards. … There is a ‘buyer beware atmosphere’ out there that makes it difficult to distinguish really good agriculture projects that reduce significant greenhouse gases from those that don't. Businesses won't have confidence their emissions are being offset until there is a standard measurement and verification protocol.”

For more, see Will standards tighten carbon trading rules?

Four years later, carbon verification standards are still not set in stone. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has made it clear the Obama administration wants that remedied.

Towards that end and to promote innovation,last December the USDA announced “it would make resources available through an innovative grant project … for large-scale demonstrations of greenhouse gas mitigation practices on private lands,” said Vilsack during a Wednesday morning press conference. “We were hopeful the announcement would trigger a number of opportunities for farmers, ranchers and forest owners to show us how they could creatively reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase sequestration and also improve their bottom line. We were also hopeful the effort would lead to leveraging of private sector demand for these services through emerging environmental markets. And we were hopeful this would create opportunities for better collaboration between (USDA) and the various states that are establishing markets and that this would assist (USDA) in building the capacity to understand how these markets work and how to do more of this in the future.”

Interest proved high, with the USDA receiving 43 project proposals from 28 states. All proposals met the basic eligibility criteria and were evaluated by technical experts.

“So, today, we’re announcing the awarding of more than $17 million for GHG reduction projects in 24 states through the Conservation Innovation Grants Program” a competitive grant program administered by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

In addition, Vilsack said the NRCS is providing up to $10 million in its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to provide eligible producers additional resources to implement conservation practices.