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Reducing N2O Losses from Cropping Systems for Environmental Credits with Fertilizer BMPs


Project Timeline: 2011 - 2014

Three goals of this project include:

  • Creation and refinement of a program to engage and enroll farmers and landowners to generate emission reduction credits
  • Adaptation of the Alberta Nitrous Oxide Emission Reduction Protocol to the Midwestern U.S., based on a review of scientific literature on N2O emissions from this region
  • Comparison of protocols for their applicability, transaction and verification costs, value of credits, and their ability to incentivize practice changes.

The untested market for credits generated from nitrogen management gives this project a unique opportunity to develop and refine a program to generate emission reduction credits. With multiple methodologies available and low market participation, this project can serve multiple functions. Bridging the gap between the carbon market and crop producers will help in understanding willingness to share management information to verify reduced emissions and examine different methodologies to provide feedback regarding effectiveness of emission reduction credits as an incentive to drive practice change.

The program developed to generate credits is named Nitrace. Nitrace is a development of Camco Clean Energy, an experienced international developer of emission reduction projects. Nitrace promotes principles of 4R nutrient stewardship and will be examining how implementation of advanced nutrient management practices can be credited by environmental markets.

Project Summary

Evaluate the potential to develop, quantify, and market environmental credits through implementation of improved nitrogen fertilizer management to reduce nitrogen loss from cropping systems as nitrous oxide (N2O).

Successes & Challenges

The main challenges of this project are overcoming challenges with data use and education.  Environmental markets are less developed and less tangible than the grain markets which midwestern crop producers are experienced with.  Nitrogen losses as nitrous oxide are often not as large nor as tangible as losses to water in IA and IL.  Along with getting these losses on the mind of producers, is convincing them that someone is actually willing to pay them to reduce losses to the atmosphere. Until there are demonstrated examples of these proposed transactions, it is difficult to convey the message of a credible and functional market available for those who choose to develop credits.

Compounding these challenges is the requirement for operational data to be shared to calculate and verify emission reductions. Operational data is not collected consistently between fields and the required data for any given field can often be managed by different people including the producer, their crop adviser, and/or an agronomic service provider.  Data can be fragmented, incomplete, or may not exist. Operational data is required by existing protocols to generate credits but is not routinely shared outside of those directly involved in the management decision making process. The uncertain value of credits combined with the unaccustomed requirement of data sharing presents a challenge for attracting early adopters and partnerships with others who have existing producer relationships.

Although these challenges have not led to a fast adoption of crediting programs, the overall outlook for improved fertilizer management is positive.  Technology, economic drivers, and pressure from the public to reduce the environmental impact of crop production are leading to more judicious and informed fertilizer use.  If crediting for gaseous losses can be proven effective it can add to this trend and help quantify the benefits of improved fertilizer management.

Project Partners

  • The Fertilizer Institute
  • Camco Clean Energy
  • ClimateCHECK corporation
  • The Climate Trust
  • International Plant Nutrition Institute

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Project Documents


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