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This article was published 3/2/2015 (1893 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
THE Winnipeg big-data farm-management company, Farmers Edge, has signed a multi-million dollar agreement with an Alberta power company that will allow Alberta farmers to sell carbon offsets, at the same time getting more productivity out of their farming operations.
It's the latest development in Farmers Edge's efforts to become the ultimate tool for the productive farmer.
The carbon-offset deal is with Edmonton-based Capital Power which operates coal and gas power generating stations.
Farmers Edge will integrate Nitrous Oxide Emissions Reduction Protocols (NERP) developed by the Canadian Fertilizer Institute into its on-farm data collection tools. The NERP is certified to be eligible for use by the Alberta Greenhouse Gas Reduction Program.
Alberta has the only active carbon-offset program in North America.
'This is a very big deal. There are all sort of dynamics at play here'
The general parameters of the carbon offset program in Alberta requires every entity that produces more than 50,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to register with the province and every company that produces more than 100,000 tonnes per year must reduce that by 12 per cent per year.
If those entities do not meet the target they must pay $15 per tonne to the province or buy an equivalent amount in a verified and registered offset.
The deal between Farmers Edge and Capital Power is about the reduction in nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions emanating from the use of nitrogen fertilizer. N2O emissions are 300 times more damaging than carbon emissions.
"This is a very big deal," said Wade Barnes CEO of Farmers Edge. "There are all sort of dynamics at play here."
For one thing, it will mean Alberta customers of Farmers Edge precision farming tools will have their costs cut in half from $8 to $4 per acre.
Capital Power will pay Famers Edge directly and the Winnipeg company then subsequently gets the information verified after the growing season.
Barnes said it is part of a much larger movement by food processors and retails -- companies like Walmart and General Mills -- to source products that are sustainably produced and whose sustainability can be verified.
"Big companies are pushing hard," Barnes said.
Farmers Edge precision farming tools allow many features of the farming process to be recorded against a benchmark, including fuel consumption and exact deployment of fertilizer.
"It is a bear for farmers to do it (on their own)," said Barnes.
The Farmers Edge service can do it for the farmers and the farmer does not have to change his or her practices.
And with the emphasis on sustainability, Barnes said that means companies such as Walmart will be more inclined to have its suppliers use primary producers who can verify their sustainable practices.
"We're trying to streamline (the collection of the information) so that the information that qualified for the NERP is the exact same information that will qualify to make a farmer sustainable and would qualify for fieldprint calculator," Barnes said.
The fieldprint calculator is a widely accepted tool that allows growers to better understand and communicate how management choices affect overall sustainability performance and operational efficiency.
"Our whole strategy is to build this big-data platform that helps with productivity but also fits the sustainability mandate that has been laid out," Barnes said.
Chelsea Erhardt, environmental markets specialist for Capital Power, said Farmers Edge is the ideal partner for a process like this.
"You have to be able to track it (nitrous oxide emissions) according to a historical base line level down to a very granular level because you want to make sure the offset you are claiming... is 100 per cent guaranteed," Erhardt said. "You don't want anyone gaming the system or incorrectly verifying the reductions or overestimating the emission reductions. Farmers Edge's technology really brings it all together, enabling the farmers to get a benefit from Capital Power investment in the carbon system also ensuring we are buying high quality offsets."
Clyde Graham of the Fertilizer Institute of Canada said its protocols are not so much about using less nitrogen-based fertilizer as it just doing more productive farming.
"What we are trying to do is grow more food for every tonne of fertilizer applied," Graham said. "The more fertilizer that goes into the crop and into the food that comes from the crop, the less that is likely to be lost to the environment."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
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