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Growing Trees For Carbon And Cash

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“You may not really see value in offsets until later on in life, but they might be there for your kids”


Trees can add beauty to any landscape and also have the added benefit of using carbon dioxide and removing it from the atmosphere, says Doug Macaulay, a woodlot extension specialist.

He gave a presentation on the benefits of trees as a way of sequestering carbon during a series of presentations on carbon credits held throughout the province.

Trees are long-lived perennial crops that increase their consumption of carbon dioxide exponentially over time. “As the tree gets bigger, the more wood there is, the more carbon it has sequestered,” said Macaulay.

Growing trees can be a complement to many agricultural practices and it is quite easy to integrate them into an agricultural operation, said Macaulay. Tree carbon offsets are very easy to market and the general public and industry are interested in them.

“Afforestation” projects plant trees where none grew before, said Macaulay. An example would be planting trees in an area formerly used for pasture. These projects involve covering all the area with trees, while agroforestry projects include a blend of traditional agriculture with trees.

A shelterbelt is a good example of an agroforestry project that could qualify for carbon offsets. Intercropping, which involves combining trees and forages, is another good example of an agroforestry project that improves production in forages. “As you learn more about agroforestry, you’ll learn you can be very creative with it,” said Macaulay.

In order to qualify as a carbon offset project, the area forested must have been non-treed prior to 1989. Macaulay recommends that producers download the agroforestry and afforestation protocol from the Alberta agriculture website to see if

their projects qualify. Trees must fall under the definition of what a treed area is and may be planted any time between 2002 and the present. The afforestation of peat lands does not qualify as a carbon offset project.

Records essential

Data tracking is crucial for anyone who intends to undertake a carbon offset project. Producers should document the project using photos and should keep copies of all forms and receipts. “If you do any sort of harvesting or grazing, it has to be documented,” Macaulay said.

Any sort of tree species qualify for the project as long as it can be grown as a crop or as an agroforestry project. The end use of the tree is calculated when the tree is grown for offsets.

Producers should also consider the end use of the tree and whether to grow them for fibre or lumber production, not simply for offsets, due to the long maturity rates of trees.

“It will be a long time before you see a good sequestration rate, so it’s probably best to look at the other opportunities and see them as future investments,” Macaulay said.

Another thing to consider is the life cycle of the tree. The highest carbon sequestration for a conifer occurs at about the 25th or 30th year of the tree’s life. Hybrid poplars have the highest carbon sequestration around the 15th to 20th years of the life cycle.

“You may not really see value in offsets until later on in life, but they might be there for your kids,” said Macaulay.

Total carbon sequestration is documented by measuring both the above-ground and below-ground parts of the tree.

There are several programs that can help producers get involved in afforestation and agroforestry projects. PFRA and the Woodlot Association of Alberta have programs, and many tree nurseries can also assist producers who wish to grow trees. Local players in the forestry industry, such as ALPAC and Ainsworth, may also be able to assist producers with forestry projects because they are interested in the offsets.

About the author


Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."



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