Carbon-storing shelterbelts could equal cash: new app tells you how much

Have you ever wondered what the carbon offset value is of those shelterbelts on your land? A new app developed by researchers at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) may soon be able to help you estimate their economic value.

“People tend to focus on the negative environmental aspects of farming such as the greenhouse gases emitted from vehicles, fertilizers, and grain transportation, when in fact much of this impact can be offset through planting trees,” says Colin Laroque, environmental scientist and professor at USask’s College of Agriculture and Bioresources, in a press release. “In fact, with shelterbelts on their land, many farmers probably store more carbon dioxide than they use.”

Historically, shelterbelts were used to protect crops from wind, prevent soil erosion, and help retain soil moisture, especially during dustbowl conditions of the Dirty ’30s. Now, shelterbelts are being removed to make room for larger agricultural equipment and more crop production. Trees, roots, and soil of shelterbelts sequester enormous amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, says Laroque.

Laroque and his team, including graduate student Brooke Howat and post-doctoral fellow Bryan Mood, estimate that more than 21.3 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide-equivalent is stored in Saskatchewan’s 60,000 km of shelterbelts, representing about $639 million in total economic value, under the federal $30 per tonne carbon-dioxide-equivalent pricing system.

Laroque and his team saw a need to provide this information to landowners, as carbon taxes have become more impactful.

The free app has a multi-disciplinary team of climate scientists, economists, soil scientists, and computer scientists behind it. Landowners will be able to calculate how much carbon will accumulate in trees planted in shelterbelts under changing climatic conditions, and determine how much their shelterbelts are worth in carbon offset value, under the carbon tax system. The app also provides a planning tool that shows the best type of trees to grow in various areas of the province and gives users planting guidelines to ensure new shelterbelts thrive.

A three-row farmyard shelterbelt surrounding the homestead, with caragana, white spruce, and green ash would be worth about $5,300 in carbon offset value by 2050, as an example. Another example was a quarter-section long shelterbelt of caragana would be worth $1,900 by 2050, under the $30 per tonne carbon-dioxide-equivalent model.

“Each of these shelterbelt examples are common in Saskatchewan and may be worth even more under the $50 per tonne carbon-dioxide-equivalent tax expected in 2022,” says Mood.

To access the app on your desktop visit: www.shelterbelt-sk.ca

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