Programs that paid farmers for not tilling their land and taking other carbon-conserving measures are shutting down with the death of a climate bill that would have imposed limits on greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Des Moines Register.

The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and the North Dakota Farmers Union enrolled some 8,000 producers and 11 million acres of land nationwide in the projects to demonstrate that farmers could profit by earning and selling carbon credits. The credits were sold via a Chicago-based exchange to buyers who needed or wanted to reduce their carbon footprint.

Such credits were supposed to be the centerpiece of a mandatory cap-and-trade system for reducing U.S. carbon emissions. But the bill needed to set up the system stalled in the Senate and is given no chance of passing the next Congress. The offsets that farmers earned under the Iowa and North Dakota projects are now almost worthless.

The two projects have paid out about $20 million between them since their inception in 2003.

"Clearly the public appetite and the political appetite to go at the carbon issue from a capped regulatory perspective appears to be dead for the foreseeable future," said Dave Miller, who set up the Iowa Farm Bureau's program.

The credits traded for more than $7 per ton of carbon at one point in 2008 as a cap-and-trade bill was being considered in the Senate, but the value has dropped this year to as low as 5 cents to 10 cents a ton, which is less than the cost of registering them, Miller said.

A farmer who signed a contract to not till his or her land could earn credits worth about half a ton per acre. Payments for no-till acreage enrolled in the Iowa project have varied between 18 cents and $2.40 per acre.

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Source: Des Moines Register