The accredited Marin Agricultural Land Trust in California preserves working farms in Marin County, but its work protects much more than the land. Feeling the impacts of climate change in its region, MALT is working with its landowners to improve farming and ranching stewardship practices while providing the benefits of local food production, habitat protection and enhancement of ecosystem services, such as clean air, clean water and carbon sequestration.
In 2008, MALT became one of the founding members and the fiscal sponsor of a partnership that would become the Marin Carbon Project. This collaboration of scientists, ranchers, agencies and policymakers is working to develop and advance climate-friendly agricultural management practices, known as carbon farming, which could make food production part of the climate solution. MALT and MCP are responding to the rapid pace of global climate change by enhancing carbon sequestration in range and agricultural land through applied research, demonstration and implementation projects on Marin’s family farms and ranches.
Working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, 34 climate-beneficial practices were identified to support Farm Carbon Planning. In a collaborative process, once a landowner is selected, MALT staff and MCP partners go out on the land and identify what management practices might work best on a given property. Using the carbon farm plan template, the landowner’s local knowledge and the rangeland manager’s professional expertise, opportunities are identified, data is compiled and potential projects overlaid on a property map — and potential carbon gains are quantified. This focus on carbon management enables landowners to build more resilient and sustainable systems, which, over time, will also yield higher productivity and expanded ecosystem benefits.
The economic incentives are not limited to higher yields. In 2014, the American Carbon Registry, which certifies carbon offsets, used results from the MCP to approve a protocol for adding compost to rangeland. Through the new protocol, ranchers who spread compost on their pastures can now sell carbon offset credits through voluntary carbon markets.
For more information on this project, please visit our website, Conservation in a Changing Climate, and read the case study. And to learn about other ways land trusts are adopting climate adaptation and mitigation practices, read up on the Land Trust Climate Change Initiative.
Erin Derrington is climate change website manager for the Land Trust Alliance.