Airlines and car rental companies now sell a feel-good product — offsetting carbon footprints. For a fee, these companies will reduce the effect your existence has on the environment and ease your conscience over emissions and pollutants that contribute to greenhouse gases.

To do that, these companies buy your dairy’s carbon credits; that is, your ability to clean up the environment by some of the practices that you currently use or could put into place, like methane capture and burning or carbon sequestration. You thought these were good stewardship practices. They are. They are also potential profit centers.

Farmers have been cleaning the environment for centuries. They turn manure into crops, use crops to filter and clean water and operate more efficiently through technologies like genetic selection for increased milk production, the use of larger tractors and implements to reduce time and fuel in the field for harvesting and planting, and irrigation advancements. Now it’s time to turn the green movement into greenbacks.

What is a carbon credit?

You can’t see them. You don’t get to take them home in a sack or hang them on a wall. They are wily, intangible assets. A carbon credit is equal to a metric ton of carbon dioxide destroyed or removed from the air. It must be measured and verified to have market value.

Carbon credits are of interest to an increasingly aware population that is concerned about sustainability and whether their actions will deplete the stores of air, water and earth. They are the method by which we seemingly “repair” or “restore” our environment.

Carbon credits are kind of like diamonds thousands of years ago. They existed, but no one attached a value!

It is important to mitigate or negate the effects on the environment wherever we can. As we become a larger global community, with more middle class people from emerging countries like China and India, we have to figure out how to make sure we still have soil to till and fill bellies around the world.

Finally, people are beginning to value what agriculture does in addition to providing a high-quality diet — we are cleaning the world. We just need to help them realize what a valuable asset our dairies are to the environment.

We all dairy according to our own guiding principles of good husbandry, sound business decisions and fair dealings. Our carbon credits are no different. We produce them in a variety of amounts through a variety of methods, but they all work toward a cleaner environment. It’s simply a matter of matching what you produce to someone who is willing to pay for it.

How do you get yours?

Your environmental stewardship has value. Team up with your milk-marketing cooperative to broker your carbon credits. This is a huge learning curve when dealing in this new economy. Work with experienced, reputable partners to reduce the chances of being taking advantage of, and so that you get the most value for your efforts.

Also, tell your story. You can gain valuable community relations credit from your stewardship. Talk about the way you reuse water, use byproduct feeds, recycle manure to nourish a growing crop, clean the air with carbon dioxide-using, oxygen-producing corn plants, and the energy efficiencies associated with heat-transfer methods of cooling milk, variable-speed pumps   and higher-horsepower motors that reduce actual use time and run cleaner.

Furthermore, keep looking for more efficiency on your dairy. For example, check out methane digesters in concert with various agencies, solar collection, more efficient lighting that is brighter while using less power, and heating or insulation in new facilities or remodels. You will reap multiple benefits if you do.

Mary Kraft dairies with her husband, Chris, near  Fort Morgan, Colo.

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