Since California is often on the vanguard of societal issues, a new effort to encourage the state’s farmers to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions bears watching.

The California Climate Action Registry, a public/private partnership created by the state legislature in 2000, has initiated voluntary reporting of greenhouse-gas emissions from farms. The plan would be to reward farms with “greenhouse-gas credits” if those farms were able to show that they reduced greenhouse gases through the use of methane digesters or other technology. The credits could then be traded on the Chicago Climate Exchange, thus providing the farms with an economic incentive.

Farms would first have to establish a “baseline” emissions rate, and then show they were able to reduce emissions through technology.

“The process is cumbersome, there’s no question about it,” says Paul Martin, director of environmental services for Western United Dairymen.

But Martin and others see it as a potential opportunity ― especially in light of global-warming concerns. Now that the public has become concerned about global warming, public funds may be allocated to greenhouse-gas reductions at the farm level.

Last week, the California State Board of Food and Agriculture held a public hearing on climate change and addressed some of these issues. Scientists testified that global warming is real and could pose severe threats to California’s agriculture.

Dennis Baldocchi, professor of biometeorology at the University of California-Berkeley, said milder winters ― specifically, less winter chill and winter dormancy ― is affecting the state’s fruit trees, and that could lead to a reduction in fruit and nut production.

Others pointed to decreased quality of the state’s wine grapes and expansion of a cotton pest known as the cotton pink bollworm.

With renewed public concern over these issues, the State Board of Food and Agriculture seemed quite interested in what agriculture could do to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Martin sees it as an opportunity for many of the state’s dairy farms.

“There are some significant opportunities out there, and it will be interesting to see how this develops,” Martin told the State Board of Food and Agriculture commissioners. So far, no farm has received any greenhouse-gas credits because it is a relatively new initiative.

Martin says what’s happening in California is a possible precursor for events elsewhere in the United States.