Estimating carbon supply curves from afforestation of agricultural land in the Northeastern U.S.

  • Jonathan WinstenEmail author
  • Sarah Walker
  • Sandra Brown
  • Sean Grimland
Original Article


The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative for the northeastern states of the U.S. allows for terrestrial carbon (C) sequestration offsets generated by afforestation activities only. This paper estimates the maximum potential quantity and associated costs of increasing the storage of carbon by afforestation of existing agricultural land in the 11 states of the Northeast United States. The focus of the work was to describe location, the quantity, and at what cost it would be economically attractive to shift agricultural production to afforestation to increase carbon storage in the region. Widely available data sets were used to (1) identify spatially-explicit areas for lower costs carbon offsets and (2) estimate carbon supply curves related to afforestation of agricultural land over three time periods (10, 20, and 40 years). Carbon accumulation and total carbon offset project costs were estimated at a county scale and combined to identify expected costs per ton of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e). Large variation in estimated costs per ton of CO2e are driven by varying carbon accumulation potentials and opportunity costs of taking land out of agricultural production, as well as the duration of the project activity. Results show that the lowest cost carbon offset projects will be in certain counties of Maine, Vermont, and New York. Pasture land, with lower opportunity costs, generally presents the opportunity for lower cost carbon offset projects relative to cropland. This analysis estimates that afforestation of pasture land in the northeast will not become economically attractive until the price rises above $10 per metric tonne (MT) CO2e and that up to 583 million MT could be economically sequestered if the price were to rise to $50 per MT CO2e, based on a 40-year project life. With regard to cropland in the northeast, afforestation does not become economically advantageous for land owners until the price rises above $40 per MT CO2e. It is estimated that up to 487,000 MT could be sequestered from cropland if the price were to rise to $50 per MT CO2e, based on a 40-year project life.


Afforestation Agriculture Carbon sequestration Carbon supply curves Climate change mitigation Economic analysis Opportunity costs 



This work was accomplished with the support of the Cooperative Agreement between the US Department of Energy and The Nature Conservancy, Award No. DE-FC26-01NT41151, Bill Stanley and Sandra Brown, co-principle investigators. The research presented in this paper was part of a larger study entitled “Terrestrial Carbon Sequestration in the Northeast: Quantities and Costs”, final report submitted to US DOE-NETL, S. Brown, S. Murdock, N. Sampson, and B. Stanley report collaborators (available at We thank several colleagues for their input and comments at various stages of this work including Neil Sampson and Sarah Murdock, and Daiva Kacenauskaite for the background review of literature.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan Winsten
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Sarah Walker
    • 1
  • Sandra Brown
    • 1
  • Sean Grimland
    • 1
  1. 1.Winrock International Institute for Agricultural DevelopmentArlingtonUSA
  2. 2.ArlingtonUSA

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