The dos and don’ts in carbon offset farming
Tuesday, July 26, 2022
Agriculture continues to evolve in practice and purpose. Carbon offset farming or the practice of sequestering carbon in agricultural soils is on the rise due to multiple factors related to the environment and farm profit.
Referred simply as carbon farming, the process enhances the farmer’s commitment to regenerative agricultural practices that focus on developing soil health with additional income to farmers. Specifically, increasing the carbon content of arable land by implementing practice changes on the farm.
While each farm is unique and precise farm practices can differ from farm to farm, some practices are generally known to help farmers reach their carbon farming targets, and then those that don’t.
While most guides on carbon offset farming give guidance to farmers on how the process works, it is also helpful to understand what things should be avoided in carbon farming.
In this article, learn about:
What is carbon offset farming
The multiple benefits of carbon farming
What farmers should and shouldn’t do in carbon farming
Get started in carbon farming here
What is carbon offset farming?
Soil carbon plays an important role in agronomy, regulating the atmosphere and global temperatures, and biodiversity. But due to intensified land use, the carbon content of the soil is rapidly dwindling. This poses many risks to agricultural productivity to produce crops and meet increasing food demands, as well as environmental issues such as climate change.
Poor soil health can be attributed to a decreased capacity to store carbon in the soil, which then leads to a greater contribution to the release of soil carbon into the atmosphere. There is consensus among scientists, governments, and even farmers that improving the carbon content of the soil through sequestration can lead to many benefits, including mitigating climate change and improving resilience from its impacts on farmers.
There is great potential to sequester carbon back in the soil operationalized by carbon farming techniques such as cover crops, conservation tillage, crop residue management, and crop rotation, among others. While implementing carbon farming methods determines how much carbon a farm sequesters, the whole process also involves measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) to accredited soil carbon changes in the farm in the form of carbon credits.
Carbon credits are the tradable component of carbon farming which allows farmers to sell verified sequestered soil carbon in carbon markets to businesses looking to offset their residual emissions.
Implementing carbon farming practices should result in improved soil carbon content over some time. After an initial assessment of the farm, a carbon farming practice plan containing a set of recommended agronomic practices tailored to a farm’s unique characteristics can be followed by the farmer. The practice plan represents what to do on the farm. But what about things that shouldn’t be done in carbon offset farming?
The many ways farmers can benefit from carbon farming
Before getting into what not to do in carbon farming, the benefits of carbon farming are also worth noting to get a full appreciation of this nature-based solution to climate change.
Carbon farming is remarked as a win-win-win solution for farmers, the environment, and climate change because some of its biggest benefits impact farm income, biodiversity, and drawing carbon from the atmosphere into soils. Briefly, below are some co-benefits of carbon farming:
Soil: soil health, soil conservation, improved structure and stability, nutrient availability, water and moisture retention
Water: helps improve water quality by preventing nutrient runoff, irrigation efficiency
Biodiversity: enhanced habitat for species richness, supports complex ecosystem structures, helps manage plant disease and pests
Waste management: less reliance on harmful chemical inputs, pollution management
Skills and knowledge development
Community participation in nature-building
Cooperation between various sectors in society
Expands income opportunities on the farm
Cost-savings from reduced inputs and fuel-use efficiency
To manage farm productivity for the long-term
Delving deeper into opportunities for farmers, carbon farming goes beyond carbon credit income and into other financial prospects for farmers such as green loans, getting better deals from banks, and even getting carbon credit pre-payments at the start of carbon farming. Learn other ways farmers can leverage carbon farming to their advantage in this article.
The dos and don’ts of carbon farming
What can farmers do in carbon farming?
Each farm has differing recommended practices that best suit specific needs. For carbon farming practices, these 10 can be recommended by an agronomic advisor that can generate the most impact on soil carbon sequestration.
Reduced fertilizer application
Improved residue management
Eliminating bare fallows
Increased production of cover crops
Sowing companion crops
Improved task efficiency
Improved water management
What not to do in carbon offset farming
Carbon farming prioritizes soil carbon sequestration with the practices listed above as ways to achieve carbon credits for income at the end of the engagement. Of course, implementation of each is never straightforward and can be challenging to farmers new to the practice.
The 5 listed below are some of the things that can affect the eligibility of a farmer to generate carbon credits as they can be in direct encroachment to the qualities that make up high-quality carbon credits.
See the list below for 5 things a farmer must NOT do in carbon farming.
Changing the land use function: project activities must maintain the commercial production of agricultural produce.
Planning for lower agricultural productivity: carbon farming activities should plan to sustain and improve agricultural productivity, and not devise ways to decrease productivity on purpose.
Converting permanent grasslands to croplands: permanent grasslands must be protected and must not be converted to additional land for farming.
Implementing project activities on land recently converted from native forest: the land must have been cropland for at least 10 years.
Implementing project activities on wetlands or land recently converted from wetlands: land must have been cropland for at least 10 years.
How to get started in carbon offset farming
If you’re a farmer considering carbon farming for income, soil health, and environmental benefits, the right carbon program can help you get started with the right tools and support to get the most of this opportunity.
A carbon program can help get you started with a carbon audit to assess the farm’s baseline measurements, recommend the practical methods for your farm through a carbon farming practice plan, and be supplemented by MRV tools and expert advice from agronomists. Partnering with the right carbon program can help make the carbon farming process easier with deeper guidance on what you should and shouldn’t do to generate high-quality carbon credits for farmers.
Thompson, N., Hughes, M., Nuworsu, E., Reeling, C., Armstrong, S., Mintert, J,. Langemeier, M., DeLay, N., Foster, K. (2021). Opportunities And Challenges Associated With “Carbon Farming” For U.S. Row-Crop Producers. Purdue University, Center For Commercial Agriculture. https://ag.purdue.edu/commercialag/home/resource/2021/06/opportunities-and-challenges-associated-with-carbon-farming-for-u-s-row-crop-producers/
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