Carbon sequestration can take many forms, including using different practices on farm fields to keep carbon in the soil.
That’s good for slowing climate change and it can also be good for farm income.
Sequestration is getting a lot of attention because of its environmental and business benefits. Companies are looking at piping carbon into underground reservoirs — “carbon sinks” — or planting more trees and using other measures to reduce carbon from entering the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide that is sequestered can then be sold as “carbon credits” to industries that need to reduce their carbon footprint.
In the longer term those companies need to actually cut more of their carbon output, but many can’t do that quickly. Carbon credits are a way those companies can offset their carbon footprint and reduce the overall amount of carbon getting into the atmosphere.
Farmers can hold more carbon in the soil by using practices such as low- or no-till farming rather than turning the soil over with a plow. And planting cover crops and other measures can sequester carbon.
While those practices can take more time and cost more, there is good potential for farmers to sell carbon credits, creating a valuable income stream. Experts say billions of dollars in investments could come in to farmers across the country who make changes on their farms.
While urgent action is needed on many fronts to reduce the current and coming damage from climate change, there is a need to take time to create good standardized rules and structures before moving broadly forward on farmland carbon sequestration.
That includes determining how much carbon is held on every acre of land depending on the different types of land use practices. That’s vital because one carbon credit is equal to the equivalent of 1 ton of carbon dioxide being sequestered.
It’s also important to ensure that when companies buy carbon credits to offset their own carbon emissions, the credits are legitimate and companies aren’t just “greenwashing” to give the appearance they are offsetting their carbon emissions when they aren’t.
Those questions and rules are being determined by scientists and government agencies.
The value of each carbon credit will also need to be determined. The marketplace has a role in setting the price of carbon credits as does the government. Government has a clear role in ensuring carbon credits are valuable enough to encourage carbon sequestration.
While farmland carbon sequestration is relatively new, it has long been used in the forestry industry. Doing the work needed to bring carbon markets to the farm makes good sense for the rural economy and the environment.