They are simple ideas: Pay big companies to not pollute. Pay farmers to plant cover crops or do no-till, thus reducing the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere when carbon-laden soil is plowed. For that price, we could save the planet.

There’s been renewed interest in so called “carbon markets” or “carbon trading,” and it’s worth exploring as a less economically shocking way to quell the devastating effects of global warming and climate change.

Carbon trading could be big business for Mankato area farmers. Big agriculture companies like General Mills and Cargill have tremendous opportunities to develop carbon markets with existing farmer relationships.

As part of world and U.S. climate change agreements to slow global warming, the idea of carbon trading and carbon markets can be attractive. Big companies might be regulated to reduce their carbon footprints, and they could in turn pay farmers to reduce their carbon outlay, thereby helping the big company meet its carbon reduction quota.

North Dakota State University researchers have been studying how to measure carbon in farm fields so as to accurately assess the value of carbon in a future possible carbon trading scheme. There’s work to be done, and it’s not yet perfected, but the drive to develop valuable carbon markets may draw investment interest.

If government or world climate accords don’t soon require such carbon reductions as credits, consumers likely will. Already we see cases where consumers will choose everything from food to electronics from companies reducing their carbon footprint.

And there appears to be interest, albeit small, among farmers for investigating the value of carbon being left in their soil. A Purdue University showed 2% of farmers with an interest in companies offering carbon payments.

General Mills has already set a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030 compared to 2020. And because the company notes its own operations amount to only 5% of its greenhouse gas emissions, it plans to work to reduce other emissions by working its partners, across its “value chain” from “farm to forklift to landfill.”

The company’s statement on climate change takes a serious tone: “Climate change presents risks to humanity, our environment and our livelihoods. Changes in climate not only affect global food security but also impact our raw material supply. This influences our ability to make food people love and deliver value to our shareholders.”

Cargill plans to sell its customers “carbon offsets.” Cargill is developing projects that it expects will “generate high-quality, certified carbon credits for a global market.” The company has a “senior director for commercial carbon” based in its Minneapolis office.

Carbon markets should be taken seriously. The sooner agricultural areas like the Mankato region get on board, the more likely such areas can take the lead in capturing emerging markets. And we’ll help save the planet at the same time.

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