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Bringing agronomics to carbon conversations

Willie Vogt Close up of corn plants in field
AGRONOMIC APPROACH: Corteva Agriscience has created a new carbon and ecosystems services portfolio but the focus is to work with farmers to choose practices that make sense for individual farms.
Corteva Agriscience has a new program designed to help farmers benefit from climate-friendly practices.

There’s a growing list of companies and partnerships at work in 2021 focused on helping farmers benefit from growing attention to carbon sequestration and climate-smart farming. But what’s a farmer to do?

Corteva Agriscience is one of the latest businesses to enter the fray with what it calls a carbon and ecosystems services portfolio. But how is this new offering different from others that farmers may hear about? “I think the three big pieces are flexibility, simplicity and then the technology that we bring,” says Ben Gordon, carbon and ecosystem services global portfolio leader, Corteva Agriscience.

He explains that the approach isn’t just about pushing cover crops or no-till, but more about exploring the right agronomic approach for an individual operation. “We really want to put the farmers into the driver’s seat, so they pick the right practice for the right acre and then make sure that they’re maintaining options.”

Farmers are being approached from a number of angles as the carbon sequestration market continues to heat up. Gordon says the new Corteva initiative is designed for flexibility. Part of that comes in the initial commitment, which allows farmers to opt out of the program after two years, but they could maintain a partnership with Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC), which is also doing the third-party quantification and verification for the program.

“We think that farmer optionality is really important,” Gordon says.

“We need to put our money where our mouths are to say we believe in ourselves. But we have to channel our inner Ronald Reagan and trust but verify.”

Environmental opportunities

Corteva isn’t linking directly with carbon buyers; that’s the role of ESMC in this new business. And right now, this is a business of bringing in net new practices. “We’re working to develop the right program for the right farmer,” Gordon says. “We’re not talking about rearranging the agribusiness pie here. We’re talking about net new dollars coming into the industry.”

For the longtime no-tiller and cover crop user, it’s about documenting change going forward. Gordon acknowledges more work is needed to capture that carbon sequestration, but he also adds that this program isn’t for everybody. “Corteva and the industry have a lot of work to do with those early adopters to make sure they’re able to get rewarded for what they’ve done in some way, shape or form,” he says. “But [for now] we thought it was more important to just be really transparent for where we could bring those net new dollars in and focus right away.”

The new program will do the following:

• Provide farmers with access to new markets through a simple, flexible way to sell carbon credits for a fair price on the farmer’s terms.

• Allow farmers to typically earn an estimated $5 to $20 per acre per year by introducing cover crops and/or reducing tillage with the assistance of a Corteva adviser.

• Provide third-party quantification and verification by ESMC, which, as a nonprofit, works to compensate producers who improve the environment through their agricultural practices.

• Offer flexibility for farmers to work with other carbon credit buyers in the future. After the initial period, farmers can continue with Corteva or opt to sell new credits to their preferred buyer across the ESMC marketplace.

Data and management

Corteva, through Granular, will provide the agronomic analysis and support through an adviser for the farmer. This fledgling market will require farmers to enter the needed data to help determine if practices applied meet the carbon sequestration goals.

“If we’re talking carbon, we’re talking profitability analysis, and we’re talking agronomy,” Gordon says. “You can do that in Granular, an open, free system that protects your data and allows you to permission in your different advisers. That’s up to you as a farmer, and we believe there’s a lot of value in that.”

That’s mostly a manual process right now, which Gordon notes is time-consuming, but farmers can see value from the profit analysis available. The data requirement is minimal but important, because without the technology and data aspect to make tracking farmer practices easier, and less error-prone, the carbon market would be more challenging to access. Another tool that could come into play is remote sensing, which can help provide relevant information.

As this moves forward, there will be work on making data flow easier, moving the right practice information from machines into the agronomic software for greater analysis. That will come as data partnerships continue to expand.

The flexibility of the Corteva Agriscience program may appeal to farmers; and if interested, the starting point would be a local agronomic representative. Farmers interested in seeing if Corteva’s Carbon Initiative is for them should visit corteva.com/carbon.

The company is also creating a nomination-based 2021 Climate Positive Leaders Program to recognize early-adopting producers around the world who have already implemented climate-positive practices. The program is open to farmers in the U.S., Canada (except Quebec), Brazil, Argentina, Germany, France, Australia and Kenya. Learn more about the process for nominating climate leaders, or contact [email protected].

 

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