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5 considerations before you jump into a carbon project

When choosing a carbon program, documented history, data and more are key to selecting an opportunity that fits the farm.

Curt Arens, Editor, Nebraska Farmer

June 12, 2024

4 Min Read
choosing a carbon program
PLANTING GREEN: Planting into growing cover crops, reducing tillage and chemical inputs and many other conservation-related practices could potentially qualify for carbon payment programs. Now, Truterra is offering payments through an expanded eligibility for enrolled farmers who have adopted these and other practices as far back as 2021.Farm Progress

Lukas Fricke likes pushing numbers. He likes knowing the data for his east-central Nebraska farm where he raises row crops and seed corn and has a hog operation.

That’s why he sees carbon farming as a unique way to add profit to his bottom line. It’s why Fricke calls participation in the Truterra carbon program a “no brainer.”

Jaime Leifker, president of Truterra, LLC, a Minnesota-based agricultural sustainability business that offers consultation, tools and solutions for the ag and food value chain, says their carbon programs are made to be simple and farmer-friendly.

Many who already sequester carbon through practices like cover crops and no-till have been turned off by “additionality.” According to Iowa State University, in order to generate credible carbon offsets that can be used in carbon accounting to report lower net carbon emissions by an entity, carbon sequestration has to be additional (a new practice) and permanent. Additionality means that the conservation practice would not have been implemented without the carbon farming payment.

Some private carbon initiatives (such as Bayer, Eco-Harvest, Indigo, Nori and Truterra) offer a one-time look-back payment (or signing bonus) based on the carbon farming practices implemented in the recent past, despite the lower degree of additionality of those carbon credits. Truterra, for example, now credits producers for carbon-friendly practices going as far back as 2021.

Related:Information Library

Fricke and Leifker shared advice for participating in carbon programs.

Carbon program considerations

1. Look for a program that considers documented farm history

Up to this growing season, Truterra’s carbon credit program has paid over $9 million, sequestering 462,000 metric tons of carbon through the practices of 273 farmers, with average payments to individual farmers at $18,000. Going back to 2016 more than 1,900 farmers have taken part in the program, building sustainable practices on 1.84 million acres in 29,000 fields. More and more farmers are weighing their carbon options. Those who already do carbon-friendly practices like no-till or cover crops may feel they missed the boat. However, Truterra’s program will now consider documented practices that go back to 2021.

“This has been long-awaited for farmers,” Leifker says. “It allows us to take inventory of practice changes across the farm in addition to increased production efficiencies gained over time like increased yields, tracking efficiency per bushel or per unit, reduced carbon emissions – this concept is totally unique.”

2. Use data to ease into carbon programs

For Fricke, jumping into the carbon program was as simple as using the data he was already collecting – like how many passes through the field, cover crop plantings, how many nitrogen applications – and getting that information back to Truterra.

“The program is driven with farmers in mind,” Fricke says. “It’s nice for Truterra to help us see those practices from a dollars and cents standpoint. The contract is farmer friendly.”

Lukas Fricke, Nebraska farmer

3. Keep good records

“If you are a farmer tracking your breakeven costs, you’re already collecting this data,” says Fricke. “You pick the fields you want to use through their online portal, establishing field boundaries, and then you simply add your practices. When did I plant? When did I harvest? Did I plant cover crops?

“It goes back to record keeping and if you have a good farm management system,” he adds. “That’s your biggest challenge, but if you have good records and are financially and sustainably wise, running the scenarios and doing breakevens, it makes it easy to participate, especially with yield maps and having accurate information.”

4. Get paid to improve soil health

Fricke has been researching carbon program options for the past few years. The family has strip-tilled since 2017 and have cover crops, especially on seed-corn production acres. “This can be a new income source to the farmer,” Fricke says. “It is refreshing to have a program to pay people for practices that build better soils, better crops and better microbes in the soil.”

5. Bridge the gap

Carbon programs can bridge a gap between farm practices and companies with sustainability goals. Studies show that consumer goods and products made with sustainability goals are growing faster than those made without them.

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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