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Are you eligible for carbon credits?

Richard Halopka Hand holding clump of dirt with grass growing in it
PAYING FOR CARBON: Once a farmer has made management changes to sequester carbon, it may be 10 years before a farm is eligible for a payment.
Field Fodder: To become eligible for carbon sequestration programs will require a switch to no-till farming and other management changes.

Farmers have heard they can receive a payment for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, the question many ask: Where and how can I receive this payment?

Before a farmer asks, “Where do I get my payment?” he or she needs to consider the status of the program that rewards them for sequestering carbon. Currently, two bills — one in the Senate and one in the House — would allow USDA to act as a facilitator for the carbon market. In addition, there are a couple of companies promoting programs to pay farmers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions: Bayer Crop Science and Indigo.

But before asking where to sign up for a payment, farmers should ask, “What management changes must I perform to sequester carbon on my farm?”

Carbon sequestering

Farmers need to understand that to sequester additional carbon in the soil will involve a management change in crop production. If you use a conventional-tillage system, you probably will not be eligible for carbon credits. To become eligible for carbon credits will require a switch to no-till practices, plus cover crops in annual rotations or converting acres to perennial crops.

No guidance is currently available regarding management changes a farmer would implement to reduce carbon emissions. In addition, no organization is identified to verify if a farm is sequestering additional carbon after a management change on the farm.

Currently, two companies promote paying farmers for sequestering carbon. There is little guidance or information about how to be eligible for carbon credits or how to verify if a farm is eligible for payments. Once a farmer has made management changes to sequester carbon, it may be 10 years before a farm is eligible for a payment.

The next question is how are carbon tons measured? There is no system in place to determine the amount of carbon that is sequestered by a management change or the value of a ton of sequestered carbon.

Taking first step

If you are a farmer with a desire to improve your management skills plus conserve topsoil and water resources, then working with your USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service office may be a good first stop. Many programs are available to enhance your farm management and potentially improve carbon sequestration.

The Conservation Stewardship Program provides a number of enhancements that farmers may use to implement management changes on their farm. In addition, it offers an incentive per acre for making management changes, and farmers receive a payment for practices currently implemented on their farm.

Environmentally friendly

At the end of the day, there appears to be more questions than answers. Farmers will need to make changes moving forward to conserve their topsoil and improve water quality. Individuals really need to consider how they can be environmentally friendly and sustainable moving forward.

A visit to your local USDA NRCS office and a review of their programs may help you implement changes to conserve topsoil, improve water quality and enhance other aspects of your farming operation. NRCS programs may provide the benefit of a payment for conservation practices currently on the farm or a new management practice being implemented on the farm. The added benefit is that farmers may then be eligible for carbon credit payments in the future. A farmer’s goal is to be environmentally sound and sustainable.

For help with crop production, soil health or farm management, contact your local county agriculture educator or [email protected] .

Halopka is a certified crop adviser and the Extension crops and soils agent in Clark County, Wis.

TAGS: Conservation
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