There was a reason why Sarah Beth Aubrey, director of the new Indiana Agriculture-Climate Alliance group known as IN-Climate, scheduled the farmer panel on carbon marketing last at the initial forum sponsored by the group. Everyone wanted to know what growers think about these markets.
Jordan Seeger, deputy director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, moderated the panel. It included Rick Clark, Warren County, Ind., who farms a large acreage that is all organic, and all no-till and cover crops; Chris Lehe, who farms with his family near Brookston, Ind., and has some land signed into a carbon program with Indigo Ag; and Matt Willard, an agronomist, farmer and seedsman from Rossville, Ill.
Seeger: What are your initial thoughts about the carbon market?
Clark: There is no place for me in this market right now. I’m 100% organic, 100% regenerative ag and zero tillage. They’re looking for people who just started doing these practices. Experts call it “additionality” — adding practices to take out carbon.
My question is, why was carbon picked? Why not base it on soil health? If you’re practicing the principles of soil health, you’re sequestering carbon. You could get a score for carbon sequestered based on soil health.
Seeger: Rick, you have a point about people who are already 100% no-till and cover crops. Indiana was 10 to 15 years ahead of the curve on soil health. The only way for some producers to play would be to tear things up and start over, and that would be a nightmare. Someone needs to look at the value of sustainability over time.
Lehe: I agree that having people start over doesn’t make sense. We got involved because a landowner required us to do no-till, so we signed up with Indigo Ag on that farm as well. But in my opinion, a $15- to $30-per-acre payment won’t get conventional tillage guys with no other incentive to do no-till to switch what they do.
Willard: I’m not participating right now. We use conservation practices on soils where we need to do so. We think those soils will improve over time and it’s the right thing to do. We’re not doing it just because there is a chance to participate in a carbon market.
Seeger: If you’re going to participate, do you recommend shopping around since there are several players in the market?
Lehe: Absolutely. You can until you sign a contract, then you are committed. Our contract with Indigo Ag is for five years. Some we heard about were 10 years, one is 100 years. That’s a long time!
What we liked is that Indigo Ag does soil sampling. A third party uses these samples to verify how much carbon we sequester. We know about how much we are going to get paid upfront. There are others who just pay a set amount for implementing a certain practice.
Willard: Right now, if you want to participate, you don’t know who to talk to. There is no one resource which tells who all the players are. There needs to be a better way to monetize this system.
Lehe: Growers need to know that not all carbon credits are equal. That’s why I like the fact that Indigo Ag measures carbon. We’re guaranteed to get paid a minimum of 75% of what that certified carbon credit sells for on the market. We know what to expect.
Read what the panelists think about government’s role in carbon markets.