Soil Carbon Curious Part III: How Can Farmers and Ranchers Get Paid for Sequestering Soil Carbon?

Mar 25, 2019 12:01:00 PM / by Christine Su

This is part of a three-part blog Soil Carbon Curious series powered by our partners at Elemental Excelerator.

Getting to a verifiable, consistent, and scalable market that rewards carbon sequestered on farms is a complex journey that’s going to take a while. Bolder moves by other countries outside the US, like the Paris 4 per 1000 initiative, are drawing more attention to soil carbon as a global solution for carbon sequestration. If you haven't read our coverage of the first Australian carbon credits issued under the Paris Agreement - start there!

While we continue to push towards carbon incentives in state and federal policies in America, there are numerous strides being taken to get paid for regenerative carbon sequestration. Through restaurants, branding partnerships, and focused messaging, these farming groups are building innovative ways to get paid for carbon farming.

  • The Fibershed network has made awesome strides in helping put Climate Beneficial fiber on the map with a North Face wool beanie, scarf, and outerwear line
  • The General Mills Regenerative Agriculture Scorecard is a self assessment by farmer on soil healthy practices. It is launched right now in terms of cover croppings on farms, as branded on Annie’s soil healthy line of macaroni and cheese. We hope that regenerative marketing on the dairy and other protein sourcing will be next!
  • The Marin Carbon Project and MALT have been implementing carbon farm plans on Northern California farms for several years. Straus Family Creamery and Stemple Creek Ranch are great examples of farms using carbon farming tours, using marketing, press, and media to get the message out about carbon farming to the consumer. Straus’ glass milk bottles come printed with the carbon farming story.
  • Soil Carbon Cowboys is a storytelling initiative and a scientific project to gather regional baselines of soil data and measure change in soil carbon in a scientifically robust way. Peter Byck’s short films are wonderful introductions to bring soil carbon curious consumers onboard with regenerative farming.
  • Kiss the Ground has a Farmland Scholarship Fund that gets restaurants to contribute a surcharge to regenerative farmers. Kiss the Ground provides farmer training through the Soil Health Academy, and is helping farmers collect their soil data baselines in a centralized place.
  • The Savory Land to Market program is also launching land health outcomes-based verification and is developing a verified producer marketplace to help consumer brands source from regenerative farms.
  • The Perennial Farming Initiative has launched a Chef’s Healthy Soil Guide, which helps chefs find and buy from farmers who are growing healthy soil.
  • NORI is a technology startup that's building a blockchain-based marketplace for all kinds of carbon removal, not limited to agriculture. Their carbon removal protocol for farmers currently only extends to crop farmers, but is based on the COMET Farm Planner model that could also estimate carbon sequestration rates for grasslands.
  • YOU can use carbon farming to differentiate your product! Farmers and ranchers like Straus Family Creamery and Stemple Creek Ranch are educating their direct market buyers about carbon farming, directly on product labels and marketing materials. 

Government pays farmers for soil health programs

We are watching three states who are setting goals to transition to 100% clean energy - California, Hawaii, and Washington. Currently in California, the cap and trade program from industrial companies is where the funding comes from for Healthy Soils Funding for farmers. Hopefully, these initiatives will open the pathways to carbon and carbon markets being more robust.

California is the only state that currently has an emissions cap and trade program. Some proceeds of from the CA cap-and-trade market have been used to invest in soil health, such as the CA Healthy Soils Initiative. At the time of writing, the program has been allocated $7.5 million of funding from proceeds from the market. This funding goes to help farmers implement soil management practices like cover cropping, no-till, reduced-till, mulching, compost application, and conservation plantings. We hope to see this program expanded over coming years.  Hawaii’s Clean Energy Initiative is setting goals to reach 100% renewable energy by 2045, and has a robust internal discussion about implementing a carbon tax. WA State could pass a carbon tax on Nov 6th. This is the second time the tax has been proposed.

What these 3 states have in common is urgency. Recent devastating wildfires and continuous air pollution continues to be a key topic in both California’s Coastal and Central Valley agricultural communities. Hawaii is the most fossil fuel dependent state in the United States, and recent wildfires in Washington have elevated citizens’ awareness of the importance of clean air and how wildfire reduction is connected to healthy soils and rangelands.

We hope to see increased understanding from policymakers that healthy soils and regenerative farming contributes directly to clean air, more water, drought tolerance, wildfire reduction, and energy independence.

In the meantime, the diversity and creativity of building consumer awareness around soil carbon marketing and branding from food, fiber, restaurants, filmmakers is exactly what we need. Every dollar that we spend is a vote for the world that we want to build towards.

Know of any other soil health incentives programs we should be aware of?

Topics: carbon sequestration, soil health, soil data

Christine Su

Written by Christine Su

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