As sustainability begins to find its way into more industries, awareness of different sectors’ carbon footprint is becoming more important. From titans of industry to the average person on the street, Americans are becoming more aware of how their actions affect the greater environment. However, one industry that remains complicated is agriculture.
In 2019, an estimated ten percent of all greenhouse emissions in the United States came from agriculture. Surprisingly, traditional farming practices like tilling the soil unearth thousands of pounds of carbon into the atmosphere every year that could be better served growing crops. With this new understanding, farmers are making the push towards sustainable practices like no-till farming, and soil probiotics that help retain carbon in the soil, leading to long-term soil health, better harvests, and even a new cash crop: carbon credits.
Carbon credits are a way farmers can make extra income by selling the carbon their farms have removed from the atmosphere to large corporations as credits to help them achieve their environmental goals. While the carbon credit marketplace is still a relatively new business model, there are a few companies emerging as leaders of the carbon credit market. Startups like Indigo and Nori are providing excellent programs that are beneficial to all parties involved; from the farmers to the companies buying the credits, and of course the startups themselves. The way it works is simple. Using sustainable practices like no-till farming, soil probiotics, cover crops, or crop rotation, farmers are able to leach carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into the soil. Then carbon removal marketplaces bring a third party in to take soil samples where they calculate the amount of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere. Once the calculations are made, the carbon marketplace “sells” the removed carbon as a credit to large corporations who are looking to decrease their carbon footprint, which can be incredibly lucrative, especially to farmers looking for a secondary revenue source.
Take western Iowa farmer Kelly Garrett as an example. Garrett has been a no-till farmer since 2012 and a strong believer in regenerative agricultural practices. When Locus Agricultural Solutions, a fledgling sustainable farming startup, approached him in the summer of 2020 to be an early adopter of their services, he was on board. Using carbon removal marketplace Nori, Garrett found that over the last five years, his farm has removed over 23,000 metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere, which is equivalent to the yearly emissions of almost 5,000 cars. As of this past February, Garrett has made $115,000 just from carbon credits.
In addition to being a great secondary source of income for farmers, it could be instrumental in improving the health and productivity of farmland in the long term. Florida farm, Smarter by Nature, is the poster child for the sort of regenerative farming that these carbon removal programs encourage. Farmers Angelique Taylor and David “Kip” Ritchey have been overseeing Smarter by Nature since 2017. In using these regenerative practices, Ritchey described the numerous benefits of the regenerative farming system, saying “We’re going to leave the soil undisturbed, there’s going to be less erosion, it’s going to be better water infiltration, we’re going to have less chemical runoff, less fertilizer runoff. There’s a multitude of things that are more of a long-term part of the solution.”
The burgeoning carbon credit industry is poised to greatly help farmers as they continue to find more economical ways to grow their crops. With startups like Nori and Indigo expanding their programs to farms across the country, do not be surprised if the carbon credit industry is one of the most dominant forces in sustainable agriculture very soon.