Let Your Land Work For You
Farmers are uniquely positioned to use conservation practices to help sequester carbon from the atmosphere in their soil and be financially compensated for their efforts. But navigating these carbon programs can be complicated – most programs have a different structure for payments, verification, and data ownership. This website was designed to help farmers better understand existing carbon markets and make an informed decision about whether participating in a carbon program makes sense for their operation.
This website is meant to serve as an introduction to carbon programs and though we have tried to make it as comprehensive as possible, it may not contain everything farmers need to know since the carbon market landscape is changing every day. We plan to update this site regularly as more information becomes available. If you still have questions regarding carbon markets after reviewing this site or have a recommendation on how it can be improved, email Julia Brown, OSC Communications Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Glossary of Terms
Additionality: GHG reductions are additional if they would not have occurred in the absence of a market for offset credits. If the reductions would have happened anyway – without any opportunity for farmers to sell carbon offset credits – then they are not additional.
Carbon Credit: A carbon credit represents one metric tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) that can be traded, sold, retired, etc. Carbon credits can be generated when eligible farmers document sustainability practices that are included in several ‘best practices’ protocols.
Carbon Neutral: Making no net release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, especially through offsetting emissions
Carbon Offset: The production and/or purchase of a carbon credit intended to cancel out the equivalent carbon emissions somewhere else. For example, net-zero carbon emissions does not necessarily mean no carbon is being emitted, as it could mean the equivalent amount of carbon credits have been purchased to cancel out carbon emissions resulting in net-zero emissions.
Carbon Offset Standard: Ensures carbon offset projects meet certain quality requirements such as additionality, permanence, and verification.
Carbon Practice: A agricultural practice that increases soil carbon sequestration. The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) technical guide describes conservation practices that are known to improve soil health and sequester carbon.
Carbon Program: A system of rewards and incentives for owners and operators of agricultural working lands who adopt management practices that reduce the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and other gases.
Carbon Sequestration: A natural or artificial process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and held in solid or liquid form.
Greenhouse Gas: Gases that trap heat in the atmosphere are called greenhouse gases. The main gases responsible for the greenhouse effect include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide (which all occur naturally), and fluorinated gases (which are synthetic).
Permanence: The effects of CO2 emissions are very long-lived. Most of the carbon in a ton of CO2 emitted today will eventually be removed from the atmosphere, but around 25% remains in the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years. To compensate for this, carbon credits must be associated with GHG reductions that are similarly permanent.
Frequently Asked Questions
Carbon refers to carbon dioxide (CO2), which is the most common greenhouse gas (GHG) emitted by human activities. Land-use innovations have created an efficient way to sequester carbon dioxide in the soil. CO2 is naturally stored, or sequestered, in plant biomass or soil. Tilling the soil or removing plants that store carbon in their tissues releases stored carbon.
A company’s carbon footprint is the quantity of carbon emissions that were produced as a result of its operations. Carbon neutrality is achieved by reaching net-zero carbon dioxide emissions, or when the amount of carbon created (emissions) equals the amount of carbon captured (offsets).
Agriculture is a relatively young sector in carbon markets. Farmers play a role in carbon sequestration through the agricultural management activities they use on their farms. A few practices that may sequester carbon are cover crops, reduced/no-tillage, and precision nutrient management.
A carbon program allows individuals and companies to invest in environmental projects that reduce carbon emissions. For farmers, these programs facilitate the sale of the carbon credits/offsets that farmers generate through practices like reduced/no-tillage and cover crops.
What companies pay for varies by program – some will pay for practices, but most are paying for outcomes, or the amount of carbon that has been proven to be sequestered.
Variables that can be included in determining this outcome are not just acres enrolled, but also practices such as cover crops, reduced/no-tillage, and precision nutrient management.
The farmer is the only one who can make this decision. Each program has its own rules and requirements, but some general points to consider include:
- Carbon programs require a commitment to a land management change for the long-term
- Carbon programs work best when they ﬁt overall land management goals and result in multiple benefits
- Ensure your land can meet all eligibility requirements of the carbon project you are considering
- Enter carbon markets with realistic expectations of carbon revenue potential and costs over the full project life
The number of credits a farm will produce will vary depending on current practices and the history of practices the farm has used. Different carbon programs may also use different tactics to measure outcomes.
The current price for carbon ranges from $10-20 per ton per acre. However, the prices depend on the carbon program and the buyer. See this chart to compare the current estimated pricing for programs available in Ohio.
Early adopters that have already implemented conservation practices may or may not be eligible for carbon credits. Payments for these early adopters and historical practices will depend on the carbon program. Keep in mind, these programs are in the early stages of development and could change in the future.
Currently, companies are buying carbon credits resulting from new practices that draw down current emissions, not past emissions, with the goal to reduce carbon from current levels. Past sequestration of carbon does not help them reach their carbon reduction goals. Programs want to baseline and track carbon that is actually sequestered and they have no way of measuring that data from past practices. It is believed that carbon produced today needs to be offset from today.
Different programs have different standards for how long the carbon pool must be maintained. Some programs deduct money from the payment to account for potential non-permanence. Some programs develop an insurance bank to manage non-permanence risk. Permanence assumptions and characteristics will affect the price that will be paid. This would be a good question to ask before enrolling in a program.
You can participate in carbon programs with rented land. Each program may have different requirements for enrolling rented land into the program, so be sure to understand what is required. At least one program available in Ohio requires written approval from the landowner. It is important to let landowners know of participation to avoid any issues in the future.
In general, once a farmer has implemented a practice and used it to participate in a carbon program, the ability to participate in another program is limited. If a farmer stops a practice and no longer participates in a program, it is unclear how much time must lapse before the farmer can re-implement that practice and receive payments from another program.
Farmers will need to provide information about the fields enrolled in a program, such as past and present data about practices such as crop rotation, planting, fertilizing, irrigation. The number of years of data that will need to be provided depends on the program.
Data needed to enroll in carbon programs includes current and historical data about crop rotation, planting, fertilizing, irrigation.
Carbon outcomes can be measured in a variety of ways that will generate their own data, including practices like soil sampling. Make sure you know what data is being collected, how it is being used, and who can see it.
There are three groups who could benefit from sequestered carbon – the seller, the buyer, and the verifier and broker.
The Seller: This is farm and forest landowners. In some cases, this could be the renter, but the value of soil carbon as a commodity will likely benefit the landowner.
The Brokers & Verifiers: The broker usually doesn’t take ownership of carbon credits but helps facilitate the transaction in exchange for a commission. The verifiers evaluate the calculations of the actual amount of carbon reductions that have been avoided or sequestered through the implementation of the practices.
The Buyer: This is the company that has committed to carbon reduction and neutrality goals.
Questions to Ask Before Enrolling in a Carbon Program
- Who has control over selling the carbon credits? The producer or the aggregator?
- Can I stack this program with other programs that compensate for conservation practices or carbon outcomes?
- What is the minimum field size/acreage that is eligible to participate?
- What is the contract length? Will I need to re-enroll?
- Can I remove a field from the program and add it back later? Can I drop out of the program entirely?
- Does it matter if I am not a landowner? What happens if the land ownership changes hands?
- What support is available to me after I enroll?
- Can the carbon credits be stored? If so, how long can they be stored?
- Is there a limit to the number of credits per acre?
- What is the cost to me? Will I need to invest in new technologies or platforms?
- How is carbon measured? Will I have to pay for verification or will the carbon program cover those costs?
- What happens if I am not able to implement the new practice due to the weather? Due to other circumstances?
- What happens if soil carbon doesn’t increase even after I implement the new practices?
- Does the company sell other services or products? Are any of these services/products required to be purchased in order to participate?
- Are any other ecosystem services brokered by the company, such as water quality credits?
- What changes will occur if a market is established?
- How much record keeping will I have to do? How often does the data need to be reported?
- Who owns my data, and what can the aggregator or data manager do with my data? Will they share my data with anyone?
- Which practices do I need to implement on my fields to be eligible for enrollment?
- For how long will I need to adopt or maintain these practices? How long must the carbon stay sequestered?
- I am already doing these practices in my fields. Will these same fields be eligible?
- What specific criteria are being verified to show the performance of practices?
- What is the total amount paid, the portion I get, and the portion the aggregator or data manager gets?
- How will I know the amount carbon credits are selling for?
- How will payments for carbon sequestration be made? Dollars or other currencies?
- What is the payment schedule?
- Does the company pay by practice implemented or by carbon credit?
- Some companies use holdbacks or a percent taken off of the top to cover their role in the process. Are there any fees for this program?
Programs Available to Ohio Farmers
Ecosystem Services Market Consortium
Farmers Business Network Gradable
Soil and Water Outcomes Fund
Compare Programs Side-By-Side
Carbon News Update E-Newsletter
For the latest updates about carbon that affect the soybean industry, sign up for our bi-weekly e-mail newsletter.