Emerging carbon programs pay farmers to lower emissions

Learn about a few of the carbon programs that are available to help farmers meet their sustainability goals, lower their carbon footprint and create a more sustainable value chain while earning money to do so.

Cows Grazing In Field
Mikhail Dudarev | BigStock.com

Carbon programs are still in their infancy, but several organizations in the marketplace offer ways to assist farmers in meeting their sustainability goals, lowering their carbon footprint and creating a more sustainable value chain, and earning money to do so.

In January, Athian sold its first verified carbon credits in the livestock carbon insetting marketplace to Dairy Farmers of America (DFA). Unlike carbon offsetting, carbon insetting keeps the benefits of carbon reduction within a specific industry.

“By embracing the insetting approach, we offer companies a financially viable and scalable option to achieve their goals while supporting systematic changes,” Athian says on its website.

A Texas dairy farmer used Athian’s first accepted protocol to generate carbon credits by reducing enteric methane and improving feed utilization through use of a feed management product and quantification tool from Elanco Animal Health, resulting in nearly 1,150 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) reduction.

Athian said if the entire U.S. dairy industry leveraged this same intervention, it could avoid 4.7 million metric tons of CO2e emissions annually from enteric, feed and manure emissions, accelerating the impact animal agriculture has in being part of the climate solution.

“Finally, farmers are getting access to the tools we need to accelerate the adoption of conservation practices and supplement income on the farm, which will allow us to reinvest in our farm’s stewardship efforts and contribute to the operation’s financial health for the next generation,” said Jasper DeVos, dairy farmer and DFA farmer-owner, in a press release. “The Athian platform is a critical step in ensuring dairy farmers of all sizes can be recognized and rewarded for the investment we are making towards a healthier environment.”

Beef and dairy producers who use Athian’s program select a validated intervention to implement and an accredited, third-party auditor reviews the results of each intervention to ensure protocol compliance, data accuracy, and precise quantification. Certified carbon assets are then sold on Athian’s marketplace, enabling businesses to reduce Scope 3 emissions and paying producers for their efforts.

“It’s exciting to see the full value chain come together to accelerate climate progress,” said Paul Myer, CEO of Athian. “Athian’s carbon credit marketplace is different than the traditional offsetting carbon marketplaces because it keeps the value inside of the animal protein value chain and allows each participant to gain unique value from the transaction. The farmer is able to create a new revenue stream, the food companies who have had challenges meeting their Scope 3 emissions reductions are able to make significant progress and ultimately, we’re able to mark progress against aggressive global goals.”  

Examples of other carbon programs

By 2030, crop inputs provider Nutrien aims to launch a comprehensive carbon program “to accelerate climate-smart agriculture and soil carbon sequestration while rewarding growers for their efforts,” according to its website.

Nutrien is creating a network of growers, suppliers, government and industry players and, in 2022, it began pilot programs on 685,000 acres in North America, with growers collaborating with approximately 10 suppliers and downstream partners.

“Our whole-acre solutions approach supports a program that aims to be capable of generating high-quality carbon outcomes for both voluntary and regulated carbon markets,” Nutrien’s website says. “Although global carbon markets and protocols for agricultural systems remain immature, through our direct engagement with growers, we have advanced our capabilities to support program expansion and focused on a practical and science-based approach. Our collaboration with growers and value-chain partners will likely remain foundational to our efforts as we continue to build and scale sustainability programming going forward.”

The Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC) is a nonprofit organization that compensates farmers and ranchers for improving the environment through their agricultural practices, with a focus on soil health. Its program, Eco-Harvest, reduces greenhouse gases (GHG), improves water quality and increases other ecosystems services to benefit society, ESMC says on its website.

ESMC is conducting Eco-Harvest projects for market and pilot projects, it said.

“Eco-Harvest market projects are those that are market ready and where all components have been market tested and are launched at scale across market project regions. Eco-Harvest pilot projects are those that are focusing on research and innovation questions. Eco-Harvest pilot projects typically run for one to two years and are intended to roll over into scaled Eco-Harvest market projects once the identified research questions have been answered and market readiness criteria are achieved,” ESMC said in its producer guide.

Agoro Carbon Alliance, started by global crop nutrition company Yara International, gives farmers carbon credit incentives, agronomic expertise and technology to sequester carbon in their soils.

“Our objective is to drive a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere while improving farmers’ and ranchers’ livelihoods and reducing food insecurity,” the company says on its website.

Farmers and ranchers that enroll in the Agoro Carbon program gain access to professionals that can help them implement sustainable practices, which can offer an additional source of income through carbon credit payments as well as better soil health and productivity improvements.

According to Agoro’s website, carbon payments are made for new tons of carbon captured above the baseline and are measured in tons. A per-ton price is established for each payment method, and allows for market price appreciation during the length of the contract.

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