IFB offers advice for farmers interested in carbon markets

Illinois Farm Bureau members across the state share a variety of concerns about developing, incentive-based carbon markets.

“We continue to meet with farmers all over Illinois, and one thing we have heard loud and clear is that our members need additional information from sources they trust,” said Lauren Lurkins, IFB’s director of environmental policy. “We will continue our advocacy in this space as the government continues to work on the issue and share information as we learn it.”

These developing, voluntary markets would allow farmers to sell credits in exchange for performing specific farming practices, such as no-till and cover crops, as well as monitoring and verification of those practices. Payments are outcome-based, not practice-based like most NRCS programs now. The projected or expected outcomes are generated mostly from models.

More than 200 people responded to an IFB action request seeking input on a federal climate-smart agriculture strategy. “Many people are commenting that the payments they’re seeing now don’t make it worth the effort and they’re worried that these markets are not as developed as they need to be for people to actually enter them,” Lurkins said.

In addition, Lurkins said generally members’ concerns fall into six categories they see as barriers to market access. They include:

  • Verification. How will the conservation/farming practices be verified, measured and monitored? Will it be through on-farm visits, satellite imagery, soil tests, models – or something else? Who will do the work? Who will have access to that information?
  • Additionality. “We hear from early adopters who have identified these practices years ago and been implementing them,” Lurkins said. “They’re trying to access some of these programs that exist today and are not able to do so.
  • Permanence. What timescale does row-crop farming need to consider for purposes of carbon sequestration? What about livestock farms?
  • Control. What about elements beyond individual farmer control like weather and land/tenant relationships?
  • Financial. How much will these practices cost? Who pays
  • Technology. What technology and training will be needed to participate in these markets?

Meanwhile, new corporate carbon initiative and programs seem to develop each day, she said, with little transparency or consistency. She offered the following advice to farmers thinking about participating in a corporate initiative:

  • Don’t limit your options. Avoid a program that would minimize potential to participate in future government or private programs.
  • Data collection and stewardship. Consider what data is being requested and if it is truly germane to carbon or being gathered for another purpose. Consider what steps the company will take for data stewardship.
  • Longevity of the commitment. These are long-term commitments, so consider the track record of the company involved.
  • Follow the money. Find out where the money is coming from and how it filters down to the farmer. What is the payment schedule? What happens to payments if terms are not met?
  • How is the carbon valued? Which models are being used? The true value of carbon is currently unknown.

This story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.