Beyond Cover Crops and Tillage: How Can We Calculate Farm Carbon Emissions?

Calculating carbon emissions from agricultural practices is a topic that has been garnering a lot of attention recently, especially as end-users of ag products start examining the sustainability of their entire supply chain.

Quantifying carbon emissions and sequestration isn’t a simple process, and neither is navigating carbon market opportunities. But a new sustainability marketplace is looking to change that.

This was the topic of discussion for an Agri-Pulse webinar hosted by Editor-in-Chief Sara Wyant. The panelists included Bruce Knight, principal and founder at Strategic Conservation Solutions; Grey Montgomery, global leader, strategy and corporate development at DTN®; and Ben West, Ph.D., executive director at Farmers for Soil Health.


Measuring Carbon Takes a Systems Approach

To begin the discussion, Bruce provided an overview of carbon markets, the opportunities they present, and the many facets involved in their operation. He also explained that carbon opportunities go beyond measuring soil carbon; it’s a complex system that includes measuring carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) for many different assets.

Not only is measuring carbon complicated, but Bruce noted that the carbon markets also have many contract parameters. It’s this complexity that both DTN and Farmers for Soil Health are hoping to reduce.


A New Carbon Market Model

Grey spoke about how DTN and their partners, including Farmers for Soil Health, are aiming to address some of the challenges associated with carbon markets by developing a sustainability marketplace that benefits all entities in the supply chain.

“quantifying carbon emissions and sequestration isn’t a simple process…”
“…carbon opportunities go beyond measuring soil carbon”

In this new model, farmers using sustainable practices would receive premiums and grain elevators would get a cut of that premium, too. Additionally, food, feed, fuel, and fiber processors would gain access to at-scale carbon accounting which they can use for net-zero consumer demands, Scope 3 emissions reporting, ESG reporting or tax credits like 45Z.

Consumers would also see supply chain transparency. Grey noted that the new sustainability marketplace aims to serve everyone in the supply chain better, especially farmers.


Access Farm Sustainability Data with EcoField™ data

To assist with development of the sustainability marketplace, DTN recently launched EcoField data, a comprehensive data set that provides the carbon sequestration level of individual farms. Grey explained that the data is not only collected from remote sensing, but also estimates some of the “unseeable” data like fertilization practices.

EcoField data can be used as a starting point for Scope 3 emissions reporting as well as for targeting the right farmers for carbon market opportunities.


Collaboration Supports Sustainable Farming

Ben introduced Farmers for Soil Health, which started as a collaboration between the United Soybean Board, the National Corn Growers Association and the National Pork Board, and aims to advance sustainability and conservation on U.S. farmland. He mentioned that the collaboration will pursue many initiatives, but right now their primary focus is the Climate-Smart Commodities partnership that was awarded a $95 million USDA grant to advance cover crops and a sustainability marketplace in 20 states.

Ben explained that the USDA grant will cover three buckets of work including technical assistance, financial assistance and the sustainability marketplace Grey mentioned.

For the technical assistance component, Farmers for Soil Health will provide local, in-person technical assistance for farmers about cover crops and how to decipher market opportunities associated with cover crops.


USDA Grant Reduces the Risk of Trying Cover Crops

A large portion of the USDA grant, $70 million, will go to farmers who try cover crops. Farmers who enroll in the program, a three-year commitment, will receive $50 per acre spread over three years: $25 per acre in the first year, $15 in the second and $10 in the third.

This schedule is due to research that shows it takes three years to break even, so the program helps farmers mitigate the risk of trying something new.

Ben admits that other programs pay more but notes that one of the barriers for entering other cover crop programs is their complexity. The Farmers for Soil Health program is much simpler as it is 100 percent online and has a low time investment of just 5 to 10 minutes to enroll. Monitoring and verification are done remotely by DTN as Ben explains in the video below.

Enrollment is open now for the cover crop program. Ben commented that they have a goal over the next five years of enrolling 1.3 million acres and for farmers to be leaders in the sustainability space even more than they have been.

Watch the entire “Beyond Cover Crops and Tillage” webinar now to hear the panel discuss sustainability marketplace transparency, additional information about the cover crop program and why companies are interested in more than just carbon credits.

At DTN, our priority is to provide objective, measurable insights to agribusinesses and energy companies as they work to incorporate sustainability into their business. Learn more about DTN sustainability data in agriculture and how it can help accelerate profitable business actions that also meet ESG goals.