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Ryan Stockwell, PhD, is the The Nature Conservancy's Director of North America Regenerative Crop Systems Strategy
The clear trend in agriculture is toward reducing carbon emissions and increasing carbon sequestration through the adoption of regenerative farming practices, like no-till, cover crops, diverse crop rotation, and agroforestry. The adoption of these practices has been supported by tremendous growth in carbon sequestration opportunities for growers—from carbon credits to USDA-funded climate-smart commodity projects to supply chain Scope 3 emissions reductions opportunities.
What isn’t as clear is how these opportunities will firmly benefit farmers for the value they provide, including carbon sequestration and emission reduction, improved water quality, and enhanced wildlife habitat. While some farmers are participating in climate-smart opportunities, adoption of regenerative practices isn’t happening fast enough or reaching far enough to outpace the impacts of climate change in the agriculture industry. In order to encourage more farmers to adopt or increase use of regenerative practices, climate-smart programs must keep the economic and societal well-being of farmers at the forefront. But how? And what would that look like? Certainly, ensuring farmers are fairly compensated helps. But as most farmers can attest, it takes more than incentives to implement a new practice.
In this conversation, my guests, Ariel Kagan with the Minnesota Farmers Union and Tom Cotter, an innovative Minnesota farmer, offer key insights about components and strategies to ensure climate-smart agriculture opportunities successfully engage farmers:
Ariel Kagan: Farmers have a long history and established trust with cooperatives. Ensuring cooperatives have a seat at the table and a role to play will be an important step. Farmers want climate resilience—the agronomic and on-farm benefits of climate friendly practices. Clarifying those benefits and how to best achieve them in local settings will help farmers engage.
Tom Cotter: Increasing farmer access to agronomic research and knowledge would break down a significant barrier. Access to new equipment for planting cover crops (either owned or custom applied by cooperatives) will help. At the end of the day, farmers want to earn fair compensation for the value they provide, rather than a handout. It is still about hard work and a fair share.