A Major Milestone for Measuring the Climate Benefit of Agriculture

By Max DuBuisson, Director of Carbon Policy, Indigo Ag

The agricultural carbon market just took a major leap forward: In October, rigorous protocols for “soil enrichment” carbon credits were approved and published by two of the world’s leading offset standard-setting bodies, Verra and the Climate Action Reserve. This unlocks the industry's potential to become an immediate part of the climate solution both by drawing down and sequestering carbon, as well as reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, through practice changes supported by technology and data advancements. These innovative protocols incorporate the policy and scientific advancements necessary to finally unlock the massive global potential for offset projects on cropland and grazing land.

Along with the protocols, the market is also seeing a surge in demand for these credits. Spurred by employee and consumer concern for a healthy and sustainable future and a need to deliver impactful environmental and social good solutions, companies large and small are investing in farmers who are regenerating their soil and reducing their emissions. With their support, farmers are motivated to adopt and progress these regenerative practices, anticipating a new revenue stream and benefits for the environment, their community, and consumers.

The voluntary market for agricultural carbon credits has, up until this point, has been ineffective at incentivizing these specific and unique opportunities at scale. It has instead been made up of small projects, with a buyer and supplier who had a strong relationship, but which were not able to scale to the market size of forest management or industrial emission reduction projects. 

This has left a gaping hole in the voluntary market for natural climate solutions such as agriculture. There have been attempts in the past – the USDA and many NGOs and charitable foundations have done great work to try and make carbon credits work for ag, specifically. But only with a swelling of interest from private companies have we seen mobilization of the capital and resources necessary to make it a reality. Both the supply and demand sides of the market are stepping up in a big way.

The most exciting part of the new protocols may be how implementable and adaptable they are. Farmers can choose from several different practice categories, adjust or switch practices over time, and stack practices together to amplify the measurable benefits. Carbon policy is finally meeting the farmers where they are and working with them from the soil up, rather than the top down, to drive climate smart practice changes and support farm incomes. And they can get started immediately – implementing cover crops and reducing tillage this season, for example. Indigo is already using these new protocols to create credits with farmers across the country, and an elite vanguard of corporate buyers have committed to purchase them.

My background is in biology and environmental management, and I've always been looking for ways that the business engine that drives our economy can be co-opted and repurposed to make environmental good. Agriculture is the perfect place to do that. There are negative environmental impacts of farming that don't need to be there, and farmers themselves would benefit from solutions to those negative impacts.

If we can scale up the potential of soil enrichment across the globe, we will be able to crack the opportunity of this industry wide open, benefiting the soil, the atmosphere, the ecosystem, the economy, and local communities, all at the same time.

When I first started talking to folks at Indigo about a year ago before I joined the company, and started to learn more about the vertical integration of the company–all the way from the actions on the field, to the scientific developments, through to the credit sales, with every piece in between–I was really excited. A lot of previous ag carbon projects I had watched or worked on over the past decade had too many dissociated players to implement quickly or scale effectively. But Indigo brings together the farmers, scientists, and project developers to get things done.

It’s the very beginning of a new way to go engage with farmers not only to reduce their GHG emissions, but to actually pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and put it in the ground where it belongs. Farmers are what distinguish these carbon credits from the rest of the market. As they make sustainable management decisions and produce the food we all eat, they are also making a difference for the climate crisis.