Carbon farming is the process of changing agricultural practices to increase the levels of carbon in the soil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This type of regenerative agriculture prioritizes soil health.
Simply put, it’s farmers implementing agronomic practices that solve challenges while increasing carbon in the soil or decreasing emissions. By adding these practices to your operation, you can earn carbon credits through carbon programs. Businesses will buy those credits to offset the emissions they can’t reduce, which means you get paid for implementing those practice changes. That is carbon farming—growing your existing crops with new practices to create new revenue that benefits the environment and your operation.
The three main practice changes that experts rally around include:
- Cover crops
- Reducing tillage
- Improving nutrient application efficiency
These three practices are well-researched and their effectiveness at drawing down, or sequestering, carbon is published in peer-reviewed literature. That means, we know it works. While sequestering carbon can add a new revenue stream to your operation, it can also help you build healthier soils.
Tom Lawler is a Regenerative Agronomist with Indigo. “The beauty of being able to put carbon in the soil is pretty simple. It dials back down to how plants were designed to work,” he says. Drawing down carbon is key for photosynthesis, but it has many benefits that affect the stability of your soils and your profits such as:
Better Soil Structure
Carbon in the soil leads to improved soil structure. Water and air can better infiltrate, which means the field can store water more effectively. “All in all, we create a better sponge that holds water for when our cash crops need it for later on in the growing season when we hit some of those dry spells,” Lawler explains. Making the soil more stable between those wet and dry periods makes your operation more resilient to the weather—one of the key stressors farmers face.
Increasing carbon also helps you decrease costs. When farmers reduce tillage, they’re also reducing the number of passes they have to make in a field, reducing fuel, labor, and equipment costs. Nutrient management can also reduce fertilizer costs by having carefully timed nutrient applications and honing in on nutrient placement to apply optimal amounts of nitrogen fertilizer. Over time, both practices free up money and time.
If weeds, water, or pests cause problems on your farm, cover crops can help you take control. Cover crops are planted between cash crops to cover the soil. They can smother out weeds, keep pests away, enhance water availability and slow erosion. Different cover crops do different things. If you’re interested in trying cover crops and want help getting started, check out Indigo’s Cover Crop Selection Tool.
Securing the future
All the benefits mentioned above culminate in having healthier soils that can be productive for years to come. “We’re also seeing that we’re enhancing the quality of the soil and leaving a legacy behind for the next generation of improved soil from where we started,” Lawler explains. But it’s not just the soil that is improved through carbon farming. Generating quality credits that businesses want adds to the operation’s financial diversity. Carbon farming means making changes that make your whole operation healthier and more resilient.