Advancing Soil
Carbon Science

To unlock agriculture as a climate solution, we’ve set out to create the highest quality ag carbon program, backed by rigorous science and certification.

High-Quality Ag Soil Carbon Credits are Being Generated by Following Rigorous, Scientifically Robust Protocols

Carbon by Indigo leverages third-party protocols from leading global registries – the Climate Action Reserve and Verra – enabling global scale.

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The Road to a New Crop: Indigo’s Monitoring Plan for Generating Carbon Credits

September 21, 2021: Carbon by Indigo is helping achieve long-term climate impact by directly supporting farmer adoption of sustainable practices that remove carbon from and abate GHG emissions to the atmosphere. As of July 15, 2021, the initial filing period for grower data has officially closed; we have the fields that will generate carbon credits for the program's inaugural reporting period (covering the 2019 and 2020 cultivation years) in view. Now, we are turning to the verification phase: an independent, third-party validation and verification body (VVB) will assess our project performance and credit quantification against registry rules. For a clearer picture of the tools and methods Indigo is deploying to bring payments to farmers, we are offering the below outline of our initial monitoring plan.

The first carbon project created under Carbon by Indigo is listed with the Climate Action Reserve. The Project ID is CAR1459 and the project name is “Indigo U.S. Project No. 1.” Carbon by Indigo will also include projects listed in the VCS Program, at Verra. However, the details below are largely similar between the two programs.

Chapter 1: Project Details

Our program promotes agricultural management practices that can reduce net emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide and encourage increased soil organic carbon storage. During each reporting period, we measure, monitor, and model thousands of fields to harvest this new crop. The details of this chapter are to summarize the project, the participating companies and consultants who contributed to the generation of emissions reductions, and who maintains definitive ownership over the carbon credits.

1.1. Relevant Standards
1.2. Summary Description of the Project
1.3. Project Developer
1.4. Other Entities Involved in the Project
1.5. Project Ownership

Chapter 2: Environmental Safeguards and Non-GHG Impacts of the Project Activities

While climate impacts are the primary focus of the carbon project, it is important that climate benefits do not come at the expense of other environmental metrics. At an operational level, our program must understand participating acres’ land management changes with field-level precision; only then can we ensure climate change mitigation activities enacted as part of our program follow environmental regulations and applicable laws without generating environmental or social harm. Further, our project activities generate co-benefits such as reduced soil erosion, improved water quality, increased rural incomes, and enhanced resilience to extreme weather events. 

2.1. No Net Harm 

2.2. Local Stakeholder Consultation 

2.3. Sustainable Development Impacts of Project Activities 

Chapter 3: Application of Protocol and Project Eligibility

To qualify for Carbon by Indigo, growers need to implement new land management practice changes that reduce emissions and increase soil organic carbon storage and meet the eligibility requirements of the Soil Enrichment Protocol (SEP). Qualifying practice categories include crop planting and harvesting, tillage and residue management, and nitrogen application. Growers are paid for the net tonnes of carbon sequestered or emissions abated from these practices over a 10-year period, with an option for renewal up to two times for a total potential of 30-years, as defined by the SEP.  

Once the qualifying practice has been established, ongoing monitoring and data collection ensures each field generating credits under Carbon by Indigo adheres to the requirements defined by the SEP. These requirements include reviewing the fields’ historical practices with respect to the current practices to ensure that an accurate and conservative emission reduction can be quantified within the appropriate time periods and geographic locations.  

Credits are defined as permanent if the atmospheric benefits of the emission reductions are protected by the GHG crediting program for the equivalent of 100 years. This is achieved through both the protection of the physical carbon storage within the project area and programmatic safeguards to compensate the system for any potential reversals. To ensure the permanence of carbon stored in the soil Indigo employs a combination of remote and on-site data collection, registry-held internal buffer pool (insurance against “natural catastrophes”), compensation obligations, vested payment schedules, net basis accounting, reversal reporting, and internal mechanisms (e.g., an internal buffer pool). 

3.1 Project Definition 

3.1.1 Project Activities 
3.1.2 Project Area 
3.1.1 Project Aggregation
3.2 Project Outreach 

3.3 Project Location 

3.4 Project Start Date 

3.5 Project Crediting Period 

3.6 Reporting Period 

3.7 Defining Baseline Scenarios 

3.8 Additionality 

3.8.1 Performance Standard Test 
3.8.2 Legal Requirement Test 
3.8.3 Payment Stacking 

3.9 Permanence 

3.9.1 Overview of Approach to Permanence 
 3.9.2 Project Implementation Agreement (PIA) 

3.10 Regulator Compliance 

Chapter 4: Project GHG Boundary

The greenhouse gas assessment boundary defines the sources, sinks, and reservoirs (SSRs) of GHGs affected by the project activitiesCarbon by Indigo focuses primarily on the soil organic carbon impacts, as well as significant changes to emissions of N2O and CH4. This chapter details which SSRs are included within the project boundary, and the methods used for monitoring and quantification of each SSR during the reporting period.

Chapter 5: Quantification of GHG Emission Reductions and Removals

When seeking to scale the crediting of real climate impact, scientifically defensible and operationally feasible quantification is key. This chapter describes in detail the methods used to quantify greenhouse gas emission reductions and removals, including the use of direct soil measurement, default equations, and biogeochemical modeling. 

As this is an aggregated project, the method of quantification leverages a sample-based approach where a subset of the project fields are directly measured and modeled to quantify the emission reductions and soil organic carbon sequestration. The results of the models and default equations attribute an average emission reduction per acre to groupings of fields in the project based on agronomic and geographic characteristics via stratification. Furthermore, assessments such as leakage are conducted to ensure the emission reductions generated in the project were solely due to the implementation of a qualifying practice defined in Chapter 3. Within each quantification step, Indigo ensures conservativeness is strictly applied in alignment with the international standards for environmental accounting (ex. ISO 14064-2).  

5.1 Quantification Approaches Applied 

5.1.1 Modeled and Default Equations Map 
5.2 Sample Design 
5.2.1 Population 
5.2.2 Sample Designs Used to Choose Sample Points 
5.2.3 Assignment of Sample Types to Sample Points 

5.3 Modeling Baseline Scenarios 

5.3.1 Constructing parallel modeled baseline threads 
5.3.2 Using matched and blended modeled baseline 
5.3.3 Non-modeled (Non-SOC) Baselines 
5.3.4 Calculations Using Modeled and Default Baselines 

5.4 Results of Quantification 

5.4.1 Reversible and Non-Reversible Emission Reductions 
5.4.2 Soil Organic Carbon Stock Change 
5.4.3 Methane Emission Reductions 
5.4.4 Nitrous Oxide Emission Reductions 
5.4.5 De Minimis Calculations 
5.4.6 Uncertainty 
5.4.6.1 Post-stratification and Strategies to Reduce Absolute Bias and Variance 
5.4.7 Buffer Pool Contribution 

5.5 Leakage 

5.5.1 Accounting for Leakage from Livestock Displacement 
5.5.2 Accounting for Leakage from Yield Reduction of Cash Crops 

Chapter 6: Monitoring & Data Collection

Indigo employs detailed monitoring and data collection to ensure the high-quality quantification of reductions and removals. The basis of this chapter describes how we ensure scientific rigor and data scrutiny along the carbon crediting process. 

Soil sample collection is part of the data gathering process and is specific to the sampling depth, procurement and handling methods, composite sampling methods, sanitation requirements, and shipping standard operation procedures. Data collected from these soil samples are used as model inputs, supporting model calibration and validation across practice categories, crop functional groups, and emission source combinations.  

Further quality control processes are conducted to ensure grower data completeness and confidence and to facilitate evidence review, confirmation, and grower outreach and follow-up as needed. An overview of data processing, data sources, and the importance and enabling of auditing, data provenance, and reproducibility are detailed in this chapter.

We are planning to monitor and account for potential reversals across the project during the permanence period. The efforts to collect data and estimate CRTs at the project level for growers in the program are covered in other sections throughout the monitoring plan, including, but not limited to, subsection 6.2.1 Data Collection from growers above. 

6.1 Data and Parameters Used 

6.1.1 Infrastructure and Tools 

6.1.2 Data and Parameters 

6.2 Data Collection and Data Sources 

6.2.1 Data Collection from Growers 
6.2.2 Project Data Sources 

6.3 Field Boundaries 

6.4 Soil Sampling 

6.4.1 Sample Collection 
6.4.2 Soil Analysis 

6.5 Use of Models 

6.5.1 Model Calibration and Validation 
6.5.2 Model Application 
6.5.3 Model Data Transformations 

6.6 Ongoing Monitoring 

6.6.1 Ongoing Monitoring –– Cropland 
6.6.2 Ongoing Monitoring –– Grazing 

6.7 Data Handling, QA/QC, and Processing  

6.7.1 The Carbon Data Pipeline and Gates  
6.7.2 Auditing, Provenance, and Reproducibility 

Chapter 7: Index of Project Documentation

Due to the level of complexity of the project, there are often supporting materials that are provided with a monitoring plan to better describe the operations of the project and how we were able to accommodate the requirements outlined in the SEP. For example, in Chapter 6 our team provides a general description of the internal QA/QC that is conducted to ensure the data flowing through the program are accurate and approved for credit generation. To support this summarya supporting document provides details of the specific logic implemented in the software to flag issues, request reviews, and pass the data for credit generation.  

Conclusion

Creating agricultural carbon credits is complex and requires a significant amount of coordination between growers, data collection systems, quantification methods, and GHG crediting programs, which in turn makes them unique. With the scaled implementation of practices that “farm carbon,” we have an opportunity to replenish an overly depleted carbon sink while realizing ecosystem benefits, such as healthier soils, increased biodiversity, and resilience to extreme weather events. 

If this overview of our monitoring report should spark curiosity in Carbon by Indigo, please reach out to join on the collaboration and dialogue around this significant nature-based climate solution. 

Advancing Soil Carbon Science Depends on Vigorous Collaboration

We are working with organizations across the science and policy communities to advance understanding and adoption of soil carbon sequestration.

Carbon Experimentation field research provides a foundational dataset and case studies that keep Carbon by Indigo on the forefront of science

Indigo’s Carbon Experimentation team launched fall sampling in September 2021 for year 3 of the long-term study, the Soil Carbon Experiment (SCX).

During year 3, we are re-sampling over 100 fields currently enrolled in SCX and will perform initial sampling on new fields joining the program – gathering data on soil organic carbon, bulk density, soil health, and other measures on soil samples, including some down to a 1-m depth. These samples come from a mix of regeneratively and conventionally managed fields – including a subset of split-field trials with both management systems.

SCX data and case studies help Indigo: understand credit generation potential, minimize grower data burden, and improve unit economics. 

Advancing Policy Development

Peer-reviewed Article 📝

Implementing the Soil Enrichment Protocol at Scale: Opportunities for an Agricultural Carbon Market

Generating high-quality – and therefore high value – agricultural carbon credits is important to mitigate climate change but also challenging due to the breadth and depth of their data requirements. This paper provides a deep-dive into the novelty and scientific underpinnings of the Climate Action Reserve Soil Enrichment Protocol and why it unlocks scalable carbon crediting potential for beneficial agriculture.

Read Full Paper
Policy Brief

Policy Opportunities for Climate Smart Agricultural Practices

Policymakers can help our growers and ranchers transition to climate-smart agricultural practices by implementing and supporting policies that increase regenerative practice adoption and offset grower risk through incentive payments or tax credits while endorsing scientifically accurate rigorous crediting standards. Our recommendations focus on mitigating upfront costs to growers and providing access to technical assistance and agronomic resources.

Read Full Brief
Policy Brief

Carbon Market for Climate Smart Agricultural Practices

Direct soil measurement, biogeochemical modeling, and leveraging technologies like remote sensing are key to scaling a high-quality carbon market. Federal policies should support both basic soil research and endorse high standards for carbon credits to reduce credit uncertainty and enable higher payments to growers.

Read Full Brief
Policy Brief

Harnessing Agricultural Data with Standards & Interoperabiity

High-quality carbon credits require precise, verifiable, and traceable soil and agronomic data from project fields. Data collection and analysis has high costs for project developers and growers alike and can be duplicative across carbon and research programs nationwide. The USDA is best positioned to reduce data collection burden for growers and harmonize data sets based on their trusted role in US agriculture.

Read Full Brief

The Progress of Advancing Soil Carbon Science to Unlock Agriculture as a Climate Solution

Understand the milestones unfolding as agriculture becomes a viable and scalable part of the climate conversation.

1990s

1990 - Clean Air Act: Expanding on air quality legislation, an amendment of the Clean Air Act introduced measures to ​cap and reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen ​oxides (NOx) ​emissions, leading causes of acid rain. ​Coupled with regulation limiting the production and use of ozone-destroying chemicals, the Clean Air Act led to a significant decrease in US air pollution concentrations.

1997 - Kyoto Protocol: Signed on December 11, this operationalized the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by committing industrialized countries and economies in transition to limit and reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions in accordance with agreed individual targets. The protocol was ratified in 2005​ and applied to seven greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), and Nitrous Oxide (N2O), which constitute the leading sources of agricultural GHG emissions. The Kyoto Protocol also introduced three new mechanisms for flexibility that would inform carbon markets for years to come: international emissions trading, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and Joint Implementation (JI).

1990 - Clean Air Act: Expanding on air quality legislation, an amendment of the Clean Air Act introduced measures to ​cap and reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen ​oxides (NOx) ​emissions, leading causes of acid rain. ​Coupled with regulation limiting the production and use of ozone-destroying chemicals, the Clean Air Act led to a significant decrease in US air pollution concentrations.

1997 - Kyoto Protocol: Signed on December 11, this operationalized the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by committing industrialized countries and economies in transition to limit and reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions in accordance with agreed individual targets. The protocol was ratified in 2005​ and applied to seven greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), and Nitrous Oxide (N2O), which constitute the leading sources of agricultural GHG emissions. The Kyoto Protocol also introduced three new mechanisms for flexibility that would inform carbon markets for years to come: international emissions trading, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and Joint Implementation (JI).

2000-2005

2001 - The Climate Action Registry (CAR) launched: Originally founded by the State of California as the California Climate Action Registry, the Reserve (a private, nonprofit organization) set the stage for US voluntary and compliance offset programs. This keystone effort ignited the North American carbon market and helped to promote and innovate, credible, high-integrity, and transparent market-based climate change solutions that benefit economies, ecosystems, and society.

2005 - The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI): Governors from nine states developed a regional cap-and-trade program addressing CO2 emissions from power plants, ​a first-of-its-kind effort that has yielded billions of dollars of net economic benefits and has now expanded to eleven states.

2001 - The Climate Action Registry (CAR) launched: Originally founded by the State of California as the California Climate Action Registry, the Reserve (a private, nonprofit organization) set the stage for US voluntary and compliance offset programs. This keystone effort ignited the North American carbon market and helped to promote and innovate, credible, high-integrity, and transparent market-based climate change solutions that benefit economies, ecosystems, and society.

2005 - The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI): Governors from nine states developed a regional cap-and-trade program addressing CO2 emissions from power plants, ​a first-of-its-kind effort that has yielded billions of dollars of net economic benefits and has now expanded to eleven states.

2006-2009

2006: California enacted the California Global Warming Solutions Act (CA GWSA) required by law the sharp reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, within the state. Assembly Bill 32 (AB32) resulted in the first program in the country to take a long-term approach to addressing climate change that looks to improve the environment and natural resources while maintaining a strong economy.

2009: The American Clean Energy and Security Act, also known as Waxman Markey, was supposed to be a pivotal piece of federal legislation that would have established a Federal cap-and-trade program, similar to the EU Emission Trading Scheme. Though the bill did not become law, an increase in sub-national level climate action ensued, driven by the progress of the California program.

2006: California enacted the California Global Warming Solutions Act (CA GWSA) required by law the sharp reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, within the state. Assembly Bill 32 (AB32) resulted in the first program in the country to take a long-term approach to addressing climate change that looks to improve the environment and natural resources while maintaining a strong economy.

2009: The American Clean Energy and Security Act, also known as Waxman Markey, was supposed to be a pivotal piece of federal legislation that would have established a Federal cap-and-trade program, similar to the EU Emission Trading Scheme. Though the bill did not become law, an increase in sub-national level climate action ensued, driven by the progress of the California program.

2010-2015

2010 - Increasing interest in agriculture: Voluntary and compliance offset programs put increased resources into the development of high-quality offset project protocols and methodologies. Starting around 2010, and continuing through today, development included protocols covering nitrogen fertilizer management, rice methane reductions, grassland conservation, grazing management, enteric fermentation, and others. Given technical and financial barriers, few of these protocols saw widespread success in the form of verified credit issuances. However, significant progress was made in science, policy, and stakeholder engagement, ultimately enabling the development of the improved protocols employed by Indigo.

2011: California Air Resources Board adopts four of the Reserve’s offset protocols setting a precedent for policy to follow private sector and voluntary market work within the carbon sector. The Livestock Compliance Offset Protocol (targeting anaerobic digestion of manure) becomes the first agricultural offset protocol in a domestic compliance program.

2010 - Increasing interest in agriculture: Voluntary and compliance offset programs put increased resources into the development of high-quality offset project protocols and methodologies. Starting around 2010, and continuing through today, development included protocols covering nitrogen fertilizer management, rice methane reductions, grassland conservation, grazing management, enteric fermentation, and others. Given technical and financial barriers, few of these protocols saw widespread success in the form of verified credit issuances. However, significant progress was made in science, policy, and stakeholder engagement, ultimately enabling the development of the improved protocols employed by Indigo.

2011: California Air Resources Board adopts four of the Reserve’s offset protocols setting a precedent for policy to follow private sector and voluntary market work within the carbon sector. The Livestock Compliance Offset Protocol (targeting anaerobic digestion of manure) becomes the first agricultural offset protocol in a domestic compliance program.

2016-2019

2016 ​- Paris Agreement/COP25, SDGs Ratified: The Agreement gave countries the opportunity to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

2019: In June, Indigo Ag launched our carbon program with a mission to activate the full potential of agriculture to combat the climate crisis by enabling the creation of a new class of high-quality, nature-based carbon credits which stimulate system-wide beneficial change.

2016 ​- Paris Agreement/COP25, SDGs Ratified: The Agreement gave countries the opportunity to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

2019: In June, Indigo Ag launched our carbon program with a mission to activate the full potential of agriculture to combat the climate crisis by enabling the creation of a new class of high-quality, nature-based carbon credits which stimulate system-wide beneficial change.

2020-2021

2020 - Climate-Smart Agriculture gains momentum:

  • Interest in climate-smart agriculture grows as businesses and policymakers across the globe increasingly realize the value of strong land stewardship and the World Food Prize is awarded to Rattan Lal for his soil health work.
  • Carbon by Indigo announces initial cohorts of supporting companies committed to help catalyze change.

2021: In November, COP26 is scheduled to gather with the hopes of bringing parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (​UNFCCC). ​

2020 - Climate-Smart Agriculture gains momentum:

  • Interest in climate-smart agriculture grows as businesses and policymakers across the globe increasingly realize the value of strong land stewardship and the World Food Prize is awarded to Rattan Lal for his soil health work.
  • Carbon by Indigo announces initial cohorts of supporting companies committed to help catalyze change.

2021: In November, COP26 is scheduled to gather with the hopes of bringing parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (​UNFCCC). ​

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Carbon by Indigo For Farmers

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Relevant Standards

Climate Action Reserve

Verra

Other Important Quality Standards & References