Carbon credits mean cash
By John Schlageck
There's a relatively new income potential available for Kansas farmers, ranchers and landowners. It's called carbon credits and can be earned primarily through conservation practices implemented on farms and ranches.
A carbon credit is not something you can taste, smell or see, says Steve Swaffar, Kansas Farm Bureau Natural Resources director.
"You can't reach in the grain bin and grab a handful of carbon credits, and you can't feed a carbon credit to a steer to fatten it for market."
But producers can sell carbon credits like any other farm commodity or product. Farmers and ranchers can be paid for storing carbon in the soil through continuous no-till or strip-till farming, planting of new grasses, specific rangeland management practices, forestry management and methane capture utilizing ag methane digesters.
It's done through a process called "soil-carbon sequestration" which increases soil carbon levels and helps reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, Swaffar explains. Soil-carbon sequestration--taking carbon from the air and placing it in the soil and keeping it there--is simply exchanging the place where carbon is stored, from the air to the ground.
Carbon sequestration is also one of the most cost-effective ways available today for reducing greenhouse gasses. It is estimated agriculture could provide as much as 15 percent of the reduction needed to reduce climate change.
While the carbon aspect of this is clearly aimed at the climate change issue, there are plenty of additional benefits including improving soil quality, decreasing input costs and improving grazing land health. Many Kansas producers are already implementing these practices. Nearly 35 percent of Kansas' tillable acres are in conservation tillage.
Farmers who utilize no-till practices are keeping their soil and nutrients in place on the land where it can benefit crop production. By keeping these nutrients where they belong, they are not finding their way into streams, rivers and underground water supplies.
"Producers who utilize no-till and effective rangeland management practices are benefiting our environment while at the same time helping benefit their bottom lines with better crops and grasses while using fewer inputs," Swaffar says.
Many livestock producers already implement rotational grazing systems, stock their pastures at appropriate rates and limit the number of grazing days so their grasses have adequate time to recover annually. Producers who already implement these conservation practices can simply sign-up and start receiving income.
In 2008, the state's largest agricultural organization partnered with AgraGate Climate Credits Corporation to help enroll Kansas farmers and ranchers in this program.
It only takes a few hours of paperwork and a willingness to sign a five- year contract for a producer or landowner to take part in this program, Swaffar says. He is managing the effort in Kansas.
More than 270,000 acres in 71 Kansas counties have been enrolled in the no-till/strip-till option with AgraGate. In the first rangeland pool enrollment period, more than 30,000 acres in eight counties were signed up in Kansas.
Last year AgraGate paid $4.2 million to producers enrolled across the United States. This is a fraction of the dollars that could have been earned by producers based on the acres already in no-till production or managed for healthy rangeland.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.