Farmers understand that the soil is the bedrock in which the crops they sow will grow. From both business and ecological perspectives, implementing practices that build soil health just makes sense. It isn’t any wonder why regenerative farming has gained such a foothold among farmers looking to make changes in the way they manage farms.
There are new opportunities to be had with soil-building farm practices. Proper documentation of the journey provides a new income stream for farmers through carbon farming credits.
“How do I get carbon credits?” The answer to this question lies within two aspects — practice changes and data verification. While most of the conversations about carbon farming focus on adopting regenerative practices, it is worth knowing that the information provided by the farmer supports the creation of the carbon credits themselves.
Feel free to skip ahead to specific MRV topics in this article:
Farming practices for soil carbon sequestration
What’s distinct about farming that leads to generating carbon credits for income is adopting practices that build soil carbon. The process of drawing carbon from the atmosphere and fixing them in the soil for storage is known as soil carbon sequestration.
Sequestering carbon into the soil is a natural process between the plants and soil, and so is carbon being released into the air. Think of carbon farming as beefing up the condition of the soil so that it can store more carbon than it would release. Thereby providing a natural solution to climate change with financial incentives to farmers for changing to sustainable farm practices.
While the goal of farming is to produce crops, not every farming practice benefits the soil the same as others. In fact, some can be damaging and contribute not just to climate change and emissions, but also to the growing global problem of soil loss.
Depending on farm conditions, the list below shows some of the most recommended farming practices for soil carbon credits:
- Reduced fertilizer application
- Reduced tillage
- Improved residue management
- Eliminating bare fallows
- Increased production of cover crops
- Sowing companion crops
- Improved task efficiency
- Improved water management
- Fuel-use efficiency
How do I get carbon credits from farming?
Transitioning to carbon farming helps to increase carbon sequestration, reduce farm-related greenhouse gas emissions, and improve the climate resilience of crop production. Other benefits to carbon farming are also directly linked to farm productivity and environmental enhancements that serve to protect the livelihood of farmers in the long term.
To generate carbon credits from farming, practice changes is just one piece of the puzzle. Typically, a farmer can expect the process listed below in 6 concise steps when planning to produce carbon credits for income.
- Connect with a carbon program
- Initial farm assessment
- Creating a carbon farming practice plan
- Implementation and recording of data
- Earning from carbon credits
Keeping track of farming progress through MRV
Changes in farming practices are the biggest predictor of how well a farm stores carbon in the soil. But knowing how well (or poorly) the farm responds to farming changes is another step in the process.
In carbon farming, measurement, reporting, and verification, or simply MRV, are crucial methodologies to track the farm’s progress and confirm whether carbon credits can be generated. Since the idea of soil carbon sequestration is a science-based approach, data must confirm that changes in the soil occur by tracking, recording, and authenticating information. Let’s break down what MRV entails in the next sections.
1. Measurement and monitoring
Farmers who adopt sustainable land management practices reduce the impact of cropland management on soil carbon and maintain soil fertility. It also increases carbon sequestration in the soil which in turn removes more carbon from the atmosphere.
Confirming this information requires measurement. MRV protocols vary from one carbon program to another. But more often than not, measurement happens around the beginning of a carbon program engagement, and towards the end to generate verified carbon credits.
A. Baseline information
In order to avoid greenwashing, and to make sure farmers generate valuable carbon credits that generate income, baseline measurements must be settled. The baseline captures how the farm is managed when not in a carbon program or before implementing changes in practice that sequester soil carbon. When setting the baseline, some data will be gathered from the farmer in a form of a report, while some data will be gathered via collecting samples.
To establish background information about a farm, a historic data report (anywhere between 1-5 years of historical information) should be supplied by the farmer. Some of which include the following:
- Crops previously grown
- Field practices applied on the farm
- Yields produced
- Diesel usage
B. Soil sampling
Another set of data that could be required from the farm is information about the soil usually done via soil sampling. This step measures the baseline soil carbon pool of the farm to understand the condition of the soil prior to implementing practice changes.
Some samples of the soil will be collected from select fields to analyze soil organic carbon (SOC) content where the information will form the basis for current and even projected SOC stock of the farm.
During the active stages of the carbon program when the farmer is about to or already implementing practice changes on the farm, it is important to keep track of these changes through reporting.
Management reports such as the amount of fertilizer applied, cover crops used, or other key data related to practice changes must be recorded and compiled in the form of inventories and such to be used for verification in the later stage.
Data management can be a tedious task where farmers fail to comply due to difficulties in following an orderly data management system. The eAgronom carbon programme solves this issue by providing an easy-to-use farm management software that lets farmers upload farm information and comply with reporting requirements without having to wrangle with complex spreadsheets and confusing databases.
→ Learn more about the eAgronom carbon programme
The verification process checks if the information supplied from practice changes meets the criteria for the issuance of carbon credits. Verification usually involves an independent auditor to process the accuracy of the carbon farming data and compute how many carbon credits will be generated from the practice changes. Where one carbon credit is equivalent to one metric ton of CO2 successfully sequestered in the farmland.
Different verification bodies will have their own set of guidelines to confirm the reliability of the information. Some of the leading independent certification bodies for carbon are Verra and The Gold Standard.
Data verification happens later on in the carbon farming process, typically within 3-5 years from the start, depending on the carbon program. Only when the farming data is verified can carbon credits be generated for income through trading in carbon markets.
→ Need funds to begin carbon farming? Click here to learn more about pre-payments in carbon
Generating carbon credits through MRV
MRV is an important aspect of carbon farming to generate carbon credits for farmers. It works to build credibility in the process while providing data-driven feedback to farmers on how their practice changes affect the farm.
Data from carbon farming also builds trust between businesses looking to buy up carbon credits that are from high-quality sources which avoid greenwashing.
Of course, practice changes in the farm will drive the success of soil carbon sequestration. The process of MRV acts to safeguard every participant in carbon farming, including farmers’ income and the environment.
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- FAO. 2020. A protocol for measurement, monitoring, reporting and verification of soil organic carbon in agricultural landscapes – GSOC-MRV Protocol. Rome. https://doi.org/10.4060/cb0509en
- World Bank. 2021. Soil Organic Carbon MRV Sourcebook for Agricultural Landscapes. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/35923 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.