The Promising Future of “Carbon” Farming

How carbon markets could spur the next great agricultural revolution in America

09-09-2010 // Aislinn Maestas
Cuontry road with silo

A century and a half ago, America’s agriculture industry underwent a great revolution. As hand labor was replaced with machine farming, landowners moved from subsistence farming to commercial production. By embracing the future and developing new technologies, farmers were able to meet - and make a profit from - the rapidly increasing demands spurred by America’s growing population.

Today, America’s farmers and forest owners are on the brink of another great transformation. The urgent need to address climate change has created an opportunity for farmers and forest owners to be part of the solution. By implementing innovative new practices to store carbon and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, carbon farming projects could help address climate change and provide farmers with a new revenue stream worth billions of dollars.

“We need to fundamentally change the way we look at our forest and farming resources,” said Ryan Stockwell, Agriculture Program Manager of the National Wildlife Federation. “Rather than look at land in terms of bushels of corn, we should look at it in terms of all the benefits it can provide. With a robust carbon market and incentives for other ecosystem services, farmers will be able to earn money for sequestering carbon, storing water and providing habitat—along with growing crops.”

A win-win-win situation

The benefits of carbon sequestration through agriculture are numerous. In addition to creating a new revenue stream for farmers and forest owners, these new practices can improve soil fertility, improve water quality, and provide wildlife habitat. These benefits would extend beyond the landowner to the surrounding communities.

“The successes of programs like the Conservation Reserve Program show that many farmers are willing to carry out environmental enhancements on their lands if provided the proper incentives,” said NWF’s Julie Sibbing Director Global Warming, Agriculture and Wildlife. “Knowing this, NWF is confident that carbon sequestration projects could result in significant benefits for America’s wildlife—if farmers are given the right incentives.”

Doing it right

The topic of carbon sequestration and agriculture was the main focus of recent conference organized by National Wildlife Federation and the Soil and Water Conservation Society, titled “Carbon Markets: Expanding Opportunities/Valuing Co-Benefits”. The one-day workshop, held at the Soil and Water Conservation Society’s Annual Meeting in St. Louis, MO, brought together experts in agriculture and forestry to discuss how land management activities can help to address climate change by storing more carbon and reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses.

Read the workshop proceedings [pdf]

This meeting was the first step in a long process. In order to gain the maximum benefits of a carbon market, National Wildlife Federation and its partners are working to ensure that carbon payments or a carbon market is wisely and carefully constructed.

“Change is hard, scary and slow going,” said Stockwell. “It is going to take cooperation, commitment and foresight to get this done. But if we do it right, everyone will come out as winners.”

Related Resources
  • Forests and Farms

    NWF works to conserve forests and farmlands and promote effective management of these lands to help solve global warming.