June 15, 2021

Guebert: This Earth Day, carbon credits are top of mind for ag

Climate concerns have been making headlines in recent months. While the renewed interest in climate is partially due to the Biden administration’s focus on the topic, one of the conversation’s main drivers is the feasibility of carbon markets.

There are many unanswered questions about the future of carbon credits. To ensure a system that benefits both agriculture and the environment, Illinois farmers must be part of developing these carbon markets.

Carbon markets would allow farmers to sell credits for carbon sequestered in the soil to interested buyers in public or private sectors. In exchange for credits, farmers will need to agree to the monitoring and verification of their practices used to capture carbon.

It’s important to remember that carbon markets are not yet developed, rather, they are currently under development.

While some public buyers are already purchasing carbon credits from farmers, there is no standardized process in place. These unknown factors leave the agriculture industry without answers to critical questions.

Some of the biggest concerns are the methods used to assess the value of carbon credits.

We still don’t know what types of data farmers will need to provide to buyers, or third parties, to qualify to receive carbon credits. We also don’t know whether or not the expense of participating in such programs would fall on the shoulders of the farmer, government entity overseeing the project, or the buyer.

Planting cover crops, managing soil nutrients and reducing tillage are among the practices we expect the system to recognize. Many of these nutrient stewardship practices are familiar to Illinois farmers and already qualify producers for payments through the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Unlike NRCS payments, which are based on on-farm practices that demonstrate environmental stewardship, credits for carbon markets are likely to be exclusively based on results. This type of system would require farmers to demonstrate or model their environmental impacts — information that will take innovative technology to collect.

As Illinois Farm Bureau and others in agriculture work to understand the infrastructure needs of developing carbon markets, we know designing a system that farmers want to be part of is key. It’s also crucial that Illinois farmers who already benefit the environment through on-farm practices are not excluded from additional climate-focused opportunities.

Based on the policies created by Illinois Farm Bureau members, we believe a voluntary, incentive-based system will be the best option for both farmers and the environment.

Several decades ago, agriculture was seen as a problem and contributor to climate change. But now, thanks to the tremendous dedication of Illinois farmers to improve soil health, reduce nutrient losses and practice environmental stewardship on their farms, we are seen as a potential solution.

Richard Guebert Jr.

Richard Guebert Jr. is the president of Illinois Farm Bureau. His family farm in Randolph County grows corn, soybeans and wheat.