A bill in the U.S. Senate seeks to make it easier for farmers, ranchers and foresters to sell carbon credits they can earn by reducing greenhouse gas emissions or sequestering carbon on their land.
If it becomes law, the Growing Climate Solutions Act of 2020 would task the U.S. Department of Agriculture with establishing a Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Provider Program and a Third-Party Verifier Certification Program to make it easier to participate in carbon markets.
Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., was among those introducing the bipartisan bill.
Shuter Sunset Farms, a fourth-generation family farm in Frankton, has looked into selling carbon credits to offset the costs of soil conservation practices, such as using no-till techniques and planting cover crops.
“Looked at one organization for this year and decided not to do it with them right now, but we’re always looking at it for what possibilities we may have down the road,” Mike Shuter said.
He’s in favor of legislation that would lower barriers to make it easier for farmers to participate.
“Those of us that are trying to sequester carbon need to be getting paid for it,” Shuter said. “It takes a little more to do that than just to grow a crop. So any help we could get in doing that would be appreciated.”
In addition to Braun, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I, introduced the bill. The same bill was also introduced in the House of Representatives by Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., at the end of June.
More than 40 groups representing farmers, environmental organizations and Fortune 500 companies have endorsed the bill.
“This bipartisan bill is an important step in recognizing that agriculture and forestry can be significant partners in sustainability,” Indiana Farm Bureau President Randy Kron said in a statement.
“The Growing Climate Solutions Act will allow farmers to benefit from their current sustainability practices and, in turn, incentivize those who are interested in implementing similar practices.”
Jeff Dukes, director of Purdue University’s Climate Change Research Center, said that, while this is a small step of many to be taken, he’s encouraged to see a bipartisan effort on a climate bill.
“It’s something that’s worth doing, and we need to do lots of things that are small and worth doing,” Dukes explained.
“To deal with the problem, this is not the most important or the largest step that we need to take. But, on the other hand, this is a bipartisan step that shows that there is some recognition on both sides of the aisle that this is a problem that we need to deal with.”
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry conducted a hearing on the bill in June. Brent Bible, who operates Stillwater Farms near Lafayette with his business partner, testified at the hearing.
Stillwater Farms uses several conservation practices that reduce environmental impact, improve soil health and sequester carbon, including center-pivot irrigation, no-till planting, minimum-till planting and cover crops.
Bible told the committee that the bill would give farmers a new stream of revenue at a time they could really use it.
“Farmers in the U.S. have faced trade wars that have wiped out demand for our product, extreme weather events like the heavy precipitation we saw in 2019, and supply-chain disruptions like the ethanol facility and meat plant closures we’re seeing this year from COVID-19,” he testified.
Bible pointed out that a simplified approach, like that espoused in the bill, would appeal to farmers.
“In the markets for agriculture carbon offsets created to date, the cost and complexity of certifying credits has often outweighed the benefits of the credits themselves, preventing many farmers from participating,” he said.
Madison County farmer Brian Bays has heard discussions for many years about sequestering carbon and a market for selling credits.
“It’s definitely something that we would consider and investigate, sure would,” said Bays, who uses no-till for soybeans but conventional planting for corn.
Current market conditions support about $15 per ton of carbon dioxide sequestered or avoided, according to Braun’s office. A typical production farm could sequester about a ton of carbon dioxide per acre.