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Money for nothing

Money for nothing

Farmers can get paid for performing land stewardship due diligence by earning carbon credits

By Andrew Joseph

For centuries, the alchemist’s dream was to discover a way to turn lead into gold—a simple enough proposition considering that the much more common lead possesses only a mere three protons more. 

While the world awaits that dream, global climate entrepreneurs have found a way to turn carbon into money. 

Using land stewardship, farmers can generate carbon credits for carbon dioxide (CO_2) emissions avoidance and sell those for fun and profit, though it assumed the fun is in the profit.  

Although “carbon” is the generic term when discussing GHG (greenhouse gases), in the ag sector CO_2 and N_2 O (nitrous oxide) are the main concerns. 

Wade Barnes knows how to gain the fun for farmers, and revealed how his company Farmers Edge helps farmers and furthers agricultural sustainability and digital agronomy at the 2021 Virtual Precision Agriculture Conference & Ag Technology Showcase held this past November 16-18, 2021.

A pioneer in the Precision ag movement, the 2005-founded Farmers Edge has over 550 employees across Canada, the US, Australia, Brazil and Russia. 

Barnes explained that with Smart Farming—via a digital farming infrastructure—producers can produce more yield with less by turning data into actions to gain high-quality carbon savings known as offsets that can be sold to industries requiring help in achieving their own carbon neutrality.

Data is collected via high tech tools such as: satellite imagery; weather stations; soil moisture probes; telematics devices; soil sampling; irrigation monitoring devices, and; grain cart weighing devices—all of which is then collected and processed to make into useable information for a farmer to analyze and implement for optimal farming, resulting in enhanced crop yields, better soil health, and a reduction of GHG emissions. 

Barnes explained that Farmers Edge creates individual farm-specific projects to increase the way carbon credits can be generated.    

Although not in principle a physical asset, carbon offsets are, in the agriculture sector, the environmental data records of a farm converted to a number that shows the reduction of one metric ton (2,205 lbs) of CO_2 emissions, N_2 O emissions or the combination of both. 

Barnes stated that an independent and accredited third-party auditor will verify the digital records and GHG emissions reductions allowing it to then be entered into a Public Registry. 

Sold by the tonne, the carbon offsets are sold, and ownership is transferred to the buyer—and to ensure it can’t be resold, the offset is retired and removed from circulation. 

After the sale, Farmers Edge return the profits to the farm. 

Lest you believe that carbon credits will only provide a few nickels, Barnes said that in 2020, customers saw an average of $4 to $5 per tonne, but in 2021 have seen it go as high as $27/tonne. 

And again, to show that a farmer isn’t just going to make a total of $27 because it’s difficult to get more than one tonne, Barnes shared a case study with the Conference audience involving a farm in Saskatchewan with 519 acres of dry prairie and 5,645 acres of parkland. 

Between 2018 and 2021, that farm realized an additional total income of $53,673. Note that the parkland had a larger acreage and generates more income than the dry prairie farmland. Regardless, your mileage will vary, but even so—extra income generated. 

Now that the prospect of earning real money is clearer, how does one generate these carbon offsets? 

Many Canadian farmers are probably already doing it—but Farmers Edge can help you do it better, explained Barnes. 

Farm stewardship—you look after the land and it looks after you—a mantra farmers practice and preach.

Using precision agriculture, farms must capture more carbon in the soil—rather than releasing it—via regenerative land management by implementing: tillage, direct seeding, crop rotation and diversification, integrating cover crops or intercropping. 

Smart Farming technology will allow a farmer to optimize how a crop is seeded, fertilized and harvested to ensure nutrient loss is reduced to lower nitrous oxide emissions. The more “practices” a farm uses—particular to your specific farming scenario—the larger the number of carbon offsets per acre are generated. 

However, even though efficient equipment usage, water management and better use of crop protection are not qualifiers for carbon offsets, all still help produce a high-quality, low carbon crop. Oh, and it’s all better for the environment, while also helping you generate larger and better-quality yield. 

If you are wondering just who or what is purchasing the ag-generated carbon offsets, Barnes said that Albert and California are currently the only two North American areas with regulated ag offsets—but that there are plenty of companies looking for help. 

In the voluntary market, Barnes said that there are many companies looking for ways to contribute to their own mandated goals of net-zero efficiency, such as Amazon, Apple, BP, Google, IBM, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Walmart, United Airlines, for example. 

Farmers: It’s time to get paid for what you are already doing.  

This article was included in the December 2021 Precision Agriculture Digital Digest — view it here.

Watch Wade Barnes' presentation from the 2021 Virtual Precision Agriculture Conference & Ag Technology Showcase below.

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