Bill would help farmers, foresters participate in carbon markets

By Erin Voegele | June 04, 2020

Sens. Mike Braun, R-Ind.; Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; Lindsey Graham, R.S.C.; and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., on June 4 introduced the Growing Climate Solutions Act, which aims to break down barriers for farmers and foresters interested in participating in carbon markets so they can be rewarded for climate-smart practices.

The bill could create a certification program at USDA to help solve technical entry barriers that prevent farmer and forest landowner participation in carbon credit markets. The senators indicated these issues—including access to reliable information about markets and access to qualified technical assistance providers and credit protocol verifiers—have limited both landowner participation and the adoption of practices that help reduce the costs of developing carbon credits.

To address those issues, the bill stablishes a Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Provider and Third-Party Verifier Certification Program through which USDA will be able to provide transparency, legitimacy, and informal endorsement of third-party verifiers and technical service providers that help private landowners generate carbon credits through a variety of agriculture- and forestry-related practices. The USDA certification program will aim to ensure that these assistance providers have agriculture and forestry expertise, which is lacking in the current marketplace. As part of the program, USDA would administer a new website that would serve as a “one stop shop” of information and resources for producers and foresters who are interested in participating in carbon markets.

Through the program, USDA would help connect landowners to private sector actors who can assist the landowners in implementing the protocols and monetizing the climate value of their sustainable practices. Third party entities, certified under the program, will be able to claim the status of a “USDA Certified” technical assistance provider or verifier. The USDA certification lowers barriers to entry in the credit markets by reducing confusion and improving information for farmers looking to implement practices that capture carbon, reduce emissions, improve soil health, and make operations more sustainable.

According to the senators, many third-party groups are currently developing protocols and testing methods to calculate emissions reduction and sequestration in agriculture and forestry. The bill recognizes that the landscape is evolving rapidly and provides the USDA with a robust advisory council composed of agriculture experts, scientists, producers and others. The advisory council would advise the secretary of agriculture and ensure that the certification program remains relevant, credible, and responsive to the needs of farmers, forest landowners, and carbon market participants.

The bill also directs USDA to advise Congress about further development of this policy areas, including barriers to market entry, challenges raised by farmers and forest landowners, market performance, and suggestions on where USDA can make a positive contribution to the further adoption of voluntary carbon sequestration practices in agriculture and forestry.

Dozens of agriculture groups, environmental organizations and companies have signed on to support the bill, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association, Corn Refiners Association, Novozymes, Green Plains, and Archer Daniels Midland Co. 

“America’s farmers and ranchers have made tremendous strides in reducing our carbon footprint, with overall greenhouse gas emissions under 10 percent for our industry,” said American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall. “As we endeavor to do more with less, we are always focused on doing better and working together to protect the natural resources we all enjoy. We are grateful to Senators Braun and Stabenow for consulting us on their efforts to bring clarity and validity to a voluntary, market-based carbon-credit system and provide a USDA-led review to inspire confidence as we enter the new carbon marketplace.” 

“Corn farmers have been leaders in adopting farming practices to improve the quality of soil, water, and air around our farms and are pleased to endorse the Growing Climate Solutions Act,” said Kevin Ross, president, National Corn Growers Association. “This bipartisan effort recognizes agriculture’s role in mitigating the impact of climate change and promotes voluntary, agriculture-friendly ideas into the climate discussion. NCGA thanks the Senators for their leadership and looks forward to working together to implement policy that benefits both the environment and farmers’ bottom line.” 

Additional information is available on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry website.