USDA Releases Report on Improving Farmers’ Access to Carbon Markets

A comprehensive assessment highlights opportunities and challenges for farmers in participating in carbon markets.

The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released a report that provides a detailed analysis of the role of agriculture and forestry in carbon markets in the United States. The report, titled “A General Assessment of the Role of Agriculture and Forestry in the U.S. Carbon Markets,” examines current market activity, barriers to participation, and opportunities to enhance access for farmers and forest landowners. This report is a significant milestone in the implementation of the Growing Climate Solutions Act (GCSA), signed into law in 2022, which aims to address climate change and promote sustainable practices in agriculture.

The Potential of Carbon Markets for Agriculture

Carbon markets offer a promising tool for achieving net-zero emissions and combating climate change. Farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners have the potential to generate carbon credits by adopting practices that reduce emissions or sequester carbon on their land. These carbon credits can then be sold in carbon markets, providing new income opportunities for agricultural stakeholders. Additionally, purchasing these credits allows companies to meet voluntary greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Barriers to Participation

Despite the potential benefits, there are several barriers that have hindered the participation of agriculture in carbon markets. One of the main challenges is the limited return on investment for farmers due to high transaction costs. These costs include expenses related to quantifying, verifying, and reporting greenhouse gas emissions. The report highlights the need to address these barriers to create a more conducive environment for farmers to participate in carbon markets.

Solutions for Increased Participation

The USDA recognizes the importance of fostering confidence and encouraging landowner participation in carbon markets. To achieve this, the agency is investing $300 million in improving measurement, monitoring, reporting, and verification of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration in climate-smart agriculture and forestry. This investment aims to enhance the implementation of climate-smart conservation activities and strengthen carbon market opportunities.

Technical Assistance and Verification Programs

As part of the GCSA implementation, the USDA is considering the establishment of the Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Provider and Third-Party Verifier Program. This program would provide technical assistance to producers interested in participating in carbon markets and establish a process to register market verifiers. These initiatives would enhance support for farmers and ensure the credibility and scientific integrity of carbon market transactions.

Complementary Efforts and Climate Investments

The release of this assessment aligns with the Biden-Harris Administration’s broader efforts to address climate change and support sustainable agriculture. The USDA has implemented the Inflation Reduction Act, which provides significant funding for conservation programs and helps farmers mitigate climate change. Additionally, the agency has launched a new program to assist underserved and small acreage forest landowners in connecting to emerging voluntary carbon markets. These initiatives demonstrate the administration’s commitment to promoting climate-smart practices and creating new opportunities for agricultural stakeholders.

The USDA’s report on the role of agriculture and forestry in carbon markets provides valuable insights into the potential and challenges of these markets for farmers and forest landowners. By identifying barriers and proposing solutions, the report paves the way for increased participation and the realization of new revenue streams for agricultural stakeholders. The USDA’s commitment to supporting farmers in adopting climate-smart practices and connecting them to carbon markets is a crucial step in achieving sustainable agriculture and combating climate change.