Soil is a large, natural carbon sink, holding three times the amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere. However, since inventing agriculture, people have reduced the carbon content of cultivated soils by 50-70%. When farmers use regenerative farming practices to store carbon from the atmosphere in the earth, they restore nature’s carbon cycle and boost soil health. Project Drawdown estimates that regenerative annual cropping can sequester 14.52-22.27 gigatons of CO2e between 2020 and 2050.
How does it work?
All living things contain carbon. When plants and animals die and decompose, some of this carbon is returned to and stored in soil. This soil carbon plays an important role in maintaining soil health and quality. However, historical land use practices such as clearing forests and plowing land for crops has resulted in a significant loss of carbon from agricultural lands. A number of regenerative agricultural practices exist that can help increase the absorption of carbon by soils, including:
Low- or no-till practices, which prevents the release of carbon by keeping soil from being disturbed
Planting perennial crops, which also reduces the need to till and disturb soil
Planting cover crops in between periods of regular crop production, which reduces soil erosion and increases carbon and nitrogen stocks
Rotating crops by varying the type of crops grown in a particular field or area
Managed grazing of animals by rotating them between pastures, which naturally adds manure to the soil and encourages plant growth
Applying compost, manure, or other natural residues to fields
Adopting these practices, however, is viewed as risky by many farmers, as it requires them to make changes that could impact the yield of their crops. Providing support and financial incentives to farmers via soil carbon credit projects can help farmers transition to these regenerative practices.
We like soil carbon projects because they reinforce the natural carbon cycle and can directly support farmers who adopt regenerative practices.
Immediately implementable. Many of the agricultural practices listed above are not new and are able to be widely implemented.
Improved soil health. In addition to storing carbon, regenerative agricultural practices can also restore soil nutrients, improve soil’s resilience to flood and drought, and increase agricultural productivity.
Benefits to farmers. Soil carbon credit projects are a way to provide an additional revenue stream directly to farmers.
We are skeptical because soil carbon sequestration requires long-term dedication from landowners and can be difficult to measure and verify.
Vulnerable to reversal. Soil carbon can be easily released back to the atmosphere if soil is disturbed, either naturally or by people. Regenerative agricultural practices must be followed continuously and indefinitely for climate benefits to remain.
Difficult to measure. Soil carbon is currently difficult and costly to measure, Current verification standards are limited and are often viewed as prohibitively expensive or lacking rigor.
What Joro looks for
Contracts for longer-lived carbon storage. Because soil carbon sequestration is easily reversed, we look for projects that contractually guarantee that regenerative practices will be adhered to over the course of the proposed project life.
Reliable data monitoring. Given the challenges associated with soil carbon measurement, we look for projects that both openly publish their methodologies for review and make use of experienced third party data verifiers.
Projects we recommend
Joro supports two soil carbon projects through the Nori platform. Nori verifies this carbon sequestration through farm-level data collected through COMET-Farm, a tool funded by the USDA and developed by Colorado State University. These projects are:
Nori: Harborview Farms. This project supports Maryland farmers at Harborview Farms, where they have adopted regenerative farming practices such as continuous no till farming, the utilization of cover crop mixes, planting green, and applying compost and manure.
Nori: Garrett Land and Cattle. Garrett Land and Cattle have adopted regenerative farming practices, including continuous no till farming, crop rotation, and compost and manure use, resulting in an increase in the carbon content and health of their soils.