Paying farmers to sequester carbon in the soil could be “a real big part of the solution of the climate crisis," but it's critical that the improvements be verified, says former Vice President Al Gore.

“Carbon is a commodity farmers should be taking advantage of,” Gore told an appreciative audience at the Foundation for Food and Agriculture’s “Foster our Future” forum in Washington.

But he also noted the difficulty of measuring the amount of carbon sequestered by different farming practices in different regions of the country.

Invoking the phrase popularized by President Ronald Reagan during arms control negotiations with the former Soviet Union — “Trust, but verify” — Gore said, “You’ve got to verify that it’s real.”

Gore addressed the audience and then shared the stage with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee. Both emphasized the need to get farmers heavily involved in the carbon markets and for more funding for agricultural research, where, Gore said, China is outspending the U.S. by 2-1.

Both also said they had seen signs that farmers and farm groups are more receptive to discussions involving the impacts of climate change.

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“Even if they do not want to use the phrase global warming or climate crisis, they’re finding different ways to talk about it that don’t press people’s ideological buttons,” Gore said.

Stabenow (shown with Gore above) cited projects involving farmers who generate carbon credits and then sell them to corporations, such as one in North Dakota where General Motors has bought credits generated by working ranch grasslands.

But she said projects like those need to be “scaled up.” And Gore said farmers need to be incentivized to adopt practices such as no-till and cover crops that benefit soil health.

Stabenow called carbon “a commodity and a revenue source” that can help farmers in the current economic climate. “It’s a very, very tough time. It’s always been tough—it’s really tough,” she said, mentioning trade, weather and commodity prices.

She said the Agriculture Committee plans a hearing on soil health as a follow-up to its climate change hearing last May.

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