The market for farm-sequestered carbon is not a real market yet, but instead a collection of programs with different payouts and requirements, participants at a Farm Foundation webinar said Tuesday, outlining a broad range of barriers to grower adoption that likely will take years to overcome.

The speakers said refined standards are needed for determining when farmers qualify for carbon credits and that grower payments need to be higher. They also called for better and more integrated science on ag carbon, extensive education for growers, upgrades to rural broadband, and a path for “early adopters” to participate.

Most programs currently in the marketplace require “additionality” — that is, new practices to sequester carbon that did not previously exist. But that can leave farmers who have long used no-till or other practices out of luck.

Presenters were Alejandro Plastina, associate professor in economics and extension economist at Iowa State; Kristine Tidgren, director of the Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation at Iowa State; and Shelby Myers, an economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Tidgren urged growers thinking about signing up with a program that promises to pay for carbon sequestration to read carefully any contracts they are offered. The programs, which now number more than a dozen, can differ significantly. Many, for example, do not allow participation in USDA programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

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One major barrier discussed is the cost of verifying that specific soil practices sequester carbon or reduce nitrous oxide emissions by a certain amount, for example. At present, the verification costs may be prohibitive for small farmers, leaving the market open for larger farmers.

Plastina, however, said he had been approached by a group of small farmers interested in banding together to collectively take part in the nascent market.

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