In January, cattle ranchers in Texas received their first payments for selling the carbon sequestered in their land. They are part of a growing agricultural movement that is addressing the effects of climate change.
BCarbon, a third-party nonprofit based at Rice University in Houston, Texas, pulled samples from several feet underground, measured them in a lab, and then assigned one carbon credit for every metric ton of carbon found (equivalent to the emissions of a car driving 2,500 miles). Grassroots Carbon, who serves as a broker between landowners and prospective buyers, then distributed payments to ranchers based on the number of metric tons sequestered.
Members in Grassroots Carbon’s program engage in regenerative ranching practices such as high stock density grazing, where cattle are moved daily to avoid overgrazing. The land is tilled and fertilized by the cattle, and because the herd is rotated frequently, the animals never remain in one spot long enough to irreparably damage the grass. The soil then produces healthier grass that draws more carbon dioxide from the air, leaving less of the greenhouse gas to contribute to climate change.
A recent announcement from the Department of Agriculture, who pledged to spend $1 billion on projects designed to encourage the curbing of emissions and the storage of carbon, is spurring more interest in farm-based carbon credits. Agricultural companies such as Bayer AG and Cargill have subsidized projects that encourage farmers to reduce emissions, save water, and plant off-season crops that restore nutrients to soil and limit erosion.
Awareness of carbon offsets has increased dramatically in recent years and multinational companies are aggressively pursuing purchases. Last year, Microsoft announced it was purchasing $2 million worth of carbon credits from Land O’Lakes’ subsidiary Truterra as part of their pursuit to become carbon neutral by 2030.
Farmers, ranchers, and carbon credit program managers alike anticipate that participation costs will decline over time and prices offered for carbon will rise.