What Do Carbon Programs Pay For?

Before you commit to a carbon contract, you’ll want to understand how you’re getting paid and what you’re getting paid for. There are many programs that pay for soil health practices on a per-acre basis, and others that pay for carbon credits generated through new practices. Understanding how those credits are quantified and verified helps ensure that you join a program that gets you the most for your efforts. 

In this first blog in our series on carbon measurement and certification, we asked Corteva Carbon Scientist Jennifer Soong, PhD, to explain the science behind how Corteva measures carbon credits.

What does a farm carbon program pay for?

Agriculture carbon programs pay farmers for the positive carbon impact that comes from introducing new soil health practices on the farm.

Your carbon impact accounts for two things:

  1. How much carbon your soil captured (“sequestered”) from the atmosphere, and
  2. The amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions you avoided (for example, through less nitrogen usage).
carbon sequestered icon

CO2 sequestered
in soil

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Greenhouse gas
emissions reduced

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Total carbon

Why do practice changes matter?

The practices you introduce directly influence carbon capture and GHG emissions. For example, tillage and plowing break down soil structure and aerate the soil, promoting more rapid decomposition of soil organic carbon (SOC).

Soil health practices change the biological system for the better. Cover crops act like a carbon factory, pulling CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and building soil organic matter. As long as something is growing, the factory stays open. No-till reduces soil disturbance, which preserves soil structure and prevents carbon from re-emitting into the atmosphere.

How does Corteva measure my carbon impact?

To estimate your carbon impact, Corteva relies on a biogeochemical carbon model that predicts soil carbon changes over time. The model simulates how weather, soil type, crop type and management practice impact carbon and nitrogen cycling between the atmosphere, plants and the soil. Direct soil carbon measurements are taken on a sample of fields in the larger program in order to improve the modeling.

How is the model used?

  1. Your historical data is input into the model and used to calculate your baseline. The baseline shows the carbon impact if you would have continued historical, “business as usual” farm management practices into the future. 
  2. Once you implement a new practice, your new management data are input into the model (including planting and harvest dates, crop types, nitrogen inputs, irrigation information, and information about the practice change) to determine the impact of your new practices. 
  3. The model calculates the difference in the farm’s soil carbon and GHG emissions between your baseline and new practices. For every metric ton of impact you earn one carbon credit.
  4. The program verifies that your practices have taken place, and that quantification and reporting conform to carbon market standards.

Since the model is run every year, real weather and management practices are taken into account to simulate how the practice change performs in real life. These are what we consider real outcomes. 

How do carbon models work?

Check out the next blog in this series to learn more about how carbon models work and why it’s so important to have these models verified by independent carbon market regulators.

Have specific questions about your eligibility for a carbon program?