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Carbon insetting leads to 2050

LA FARGE, Wis. – Organic Valley is working to become carbon-neutral by 2050. To reach that goal the company is launching the CROPP Carbon Insetting Program. It’s a pilot project, with about 50 of the cooperative’s member-farmers participating this summer.

“Carbon insetting is the practice of investing in carbon reductions and-or removals within a company’s own supply chain,” according to Organic Valley. “Removals are natural strategies such as tree plantings and soil-health improvements that result in removing greenhouse-gas emissions from the atmosphere through carbon sequestration.

“Carbon offsetting occurs when a company purchases carbon credits from a project developer or broker, and applies the credits to its carbon footprint. The credits result from carbon reductions and-or removals that occur outside of the company’s supply chain.”

The World Economic Forum defines carbon insetting as the implementation of nature-based solutions such as reforestation, agroforestry, renewable energy and regenerative agriculture.

“While an important tool, carbon offsetting can’t be considered a substitute for direct-emissions reductions by corporates,” the forum stated.

Nicole Rakobitsch, director of sustainability at Organic Valley, said, “We chose carbon insetting to invest in our own members’ farms.”

Farmers participating in the organic cooperative’s pilot will implement practices such as agroforestry. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines agroforestry as “the intentional integration of trees and shrubs into crop- and animal-farming systems to create environmental, economic and social benefits.”

Some farmer-members already are working on agroforestry design – including species selection and spacing. A committee of farmer-members will be advising the cooperative on carbon-storage practices. They represent a variety of farm types and farm products from across the country, Rakobitsch said.

“The pilot is being driven by farmers where there are pockets of specific interest,” she said. “A couple of dozen members in Pennsylvania, for example, are ‘jazzed’ about silvopasture. They’re seeing benefits.”

Some are planting fast-growing trees that provide shade for grazing animals, as well as pods or nuts that provide a feed source. Trees also store carbon.

“While all vegetation stores carbon, trees are particularly important because they live a long time, and because of their comparably dense nature and large size,” the U.S. Forest Service states.

A group of Organic Valley farmers in New England is focused on manure management and grazing, Rakobitsch said. A group in the Midwest is focused on agroforestry, solar energy and energy efficiency.

In addition to the farmer committee, the cooperative’s staff members will be working with farmers regarding areas such as pasture management and ruminant health, she said. The cooperative also will work with external technical-service providers.

Pilot-program participants can use the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service’s CarbOn Management Evaluation Tool – known as COMET. It’s an online tool that provides a way to estimate changes in soil-carbon sequestration, fuel and fertilizer use resulting from changes in land management.

Organic Valley has been working with Yard Stick, a Massachusetts company, to collect information regarding soil carbon. Yard Stick has developed a handheld device with a probe that’s inserted into the ground to take soil-carbon measurements.

Results from the probe are sent to a web interface where soil-testing results can be viewed, according to Organic Valley. That eliminates the need for collecting soil samples and sending them to a laboratory. There are often bottlenecks in processing samples at private and university labs; it can take months to receive results. The cooperative will be working with a third party to measure soil-carbon levels through a period of time.

With help from the farmer committee, the cooperative will establish payment based on a price per ton of carbon stored.

“By participating in the CROPP Carbon Insetting Program, our farmer-members can ensure that their carbon credits stay with their farm and benefit the co-op – helping to reach our collective carbon-neutral goal,” Organic Valley stated.

Visit organicvalley.coop and comet-planner.com and unfccc.int -- search for "Beginner's Guide to Climate Neutrality" -- for more information.

This is an original article written for Agri-View, a Lee Enterprises agricultural publication based in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit AgriView.com for more information.

Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.

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