My Turn: So who’s carbon is it anyway?


Published: 9/1/2021 6:23:55 PM

There seems to be a new commodity coming from the farm these days. It doesn’t get trucked to the elevator or run through the sale barn. It might be the biggest crop to come from agriculture since high fructose corn syrup. It is carbon. Green plants sequester it and burning fossil fuel and other things create it, a relatively simple scenario.

I don’t need to discuss how carbon is effecting the planet and ultimately the weather. We should probably begin to resolve this before we burn up or float away.

Carbon is sequestered in the ground from plants, trees, permanent pasture, hay land and other crops. I don’t know which plant or best cropping system is most beneficial to sequester carbon in the soil, but I do know that long-term vegetation and the lack of tilling keeps it locked in the soil. But who owns it?

If you are a farmer that owns the land, farms it, plants cover crop, uses minimal tilling practices you will sequester carbon in the soil. Inevitably this carbon will have a dollar value, a marketable product, a product that this farm is producing that can be sold. Easy right!

But what if you rent land as a tenant? You practice minimal tillage, cover cropping and you sequester carbon, I have no idea how much, but surely capturing carbon in the soil.

Year after year the farmer does the same practice and builds the carbon level up. As a result of the farmer’s practices, the carbon level increases and thus the value of the carbon. However, it is within the soil, like any other substance below the surface be it gold, water or oil.

The farmer, unless specified, has use or access to the ground for growing and harvesting a crop but not the carbon. Farmer did the work, does he own the carbon?

The above scenario was about a farmer that conducted beneficial practices to sequester carbon. What about the farmer that tills excessively, doesn’t plant cover crops and plants a crop that leaves little residue, is a heavy feeder and rather than a sequester of carbon, may actually create it.

Should the farmer pay a fine for their practices or is the land owner responsible? It is their land, as previously stated, so they own what is below the surface. The farmer did the work, does he own the carbon?

There is great interest in carbon sequestration and regenerative agriculture lately from food companies such as Pepsico, Danone and others. It appears that the goal is to influence and educate their suppliers (farms) to use regenerative practices and to sequester carbon; makes perfect sense. However, if the corporation assists the supplier (farmer) to initiate certain techniques and it increases carbon levels in the soil, who then owns the carbon? Does the corporation have access to it to use against their own carbon pollution?

It remains within the farmer’s soil. Hopefully it is spelled out in their agreement.

Kyle Bostrom lives in Greenfield.


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