What is Carbon Farming?

Carbon Farming is a whole farm approach to optimizing carbon capture on working landscapes by implementing practices that are known to improve the rate at which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and stored in plant material and/or soil organic matter. Carbon Farming is a framework for engaging with the agroecosystem processes that drive system change. Carbon farming explicitly recognizes that it is solar energy that drives farm ecosystem dynamics and that carbon is the carrier of that energy within the farm system. Carbon farming is synonymous with the term ”regenerative agriculture” when that term is explicitly rooted in an understanding of the underlying system dynamics and positive feedback processes that actually make a “regenerative” upward spiral of soil fertility and farm productivity possible, as depicted in the figure below.

Adapted from Lal 2015.

Aldo Leopold defined soil fertility as the “ability of the soil to receive, store and release energy;” it is hard to conceive of a more succinct definition of “soil health.” Recognizing that carbon is the energy currency of living systems –as the medium through which solar energy enters and radiates throughout the food web and the farm system– carbon farming focuses on opportunities for increasing the capacity of the farm system to “receive, store and release” that energy; as work, as system processes, and as biological and structural diversity within the farm ecosystem, particularly recognizing the critical role of soil organic matter as both a sink for solar energy and as driver of both soil and overall agroecosystem dynamics. Carbon farming is successful when carbon gains resulting from enhanced land management and/or conservation practices exceed carbon losses. Learn more about the Carbon Cycle.

Carbon Farming Framework

The Carbon Cycle Institute has developed a model framework for land management that emphasizes carbon as the organizing principle. Land management within this framework leads to enhanced rates of carbon capture, increases the provision of important ecosystem services (including water), builds agricultural resilience and mitigates climate change. The framework relies on sound policies, technical assistance, public-private partnerships, quantification methodologies and innovative financing mechanisms that ultimately empower land managers to efficiently implement on-the-ground, effective solutions.

CCI’s Carbon Farming framework is now widely supported by local, state, and federal natural resource agencies, and is providing a foundation for value-added direct marketing, sustainable supply-chain creation, and other corporate sustainability initiatives. Most importantly, carbon farming makes sense to farmers and ranchers, and has been an excellent vehicle for increasing on-farm climate and carbon cycle literacy. Learn more about Carbon Farm Planning and about building a Carbon Farming Network.

Carbon Farming Practices

Carbon farming practices are management practices that are known to sequester carbon and/or reduce GHG emissions. At least thirty-five of these practices are identified by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) as conservation practices that improve soil health and sequester carbon while producing important co-benefits, including: increased soil water holding capacity, hydrological function, biodiversity, and resilience.