(BPT) - Agriculture, particularly dairy, often gets blamed for its greenhouse gas emissions. Across nearly all agricultural commodities, bolstered by more than $3 billion in USDA climate-smart funding, there is increasing momentum to reduce agricultural emissions and sequester more carbon in soils and forests through climate-smart practices.
Some estimates show that the agricultural sector was responsible for about 9% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 (putting it far behind the sectors releasing the most greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.: transportation, industry and electric power).
According to the National Milk Producers Federation, the dairy industry has committed to achieving greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050. While this may seem like a lofty goal, many farms are already reaching this goal through innovative farming practices and carbon investment mechanisms, including carbon insetting.
What is carbon insetting?
You may not be familiar with carbon insetting, but you've likely heard of carbon offsetting. Carbon offsetting happens when individuals or companies finance environmental initiatives leading to quantifiable reductions in greenhouse gases or carbon removal, such as tree planting projects that absorb or "remove" carbon from the atmosphere. The reductions or removals that result from these projects can be purchased as 'carbon offsets' on an open market primarily by businesses wanting to compensate for the emissions they generate.
Purchased offsets are used as a type of credit to indirectly reduce their overall carbon footprint without directly changing business operations. On the other hand, carbon insetting is the direct reduction of greenhouse gas emissions within business operations and at the emissions source through the adoption of specific, traceable and measurable practices and appropriate technologies.
What does agriculture have to gain from carbon insetting?
Much like learning a new language, there is no easy way to explain the difference between carbon offsetting and carbon insetting. In carbon offsetting, the environmental benefits, specifically carbon reductions or removals, are detached from the agricultural product, such as corn, milk or beef. These benefits are then sold as offsets to entities outside the agricultural system where these products were produced, like companies in the petroleum or technology sectors.
In an offsetting scenario, the commodity can no longer be labeled or valued as 'climate-smart' at the point of sale because the environmental attributes have been sold and claimed as a carbon credit to compensate for a different industrial sector's carbon emissions. As an economic sector, agriculture no longer has a right to claim those reductions or removals, and America's agricultural carbon footprint stays the same.
Carbon insetting allows for the environmental attributes - carbon reductions or removals - to track the agricultural commodity throughout the product value chain. The carbon value is never severed from the wheat, milk or beef. It can be claimed by different layers of the value chain that contribute financially or in other ways to the adoption of the practice, including farmers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers. The commodity maintains its climate-smart value from farm to plate, and America's agricultural carbon footprint is reduced. Carbon insetting is agriculture's true path to long-lasting and meaningful carbon reductions.
How can food companies engage in carbon insetting?
Organic Valley, a cooperative of small family farms, has launched an ambitious carbon insetting program to reach carbon neutrality. The Organic Valley Carbon Insetting Program incentivizes and assists Organic Valley farmers to implement regenerative, climate-smart farming practices that reduce or remove carbon emissions within the cooperative's own supply chain. Long story short, farmers are paid to install solar, plant trees and/or start composting. As a USDA Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities grant recipient, Organic Valley is committed to providing more than $15 million in direct farmer incentives to adopt climate-smart practices over the next five years.
Many Organic Valley farms already incorporate eco-friendly practices like sun and wind power, composting and planting trees for silvopasture. Silvopasture is an innovative way to inset carbon - it is a method that thoughtfully pairs trees, pasture and grazing animals to create a healthy ecosystem. The trees planted absorb carbon over time, turning it into clean air, and can even provide habitats for birds and other woodland creatures.
Other eco-friendly practices the cooperative's farms employ include sustainable manure management techniques, energy efficiency, enhanced grazing and more.
Through investments in carbon insetting, companies like Organic Valley and its supply chain partners will accelerate the adoption of climate-smart practices on America's dairy farms, ensuring farmers are doing their part to care for the earth and ensure their families can continue to farm for years to come. To learn more about Organic Valley's commitment to carbon neutrality and the cooperative's practices, visit OrganicValley.coop.