US farmers are testing ways to keep carbon in the soil

Record prices for farm inputs such as seed and fertilizer and rising fuel prices have forced farmers like Mark Boston to change the way they work. They are moving towards an environmentally friendly “carbon agriculture”.

“We either reduced inputs a bit because of high prices or tried to be smarter about how we do things,” says Illinois farmer Mark Boston.

Mark Boston’s family has been experimenting with “smart farming” for decades.

We have experimented with cover crops with varying degrees of success… Every year you have different weather challenges“, maintains Mr. Boston.

The Boston family successfully uses the “no-till technique” (TSL), which involves leaving the land undisturbed after harvest, which retains more nutrients … including carbon in the soil,”instead of releasing it into the air”as Mark Boston testifies.

Although it’s an eco-friendly way to grow, cost is Mark Boston’s main consideration. He reduces the amount of fertilizer he uses.

“It’s one of the reasons why almost all of us have gone to ‘no-till’says Mr. Boston.

But as rising prices cut into his 2022 profits, Mark Boston is now experimenting with what’s called “carbon farming.” He teams up with Locus Agricultural Solutionsa company that sells products that farmers can apply to their fields to promote crop growth, increase carbon content, improve water retention and reduce dependence on fertilizers.

“We pay a fee to the grower to get the data, and we also do the soil sampling for that grower, so in that process we’re actually measuring the carbon for the grower through the soil sampling,” supports Shane Head of Locus Agricultural Solutions.

Shane Head, Director of customer success chez Locus Agricultural solutionsexplains that the company’s “Carbon Now” program connects farmers to a carbon market where they can “sell” stored carbon that, if left in the Earth’s atmosphere, would contribute to global warming.

“Big companies that have a big carbon footprint have to offset it somehow, so we use a first-class third-party company that markets the carbon”says Shane Head.

“Basically everything I do is what I think is good for the earth. This carbon stuff is just a by-product”adds John Nergenah, a farmer from southern Illinois.

Mr. Nergenah is also enrolled in the program Carbon Now from Locus Agricultural solutions. In addition to ‘no-till’ agriculture, he raises livestock, which helps his carbon efforts.

“Integrating livestock on the land breaks down matter so that the carbon is in the soil”, he assures.

“And so, if you want to be competitive in this market, you have to do everything you can to minimize your costs”adds Mark Boston.

The latter hopes that his investment in carbon farming will pay off – not only by selling the stored carbon, but also by increasing his yields of soybeans and corn.

As with many things in agriculture, Mark Boston knows that the “Carbon Now” program is not a safe bet.

“We have already tried other similar programs and we have had disasters”he admits honestly.

Important considerations… as farmers are impacted by the war in Ukraine which weighs on world supplies and prices.

An initial estimate of the University of Illinois crop budget for 2023 predicts even higher farm input costs and lower returns for farmers compared to the year 2022.

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