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Carbon bridge programs de-risk and scale regenerative agriculture adoption

“Everything old is new again,” says Billy Cripe, vice president of marketing at CIBO Technologies, referring to the regenerative ag practices that have been used by farmers for generations.

The “new” in this case is carbon farming as a cash commodity. And programs that exist today need participation, continuity, and incentives to be successful.

But Cripe says the incentives are sorely missing.

“Carbon markets have not matured yet where they are in and of themselves supplying enough of an incentive for farmers to change their practices,” he says. “I think we are two to five years from consistently generating carbon credits as a commodity.”

While some of the largest organizations in the world have made major commitments to sustainability, the challenge is in how to successfully implement solutions at the farm gate that start in the corporate board room.

A bridge to cross the carbon farming chasm

“There is a simple solution that isn’t simple to implement,” Cripe says. “It is to pay farmers fairly, pay them fast, and provide free agronomic support.”

To help bridge the gap in adoption and help corporations fulfill their commitments, CIBO Technologies has created a pay-for-practice program that creates incentives for farmers to start the transition (immediately) to regenerative farming.

Cripe says the program will help farmers make money or at least subsidize the cost of transition from conventional practices to regenerative. Over time, as those practices yield verified carbon credits, the farmer or landowner can then participate in markets and sell those credits.

“The concept is that an organization with deep pockets and wide reach that has made public carbon and climate commitments, has ag in their supply chain, believes in regenerative agriculture, and believes it is unreasonable for a farmer to bear all of the risk will fund a transition program,” Cripe explains.

In a transition program, a corporation will determine a number of acres and years in which to support and fund verified practices, regardless of the output.

“If there happens to be a verified carbon outcome in the years funded by the corporation, then those belong to the funding company,” he says. “After that, any subsequently-produced carbon credits go back to whomever is entitled that commodity (the landowner or farmer).”

Future of the carbon bridge program

Initially, the carbon bridge program is being funded by CIBO.

“We are putting our money where our mouth is,” Cripe says.

However, he expects that to change.

Cripe says that over 800 companies have sustainability project disclosures to reduce their Co2 footprint and mitigate/reverse climate change. Over 200 have made the climate pledge evangelized by Amazon. And over 200 companies set emissions reductions through the Science Based Target initiatives. Soon, these may be interested in funding several carbon bridge programs.

The program currently offered by CIBO is limited to corn and soybean acres, and it is accepting enrollment candidates now through February for this calendar year.

Payments vary based on the program offerings, requirements, and enrolled farms’ existing and new practices (like cover crops, no-till, or a combination of both). There is a 10-year contract with an opt-out clause after year four.

As an example, the program can offer up to $35 per acre in year one, up to $25 per acre in year two, up to $15 in year three, etc. The idea is that payments are larger up front to help with the transition to regenerative practices and decrease as the carbon credit production on the land increases.

“We do not prescribe what the farmer should do because no one knows the land better than the farmer,” Cripe says.

The data is stored and protected in the CIBO platform for monitoring, verification, and quantification of the practices leading to payments, but the farmer ultimately owns it and can take it with at the point they leave the program.

There are challenges to iron out, like the lack of continuity that is possible within 1- to 3-year leases for tenant farmers.

That still hasn’t been solved, but Cripe says the leaders in the financial management side of the industry are starting to experiment with solutions for these types of contracts.

But the future is still bright for carbon markets with bridge programs like these.

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