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Tapping niches with salable qualities is one way to break out of the commodity mold.

Yield, of course, remains key to profitable crop production. Then again, quality is also gaining in importance Ben Riensche.

“People are very concerned about what’s in their diet and who are willing to pay for that,” says Riensche, a Jesup, Iowa, farmer, who farms with his son Hans. “My feeling is there’s a place on the dinner plate for everyone. If you want to pay me to produce in a certain way, I’ll do that.”

Riensche sees digital markets as a way to link farmers to these buyers.

“I can tell the story of how I produced it, and the impact of how I grew that crop and get it to the end user if it has unique qualities that are better for milling, baking, brewing, and feeding,” he says. “Those are all salable qualities.”

Ditto for carbon markets. Several firms are developing systems to pay farmers for farming systems—such as those that use no-till that sequester greenhouse gasses.

Last June, Indigo Ag launched its Terraton Initiative, an effort to sequester in soils 1 trillion tons (1 terraton) of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The plan aims to eventually pay farmers in this program $15 to $20 per ton of carbon that they sequester using tools like no-till and cover crops. Payments could tally an estimated $30 to $60 per acre, with the actual amount depending on soil type and the region’s climate, says David Perry, Indigo Ag chief executive officer.

In October, officials for Corteva Agriscience said the firm is committing $500,000 toward a program called the Corteva Agriscience Climate Positive Challenge. The intent is to reward farmers who adopt carbon-sequestering practices and are willing to share ideas on those practices with other farmers.

Corteva—through its digital business Granular—has also formed a relationship with Nori to develop an incentive system to measure and verify soil carbon.

“If you can demonstrate an increase carbon in soils, that is marketable,” Riensche says. He sees sensor technology as helping farmers prove they are doing this.

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