U.S. Farmers Embrace Carbon Farming, Increase Cover Crop Planting

More U.S. farmers have embraced cover crop planting from rye and oats to legumes and radishes. While some of those are used to make biofuel or as cattle feed, most are not even harvested because they have greater value if they break down in the soil.

Cover crops restore soil, reduce erosion and pull carbon from the atmosphere. Carbon trapped in plant roots and other plant remains is measured by companies to create carbon credits. Companies then use those credits to offset other pollution.

The practice results in a change in agriculture industry. Farmers not only sell their crops for food and livestock feed anymore, but they are also paid for the role their crops play in limiting carbon emissions.

Cover crops play a crucial role in regenerative agriculture, which is seen as an improvement over traditional agriculture. The practice helps restore soil health and cut emissions through crop rotation, livestock grazing and cutting chemical inputs.

Cover crop planting has reached 22 million acres in 2021, a 43% increase from 2017 when the number was 15.4 million acres. It is estimated that the number could reach 40 million to 50 million acres by the end of the decade. Government and private investment programs will likely to increase the numbers.

Companies including Bayer, Land O’Lakes and Cargill have implemented carbon farming programs over the past two years that pay farmers for capturing carbon by planting cover crops and reducing soil tillage.

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