March 2021 ESMC Newsletter
How to Make Sense of the Proliferation of Ecosystem Market Opportunities?
By ESMC Executive Director, Debbie Reed
Carbon Market Therapy. At ESMC we are regularly asked how producers and even buyers should decide between environmental markets that are popping up with increasing frequency. One of our members recently used the term “Carbon Market Therapy”, referring to the time we all are individually and collectively spending talking to individuals and organizations to try to make sense of these markets. While we can’t always keep up ourselves with the new offerings, and do not always know the details of new programs as they are announced, we can be clear on ESMC’s approach and our program, and lay out some of the specifics around how markets work, and how ESMC fits into those markets. I will use this column to kick off a series of updates on ecosystem services markets and ESMC’s program, to provide clarity, and hopefully answer some questions that our members and stakeholders alike may have.
ESMC’s Program. ESMC’s vision is to create an enabling environment that fast-tracks the generation and sale of science-based, outcomes-based ecosystem services credits from US agriculture at scale. ESMC and our members are co-investing in a national scale, harmonized program that meets multiple markets and that ensures long-term viability by ensuring demand and supply are aligned. Our program and our protocols are science-based and standards based.
The integrity and credibility of credits in ESMC’s program are essential to all ESMC members and stakeholders, as well as to the world. In particular, the integrity and credibility of credits in our program are essential to US agricultural producers – whose work leads to the generation of the credits – and to the buyers, whose investments demand integrity and credibility for their own investors, shareholders, stakeholders and consumers.
The Global Nature of Ecosystem Services Markets. While ESMC’s program is US focused, our members include multinational corporations whose commitments are global. In fact, carbon markets and sustainable supply chain accounting programs and standards, while having location-specific requirements, are global in nature. Carbon markets in particular are globally connected and require global consistency to ensure market integrity and fungibility of credits. This is important to US agricultural producers given that their markets for products are also quite often global; the buyers of ecosystem services credits are quite often global, too.
Given the proliferation of markets, how can investors or buyers or consumers know the quality and market-worthiness of credits? The answer is standards. Global ecosystem services markets standards – particularly carbon market standards – ensure credits have the same value and quality and are fungible everywhere.
International Standards in Carbon Markets. What standards under gird global carbon markets? The International Carbon Reduction & Offset Alliance (ICROA) is a non-profit organization that advocates for carbon offsets and carbon insets and carbon finance to help address climate change. ICROA’s website lays out well the standards, and even maintains global codes of best practices. ICROA’s code of best practice covers technical specifications for carbon foot printing, GHG emissions reduction activities, carbon offsetting and carbon insetting. ICROA utilizes the international standards in voluntary carbon markets, including the GHG Protocols and ISO 14064 standards for GHG accounting.These same standards underpin sustainable supply chain market accounting and reporting work, carbon offset markets, and are the basis of ESMC’s program as well. The websites below can provide an overview of how together, these standards undergird the integrity of global carbon markets, which protect both buyers and sellers in ESMC’s program.
This is the tip of the iceburg, and in future columns I will provide more granularity to help inform the conversation, and hopefully, provide some common carbon therapy. Further clarity on these markets, and how ESMC’s program fits into these markets, will hopefully provide some answers to questions everyone seems to be asking. I know that producers won’t necessarily want to ask about standards – but buyers do, and will, and should. Their reputations depend on it. So perhaps the first question we all need to ask is “what standards does this program or market meet” when we are looking into a new market or new program?
For more information on any of the referenced organizations and standards, see also:
- ICROA website
- ICROA Code of Best Practices for Carbon Management Services
- Greenhouse Gas Protocol
- International Standards Organization (ISO) standards for GHG accounting
- International Standards Organization Mitigation Standards
- ANSI programs and the ANSI National Accreditation Board ensure full compliance with international standards
Call for Science Advisor Nominations: Reminder – Due Today
The Ecosystem Services Market Research Consortium (ESMRC) is seeking independent Science Advisors to fill vacancies in ESMRC Working Group #1 (GHG Asset Quantification), Working Group #2 (Water Asset Quantification), and Working Group #4 (Soil Carbon Research). Science Advisors are responsible for providing objective and independent scientific guidance to the ESMRC Working Groups and research projects. ESMRC is also seeking individuals to provide additional expertise to the Biodiversity Strike Team and Grazing Strike Team. The call for applications will run through today. Applications will be reviewed by the ESMRC Steering Committee in early April, and new advisors will be announced by April 16, 2021. For more information and nomination forms, please see the website announcement here.
ESMC Announces A New Pilot Project in Missouri
Missouri farmers looking to better understand carbon markets have a new opportunity through a pilot project launched by leading Missouri agricultural organizations and ESMC. Farmers who enroll will have the opportunity to test new innovations in quantifying carbon and water quality benefits and can provide input to guide ESMC program development. The Missouri pilot is a partnership among the Missouri Corn Merchandising Council, the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, and MFA Incorporated and offers the state’s corn and soybean farmers a low-risk opportunity to participate in a voluntary agricultural carbon and water quality market. For more information on this project, see ESMC’s website.
ESMC Welcomes New Members
ESMC is pleased to announce four new Legacy Partner members joining ESMC – Bushel, MFA, Pattern, and PORT. Details on each organization are included below. Welcome!
Bushel creates digital tools that support hundreds of agribusinesses, from single-location country elevators to multinational enterprises. Its products, services, and APIs help improve the digital infrastructure throughout the agriculture supply chain. To read more about Bushel, click here.
MFA Incorporated is a Midwest-based regional farm supply and marketing cooperative serving more than 45,000 farmer/owners in Missouri and adjacent states. To read more about MFA Incorporated, click here.
PatternAg provides soil microbiome analysis and recommendations for farm input optimization and is focused on specific pest and disease pressures faced by corn and soybean farmers. To read more about PatternAg, click here.
The Partnership of Rangeland Trusts (PORT) is an alliance of agricultural-focused conservation organizations dedicated to preserving America’s working farms and ranches and conserving productive agricultural lands. To read more about PORT, click here.
ESMC Policy Committee Update
The ESMC Policy Committee held its second and third meetings in March discuss the committee’s policy principles, priorities, and engagement strategy and discussed various critiques of ecosystem services markets and ways to address concerns of farmers, the media, and policymakers. The ESMC Policy Committee is for ESMC members only; for more information on joining ESMC, please contact us.
ESMC in the News
A Better Mousetrap Is Needed for Carbon Programs, Consortium Says
AgWeb (March 18)
Sometimes building a better mousetrap is the needed solution to an existing challenge. In this article highlighting ESMC’s work to create carbon markets for agriculture, ESMC’s Debbie Reed noted, “The way those markets are working right now is there are so many people in the middle working on quantification, working on verification, working on protocol development, and those are very expensive things to do. Ultimately, what we see is (only) 5% to 10% of a credit actually goes to the farmer and rancher who created the credit because of all of what I will call the middlemen.” To read the full article, click here.
Advancing Sustainable Agriculture Starts at the Farm
GreenBiz (March 17)
This article highlights the work of ESMC Founding Circle member Corteva and their partnership with ESMC to create additional revenue for farmers. To read the full article, click here.
When it Comes to Carbon Markets, Farmers Should Have Plenty of Questions
AgriPulse (March 17)
Farmers face a bewildering set of choices and requirements as new carbon payment plans and markets are proliferating. ESMC is included in this summary of current carbon markets. To read the full article, click here.
Look for ESMC At…..
On April 20, ESMC’s Debbie Reed will speak at the North American Miller’s Association (NAMA) spring meeting. Read more about the meeting here.
On May 5 at 3pm, ESMC’s Debbie Reed and Stacy Cushenbery will lead a webinar, Ecosystem Services Markets Conceived and Designed for Agriculture: Scaling Impacts, as part of the Forest Climate Working Group 2020 – 21 Learning Exchange Series. The event is open to the public; register here.
ESMC Member News
The dairy industry is teaming up with a major agribusiness and an environmental group to “develop a replicable program and toolset to scale the adoption of best management practices in feed/forage production and feed efficiency.” The framework, announced at the recent Agri-Pulse Ag and Food Policy Summit, is aimed at supporting the American dairy industry’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050. The industry is teaming up with ESMC Founding Circle members Syngenta and the Nature Conservancy on the effort, which will provide “low-effort data tracking and decision support tools, technical support regarding best management practices implementation, Monitoring, Reporting and Verification, and avenues for farmers to receive payment for ecosystem services/ conservation practice adoption.” Read the full article here.
AgriPulse (March 24)
Agricultural greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., when adjusted for productivity, are down by 24% over the past 30 years, but farmers can do better if Congress and the Biden administration amp up assistance, according to ESMC Legacy Partner member American Farm Bureau Federation’s chief economist, John Newton. Read the full article here.
Nestlé (March 23)
ESMC Founding Circle member Nestlé recently released its 2020 Creating Shared Value (CSV) and Sustainability Report which represents the completion of the majority of Nestlé’s public commitments, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions within its own operations (scope 1 and 2) by 37% since 2010. Read the full article here.
Ceres (March 22)
Three major agricultural giants, representing 43 billion USD in annual revenue, announced new commitments to improve water stewardship as part of the Ceres and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) AgWater Challenge (WWF is an ESMC Legacy Partner member). They include ESMC Founding Circle member Danone North America, owner of iconic dairy and plant-based brands; leading sweetener and starch producer Ingredion; and global food, confectionery and petcare company Mars, Incorporated (an ESMC Legacy Partner member). Read the full announcement here
Drovers (March 16)
Widespread adoption of sustainability practices throughout agriculture is key to the industry’s future. ESMC Legacy Partner member Trust In Food, a Farm Journal initiative working to accelerate the adoption of sustainable agriculture, announced the successful completion of the first wave of dedicated regional conservation agriculture programming for farmers in five states. Read the full article here.
The Organic and Non-GMO Report (March 11)
U.S. grain farmers have a new incentive to transition from conventional to organic practices as PA-based poultry producer Bell & Evans recently announced a partnership with ESMC Founding Circle member Cargill and the Rodale Institute to transition 50,000 acres of farmland to organic production. Bell & Evans is working with Cargill on the initiative because they have been a long-time supplier of the company’s organic feed. Cargill has a certified organic feed facility in Winfield, PA. Read the full article here
EDF (March 10)
Managing risks presented by extreme weather conditions such as heat and drought is a top priority of farmers and policymakers, as researchers predict that higher temperatures and reduced precipitation could reduce yields by up to 30% over the next 50 years. Scientists from Yale School of the Environment, ESMC Founding Circle member The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Granular and EDF researched the connection between soil health, yield risk and crop insurance payments in U.S. corn-producing counties and published results in Environmental Research Letters. Read the full article here.
Ag Funder News (March 9)
ESMC Founding Circle member TNC recently announced that it invested in five agrifoodtech startups. “We’ve been working around initiatives to rebuild soil health in North America aggressively since 2016 and [we want] to move the needle on 50% of US cropland and put it under adaptive soil health systems by 2025,” said TNC director of agriculture innovation Renée Vassilos. One of those startups is PatternAg, an ESMC Legacy Partner member. Read the full article here.
ESMC funder ARPA-E will host the 2021 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit May 24 – May 27. The virtual ARPA-E Summit brings together top minds from industry, investment, academia, and government to discuss some of the toughest challenges facing the energy community. The 2021 Summit’s theme is “Expanding American Energy Innovation,” a nod to both the agency’s research and development mission and its goal to grow the energy innovation community. Read the full article here.
Other News of Note
Can California’s Organic Vegetable Farmers Unlock the Secrets of No-Till Farming?
March 30 (Civil Eats)
Reducing tillage—which often relies on herbicides—has long been out of reach on organic farms. Now, a group of veteran growers are undertaking a soil health experiment with implications for California and beyond. Read the full article here.
Vilsack: US Carbon Market Needs a Focus on Farmers
AgriPulse (March 22)
A priority for the USDA in the coming years will be judging the feasibility of setting up, executing and paying for a federal carbon bank to help farmers reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reward them for their actions, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said this week. Read the full article here.
Feeding Cattle Seaweed Reduces Their Greenhouse Gas Emissions 82 Percent
Science Daily (March 17)
A bit of seaweed in cattle feed could reduce methane emissions from beef cattle as much as 82 percent, according to new findings from researchers at the University of California, Davis. The results, published March 17 in the journal PLOS ONE, could pave the way for the sustainable production of livestock throughout the world. Read the full article here.
Op-ed: $4 Billion in Debt Relief Is a Start, but the Fight is Not Over for Black Farmers
Civil Eats (March 16)
The American Recovery Plan includes billions for Black farmers and other farmers of color, but it is just the first step on the long road to justice. Read the full article here.
USDA Requests Information on USDA’s Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Strategy
USDA (March 15)
Last week, the USDA published a Federal Register Notice requesting public input on a climate-smart agriculture and forestry strategy. The Notice represents an important step toward implementing President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. The Notice will be available for public input until April 30. Read the full article here.
How Dirt Could Help Save the Planet
Scientific American (March 14)
Farming practices that retain carbon in the soil, or return it there, would limit both erosion and climate change. Read the full article here.
Opinion: Everything and the Carbon Sink
AgriPulse (March 11)
U.S. agriculture has been moving toward greater levels of environmental stewardship for decades. Since 1980, rice farmers in the United States have decreased greenhouse gas emissions by at least 41% for every pound of rice produced while reducing energy use by over 30% and cutting water use in half. This is made possible by the ingenuity and stewardship of farmers, innovation by private industry, and the support of the USDA, the Agricultural Research Service, University research programs, and vital government conservation programs. Read the full article here.
Adaptation, Not Irrigation, Recommended for Midwest Corn Farmers
Phys.Org (March 9)
Farmers in the Midwest may be able to bypass the warming climate not by getting more water for their crops, but instead by adapting to climate change through soil management says a new study from Michigan State University, published earlier this month in Nature Communications. Read the full article here.
California Air Resources Board is Hiring
The California Air Resources Board is looking for an Air Pollution Program Specialist for Natural and Working Lands. The position will apply analytical methods to help identify, study, and address climate impacts through actions that affect natural and working lands. The posting is open to April 5 and available here.
Organic Broadcaster Newsletter
Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (March/April 2021)
This spring edition includes recent research on cropping systems and practices in the Midwest and impacts on soil carbon sequestration and soil health. The newsletter is available here.