Which Agricultural Practices Sequester Carbon at the Lowest Cost?

Content has been adapted from The Context Network “Get Smart, Stay Smart” Ag Carbon Service.

The short answer: Implementing cover crops and moving to no-till can make the greatest impact at the lowest cost, although the amount of carbon sequestered or emissions reduced and cost of each practice varies by region.

The big picture: The Context Network estimated which practices have the greatest impact on carbon sequestration and how much it costs farmers to implement those practices. To make these estimates Context used:

  • The USDA’s COMET-Planner tool,
  • Rate costs by state,
  • And expert insights.

Region matters when it comes to carbon impact and cost of practices. This article provides a broad overview of the practices and associated costs, but specific impacts depend on your location, climate, soil type, and cropping system.

Back it up: before we dig in to the table it’s important to remember that the exact impact and cost of implementing these practices will vary by farm. The table is a general guide that can help farmers and advisers discuss the practices and systems they can use on an individual farm basis.

Table 1. Agricultural practices broken down into their impact on carbon sequestration and cost. Research provided by The Context Network.

Costs for these practices ranged from saving $20 per acre to investing $200 per acre. Cost estimates were informed by the state custom rate costs.

  • High cost practices cost more than $110 per acre to implement.
  • Low cost practices cost less than $110 per acre to implement.

The carbon impact of each practice was categorized in a similar way, with practices ranging from sequestering 0 to 0.8 mt of carbon dioxide equivalent per acre per year (mt CO2e/A/yr—the most common metric for measuring carbon sequestration). These numbers were sourced from the COMET-Planner dataset collected by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

  • High carbon impact practices sequester between 0.4 to 0.8 mt CO2e/A/yr.
  • Low carbon impact practices sequestered between 0 and 0.4 mt CO2e/A/yr.

Notably, there are no low impact, high-cost practices. Adopting any of the methods from the table, depending on your particular crop, location, soil type, and conservation needs, will help you make a positive impact on your soil’s health.

Photo by Edwin Remsberg and courtesy of USDA-SARE.