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.
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.