By Robert Parkhurst, Agriculture Greenhouse Gas Markets Director at Environmental Defense Fund

With international trade pressures, low commodity prices, and unpredictable weather patterns, it’s a tough time for agriculture right now. But farmers are now and have always been innovative and resilient – and very resourceful. That’s why a new opportunity might be of interest to corn growers looking for new revenue streams: a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) is compensating growers who participate in a nitrogen fertilizer management pilot project.

With NRCS funding, Climate Smart Group, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and K·Coe Isom are leading the nitrogen management pilot project that will ultimately determine the feasibility of developing carbon credits by improving nitrogen efficiency on croplands. Corn growers who are implementing or are starting to implement practices that optimize the application of nitrogen to their fields may qualify.  If operations qualify, farmers could generate revenue from the resulting carbon credits.

Here are the requirements for growers interested in participating in the pilot effort with NRCS:

  • Growing corn over the past five years in corn-corn or six years in corn-soy rotation.
  • Starting to implement, or have recently implemented, new nitrogen optimizing practices, such as nitrogen variable rate technology (N VRT), zone mapping, soil testing, remote sensing, slow release fertilizers, use of urease inhibitors, changes to nitrogen source, and others.
  • Keeping good records of nitrogen applications.
  • Current nitrogen management activities should not be the result of any regulatory mandates.
  • Located in the following states: IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN, MO, NE, ND, OH, SD, WI.

Qualifying producers who sign an agreement with Climate Smart Group, the project developer for the program, and who provide basic nitrogen application records will receive payment for participating in the pilot project. All information will be kept confidential.

Some operations will have the potential to generate additional payments based on resulting sales of the credits. Climate Smart Group will work with growers to determine potential credit payment levels based on specific situations. Meanwhile, EDF is working to create a system that would guarantee payment for growers, even if the conservation and efficiency practices fail to generate credits due to factors such as the weather.

To help determine eligibility, growers can complete a short assessment.

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