Study: Cover Crops Could Mean More Carbon Credits

May 30, 2018

Cover crops benefits range from protecting and enhancing soil to pest suppression, but a study finds they also can be an income source for carbon credits.
Credit Michael Fields Agricultural Institute

MADISON, Wis. - Cover crops have been around about as long as farming. Among other benefits, cover crops are good for the soil and create a natural barrier against pests. But they could also have another surprising benefit: carbon credits.

Cover crops eliminate a surprising amount of carbon dioxide.

Jim Stute, research director at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, said some crops can capture 8-12 tons of carbon per acre. "During that time in the growing season when everything's warm and if you've got moisture, things grow like crazy, you can capture a multiple tons within 60 days of planting," Stute said. The problem is that the United States doesn't currently have a carbon exchange.

The Chicago Climate Exchange existed about a decade ago and at one point had carbon trading at about $7.40 per ton. However, trading was slow and the exchange folded. Carbon trading was promoted in the Paris Climate Accords, and such exchanges do exist in other parts of the world.

But the U.S. has pulled out of the accord, and Stute said the country's current political climate makes it unlikely a carbon exchange will open for the United States any time soon. "They're meeting again sometime this spring to talk about it," he said. "But I don't think the political will is there, at least in the United States, to get it done."

Stute said regardless of the current status of a U.S. exchange, scientists will continue to research how much carbon cover crops can be used so farmers will have solid numbers on what to expect if such an exchange ever opens

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