Agriculture

COMET helps farmers to measure carbon footprint

USDA's COMET-Farm and COMET-Planner help farmers know their farm's carbon footprint
COMET helps farmers to measure carbon footprint

USDA’s COMET-Farm and COMET-Planner help farmers know their farm’s carbon footprint.

As world leaders meet in Paris to discuss climate change, agriculture is one human activity that must be factored in—both as an emitter and an absorber of greenhouse gas. But how can farmers know their farm’s carbon footprint?

USDA’s COMET-Farm and COMET-Planner are the free, online tools allow farmers and ranchers to quantify their atmospheric outputs (emissions) and carbon benefits (sequestration) based on site-specific soils, crops, and management practices.

Farms have frequently been seen as sources of carbon emissions traced to operations such as tillage, fertilizing and methane from livestock. But farms also grow prodigious amounts of plant life—and that pulls carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Balancing agriculture’s net emissions and sequestrations has been a question mark. That’s where the COMET tools come in, says Adam Chambers, one member of the team that developed the online tools. Chambers is with the Energy and Environmental Markets Team of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). NRCS joined forces with Colorado State University to build the tools. California’s Department of Food and Agriculture, Marin Carbon Project and the California Farm Bureau lent their expertise to make the tools more user-friendly.

According to Chambers, farms improve their atmospheric benefits by implementing conservation practices such as reduced or no-tillage, cover crops, riparian buffers, hedgerows and more than 30 NRCS conservation practices that are "climate-smart," and can be calculated using the COMET tools. "The practices have long been recognized as good for soil, water and habitat," says Chambers, "now they are getting credit for keeping carbon (a.k.a. soil organic matter) underground too."

"Some farmers may be merely curious about their carbon footprint while others may be interested in tapping into carbon markets," says Chambers. While current prices are quite low, future conditions could change this, Chambers says. "This could be a further incentive to ‘farm for carbon’." 

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