A new soil carbon bill breaks ground
The ARACI Act will tackle hurdles to scaling land-based carbon removal
by Cristel Zoebisch, deputy director of policy
It is a big day for land-based carbon removal policy. Today, Senators Smith (D-MN) and Young (R-IN) introduced the Advancing Research on Agricultural Climate Impacts Act (ARACI), a critical roadmap to scaling monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) of soil carbon outcomes in agriculture.
The ARACI Act tackles some of the biggest and most onerous hurdles that prevent widespread implementation of land-based carbon removal solutions: a lack of standardized methodologies for soil carbon measurement and fragmented data collection which make carbon sequestration outcomes uncertain and hard to verify. The bill also offers offers regionally-relevant data insights and on-the-ground support to American farmers to retool long-standing practices.
This legislation recognizes American farmers and ranchers who are managing their land and feeding the country while at the frontlines of climate change. Developed to empower producers, this bill relies on US Department of Agriculture (USDA) program offices to develop tools and guidance to help farmers accurately quantify soil carbon storage and be accordingly paid for it, whether through federal incentives or private markets.
It’s a key piece of legislation in the 2023 Farm Bill, and the bipartisan support for public investment in soil carbon sequestration is promising as the package comes together.
Last year, Carbon180 released the Soil Carbon Moonshot: Grounding Carbon Storage in Science report where we illustrated how research investments could unlock soil carbon storage across US agriculture. We outlined five key investment areas:
- Fundamental research: Understand which practices work best across US farms, from Minnesota and Indiana to Colorado.
- Monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV): Develop the measurement tools necessary to pay farmers and account for climate benefits (you can’t manage what you can’t measure).
- Data collection and management: Improve data collection for better policy, predictive models, and land management decisions.
- Adoption of soil carbon practices: Lower the financial and operational barriers to adoption, especially for historically underserved producers who face unique challenges
- Demonstration trials: Expand projects demonstrating innovative soil carbon practices to enable sharing lessons and best practices within farming communities (because seeing is believing).
The ARACI Act mirrors many of these recommendations included in the Soil Carbon Moonshot around MRV, data collection and management, and demonstration trials for soil carbon. It is the first piece of legislation taking a multi-prong, science-based approach to soil carbon sequestration, and we’re proud to endorse it.
Let’s get into the weeds of the bill text. The ARACI Act will activate agricultural lands as carbon sinks by directing USDA to:
- Develop consistent and standardized soil carbon measurement methodologies,
- Leverage the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) to develop new tools for MRV of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration,
- Conduct on-farm demonstrations to improve producer understanding and adoption of soil carbon sequestration practices,
- Establish a Soil Carbon Inventory and Analysis Network led by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to inventory, monitor, and analyze soil carbon and greenhouse gas changes on agricultural land over time, and
- Develop and update modeling tools that allow users to estimate changes in greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration as the result of implementing conservation management practices.
With increasing interest from the private and public sectors alike in soil carbon sequestration, we need foundational investments in science. That’s what the ARACI Act does: facilitates regionally-relevant land management decisions for producers, brings legitimacy into voluntary carbon markets and other carbon-focused incentives, and tracks progress toward policy goals.
Put simply, the ARACI Act makes measuring soil carbon more transparent, accurate, and accountable to climate benefits, while ensuring that farmers can maximize and be rewarded for soil carbon storage. These common-sense policies must be included in the 2023 Farm Bill to catalyze soil carbon storage.
Edited by Ana Little-Saña