Report: Big Ag Plans to Use Carbon Markets, Farmer Data to Tighten Stranglehold on Food System
WASHINGTON – On the heels of new federal climate and agriculture policies geared toward supporting agricultural carbon markets, a new report reveals how this approach will fail to address the climate crisis while enabling the largest agribusiness corporations to entrench their market power and greenwash their operations.
The report, Agricultural Carbon Markets, Payments and Data: Big Ag’s Latest Power Grab by Open Markets Institute and Friends of the Earth, breaks down the scientific, economic, social and environmental pitfalls of private programs that pay farmers to generate carbon offset credits for corporate buyers. Polluters can buy credits from projects that overestimate carbon sequestration or fail to store carbon in the long term, running the risk of increasing carbon emissions while worsening pollution hotspots in low-wealth, Black and Brown communities.
Reliably and consistently measuring or modeling soil carbon is very challenging. Coupled with varied or inconsistent standards for verification, selling and buying carbon offsets is little more than speculation. The report found that some of the world’s largest agribusinesses, including Bayer (OTCMKTS: BAYRY), Cargill, Nutrien (NYSE: NTR) and Corteva (NYSE:CTVA), are launching carbon payment programs that depend on the companies’ proprietary technologies or require farmers to use their digital agriculture platforms. These programs allow corporate giants to define climate-smart agriculture, capture valuable farmer data, and promote the use of their products in destructive chemical-intensive monocultures, further entrenching their market power.
Despite a decades-long track record of failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support for carbon markets has gained momentum among U.S. policymakers. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 included two key carbon market provisions, the Growing Climate Solutions Act and the SUSTAINS Act, which will support and lend government legitimacy to corporate carbon market programs. The USDA’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities pilot programs, announced last fall, offered grants of tens of millions of dollars to some of the largest agribusiness corporations to evaluate the efficacy of various carbon sequestration and carbon payment schemes.
“Carbon markets have become a top strategy for agriculture and climate, despite a history of fraud, failure to reduce emissions and corporate greenwashing,” said Jason Davidson, Senior Food and Agriculture Campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “Such corporate schemes will strengthen the power of the largest agribusinesses, hand over private farm data, and fail to address the climate crisis. Instead of another handout to Big Ag, the Biden Administration and Congress must support farmers in pursuing proven climate solutions like ecologically regenerative agriculture.”
“We can’t trust the very corporations that got us into this climate crisis to get us out of it on their terms and timeline,” said Claire Kelloway, Food Program Manager for the Open Markets Institute. “Corporations are designed to serve their investors, not the public, and that’s exactly what these carbon offsetting schemes will do by locking farmers into their networks, protecting product sales, and stalling meaningful regulation.”
Key takeaways of the report:
- Agricultural carbon markets are jumping ahead of the science to commodify something that cannot be reliably measured. There is no scientific consensus on how long carbon remains in the soil or under what conditions. Carbon sequestered in the soil can be released by changing land management practices or through severe weather events, which fails to sequester carbon on a meaningful timescale to address climate change. Without basic market fundamentals of information exchange and consistent commodities, selling and buying offsets is little more than speculation.
- Carbon-sequestration verification programs allow agribusinesses to collect and monetize detailed agronomic data and drive new users to their digital agriculture platforms. This further incentivizes and promotes their products, such as Bayer’s Roundup and genetically engineered seeds, entrenching corporate market power and destructive chemical-intensive industrial monocultures. Yet, use of agrichemicals kills soil organisms that support carbon sequestration.
- By controlling the same private, unregulated carbon-offset markets in which corporations trade on their own accounts and set their own prices, they are subject to massive conflicts of interest.
- Carbon payment programs, especially those run by seed and chemical companies, are not designed for smaller and ecologically regenerative farms. Generally, the largest farms stand to profit the most from carbon payments, further marginalizing family-scale farms and driving consolidation. Farmers contractually commit to years, even decades, of more expensive practices that produce credits for Big Ag with minimal payment guarantees.
- Congress and the USDA should not waste time and resources promoting this questionable and harmful approach. Policymakers already have far more effective and proven tools to promote climate-friendly farming methods that do not exacerbate the liabilities and harms of private carbon-trading schemes.
Contact: Shaye Skiff, [email protected], 202-222-0723