Carbon Farm Plans

The Implementation Task Force uses an augmented established NRCS planning processes to create and implement farm-scale greenhouse gas (GHG) plans, or Carbon Farm Plans (CFP). These plans assess farm system-level carbon sequestration enhancement potential, using USDA COMET-Farm and COMET-Planner to evaluate the potential impacts of selected NRCS and other conservation practices to on-farm terrestrial carbon stocks and GHG emissions.

Carbon Farm Plan components

Carbon Farm Plans capture baseline conditions at each farm, including soil mapping, site condition assessment and the establishment of performance monitoring protocols based on carbon market standards, where available.

Carbon Farm Planning is similar to NRCS Conservation Planning, but uses carbon and carbon capture as the organizing principle around which the Plan is constructed. This both simplifies the planning process and connects on-farm practices directly with ecosystem processes, including climate change mitigation and increases in on-farm climate resilience, soil health and farm productivity.

Carbon Farm Planning Process

The Carbon Farm Planning process differs from other approaches to agricultural conservation planning by focusing on increasing the capacity of the farm or ranch to capture carbon and to store it beneficially as soil organic matter (SOM) and/or standing carbon stocks in permanent vegetation.  While most modern agriculture tends to gradually lose carbon from the farm system, CFP is successful when it leads to a net increase in farm-system carbon.  By increasing the amount of photosynthetically captured carbon held, or sequestered, in long-term carbon pools on the farm or ranch, including SOM, perennial plant roots and standing woody biomass, Carbon Farming results in a direct reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

On-farm carbon in all its forms (SOM, living and dead plants and animals) represents embodied solar energy.  As such, carbon provides the energy needed to drive on-farm processes, including the essential soil ecological processes that determine water holding capacity and nutrient availability for the growing crop.  Consequently, the CFP process recognizes carbon as the single most important element, upon which all other on-farm processes depend.  

Like the NRCS Conservation Planning Process, CFP begins with an overall inventory of natural resource conditions on the farm or ranch. Through that process, opportunities for enhanced carbon capture by both plants and soils are identified.  Building this list of opportunities is a brain-storming process; it should be as extensive as possible, including everything the farmer and the planners can think of that could potentially sequester carbon on the farm.  At this stage, financial considerations should not limit the brainstorming process.  A map of the ranch is developed, showing all potential carbon capture practices and their locations on the ranch.

Next, needs and goals for the farm and economic considerations are used to filter the comprehensive list of options. The carbon benefits of each practice, if actually applied at the farm scale, are quantified using the USDA greenhouse gas model, COMET-Farm, or similar tool, to estimate tons of carbon that would be removed from the atmosphere and sequestered on farm by each practice.  A list of potential practices and their on-farm and climate mitigation benefits is then developed. 

Finally, practices are prioritized, funding sources identified and projects are implemented as funding, technical assistance and farm scheduling allows.  Over time, the CFP is evaluated, updated, and altered as needed to meet changing farm objectives and implementation opportunities, using the fully implemented plan scenario as a goal or point of reference. Plan implementation may be linked to carbon markets or other ecosystem service markets, in which case periodic plan evaluation may be tied to those verification schedules.

Because Marin’s farms are predominantly grass-based livestock and dairy ranches, we focus primarily on grazed grassland systems. At the same time, because Marin’s farms and ranches tend to be spatially extensive within a topographically diverse landscape, and because plans include afforestation and riparian restoration as carbon sequestration strategies where appropriate, we address hardwood rangelands (aka woodlands), agroforestry, and riparian systems, as well as grasslands, in our plans.  Arable systems can also be considered, particularly where they occur as a component within a more typical Marin rangeland agroecosystem.  Hedgerows, windbreaks, and riparian buffers are all considered under the carbon farm planning process, and implemented as appropriate within each farm system.

Carbon Farm Plans go to work

Read about the first three carbon farms in Marin County  on our Demonstration Farms page >>