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What is the Difference Between CRP & Carbon Credits?


Photograph of a woman planting seeds on farmland with trees in the background

The distinction between Carbon Reduction Projects (CRP) and carbon credits is pivotal in the context of addressing climate change and managing greenhouse gas emissions. Although CRP and carbon credits have many similarities and can work together, they are fundamentally different, which is important for landowners, business, governments, corporations, and anyone interested in decarbonization to understand. In this guide, we will explore the differences between CRP and carbon credits.


What are Carbon Credits?

Carbon credits represent a quantifiable, tradeable certificate or permit, each equivalent to the removal or avoidance of one tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) or an equivalent amount of a different greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. They often involve specific initiatives and land practices aimed at reducing the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.


Carbon credit generation can encompass a wide array of projects, including renewable energy installations, forest conservation efforts, reforestation, or afforestation. Landowners can find out how much carbon their specific property is sequestering by getting a free property report on LandGate's map:



What is CRP?

CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) is a land conservation program administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA). Established in 1985, CRP stands as one of the foremost conservation initiatives on private lands in the United States. Through the voluntary engagement of farmers and landowners, the program has made significant strides in achieving its conservation and sustainability objectives.


In exchange for an annual rental payment, farmers participating in the CRP program commit to converting environmentally sensitive agricultural land into areas planted with species that enhance environmental health and quality. The contracts under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) span 10 to 15 years. The overarching aim is to restore valuable land cover, thereby augmenting water quality, mitigating soil erosion, and curbing the loss of wildlife habitats.


CRP vs. Conservation Easements

CRP and conservation easements are different. A conservation easement is another legally binding agreement that is perpetual, meaning that it 'runs with the land' and can't be cancelled. Conservation easements also provide landowners with a way to make money on their land, but they prohibit future development on the land.


What is the Difference Between CRP & Carbon Credits?

For farmers looking to profit when switching to voluntary sustainable growing practices, there are many options. Privatized carbon initiatives and government-supported alternatives like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) stand out as two prevalent options. Although carbon initiatives providing financial incentives for carbon sequestration represent the latest market development, CRP programs have a longstanding history dating back to the mid-1980s. Other distinctive differences between the two include:


Contract Length

CRP contracts are typically 10 to 15 years, whereas carbon credit lease agreements have much more variation in length depending on the type of agreement, the type of land, and the carbon credits company themselves.


Goals

The ultimate goal of CRP is to prevent erosion by reestablishing land cover, so CRP systems are not optimized for carbon sequestration. Conversely, carbon credits aim to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere through specific, verifiable activities. However, according to the USDA, CRP does reduce our carbon footprint and has sequestered approximately 49 million tons of greenhouse gases per year by reducing water runoff and sedimentation along with planting approved grasses or trees (known as “covers”) to control soil erosion.


Program Intensity

Carbon programs are more intensive than CRP programs, both in the practices required to sequester carbon and in the data needed for verification. In order for carbon credits to be sold to companies or corporations, the credits must be verified through a third party, such as Verra.


Type of Land

CRP is limited to farmland and agricultural land, while carbon credits can be generated from almost any type of land. Trees sequester the most carbon compared to any other type of vegetation, so carbon credits from afforestation, reforestation, and from deferring the harvest of trees is common. However, carbon credit programs for farmland are also common, such as regenerative agriculture.


Carbon Additionality

In order to generate a carbon credit, a producer needs to provide evidence that one metric ton of CO2 (or its equivalent in greenhouse gases) has been sequestered in the soil as a result of the farmer's efforts. While this may seem straightforward, there is often an additional requirement known as "carbon additionality" that poses a greater challenge for many farmers who are already implementing conservation practices. To be effective, carbon credits must represent a genuine reduction or avoidance of emissions, so carbon credits companies are not willing to pay landowners for conservation activities that remove carbon from the atmosphere if those activities would have happened regardless.


How can Landowners Enroll in CRP Programs?

USDA Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) administers CRP programs. Interested farmland owners can apply during specific enrollment periods as outlined by the FSA. To be eligible for general CRP, a producer must have owned or operated the land for at least 12 months prior to the end of this general CRP signup period, but there are a few exceptions to this rule. Applications can be submitted on the FSA website.


How can Landowners Enroll in Carbon Credit Programs?

The type of land affects the type of carbon credit lease that a property owner can apply for.  Generally, the land must be either a farm or ranch that is actively managed. A potential carbon credit producer can enroll their land by working with an aggregator or verifier to measure and report upon specific practices being used on your property.

Landowners can list their land for lease for carbon credits for free on LandGate's competitive marketplace to explore a range of offers from multiple carbon developers. Although there is no guarantee that every listing will receive offers, listing is completely free and there is no obligation to accept any offers that you receive through a listing.




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