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What are carbon offsets?

While many industries are making concerted efforts to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, others have been unable to cut their emissions. To come into compliance with regulations or to reach emission reduction goals, these firms must therefore purchase carbon offsets from parties who have reduced their emissions. These offsets are quantifiable units of emission reductions generated through implementation of activities that reduce or sequester greenhouse gases. Carbon offsets can be traded in marketplaces, such as the American Carbon Registry.

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Some agricultural entities have benefitted from selling into carbon markets in the United States and internationally. Farmers who sequester carbon in their soils using regenerative grazing techniques can work with a third party to verify that carbon as "credits" that they can sell to a carbon market. Markets that have an agricultural presence include the American Carbon Registry, the Climate Action Reserve, and Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard. These markets function as retailers or brokers, who are responsible for reselling the offsets generated and charge various fees for finding end buyers and transacting the credits. 

However, carbon offset markets may not be the best way to incentivize regenerative grazing practices. Globally, agriculture represents only about 1.5% of carbon offset projects initiated from 2005-2018, and those projects tend to originate from larger industrial agricultural producers. Additionally, because carbon markets are mainly voluntary at present, the price for carbon is fairly low, offering little incentive for farmers to go through the huge learning curve required to follow an offset protocol. Finally, carbon offsets are difficult in general to monitor and track correctly. Despite these challenges, our team decided to develop a protocol for regenerative grazers to use so that they can take advantage of the markets that do exist and be poised to enter new markets as they are created.

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Photo of regeneratively managed cows from Meeting Place Pastures in Cornwall, Vermont. Proprietor, Marc Cesario.

Carbon offset protocols are each very activity-specific. We took guidance and inspiration from similar carbon offset protocols already in existence and used by markets such as Verra and the American Carbon Registry for sequestration activities related to regenerative grazing. Our protocol differs in that, if accepted, it will be used through the Offset Network, a collaboration between higher education institutions. This network allows for increased flexibility and ultimately a more user-friendly experience for project participants. 

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