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Environmental Markets in Ag: More Than Just Soil Carbon

When we think about Measurement, Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification (MMRV) needs and scaling markets for Climate-Smart Agriculture, we need to think about NET SYSTEMS IMPACT, rather than focusing solely on soil carbon outcomes. But what does that mean and why? Let’s dig into exactly what net system impact looks like, why it matters, what we can do, and how HabiTerre can help.

Missing the Production System Forest for the Soil Carbon Tree

Most solutions for MMRV in use today focus primarily on soil, not the complete production system. When you focus on the soil and absolute soil carbon values to estimate change over time rather than looking at the entire system, you’re using a MORE EXPENSIVE approach to tell a LESS COMPLETE story.
This is where the industry is missing the production system forest for the soil carbon tree. We need to operate at full production system scale and scope, which includes a lot more than just soil carbon.

To be clear, soil carbon measurements are absolutely necessary. What we’re talking about is not an “either, or” but a “YES, AND” way of thinking. This is an emphatic YES to improvements to how we measure soil carbon, AND we can use those improvements as one component to a systems way of thinking to better quantify all sources of emissions and other environmental impacts. Not only does this systems way of thinking result in more accurate and scalable estimates for soil carbon flux, but it also unlocks other environmental improvement pathways and ways to add greater value to farmers who are looking to improve operational efficiency and profitability.

Farmer-Centric Way of Thinking

Some of the other system impacts we quantify at HabiTerre beyond soil carbon are nitrous oxide and methane emissions, fertilizer use efficiency, water use, and water quality impacts. By doing all of this within the context of net system productivity, it brings us full circle to a farmer-centric way of thinking.

When we help farmers optimize their use of resources both in terms of crop inputs and environmental resources, we can help them optimize profitability in an evolving market context and address major concerns such as potential impacts to yield associated with various practice changes. This is a critical component of the climate-smart agriculture picture, where we optimize the production efficiency rather than optimizing soil carbon alone. Modern farmers know that soil health is a very important aspect of their production system, but it is one among many factors they need to consider for the sustainability and success of their operations.

We Need to Move...

Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) Stock Changes over periods of time...

Net SOC Flux Annually, Nitrous Oxide (N2O) and Methane (CH4) emissions, and impacts to productivity, water use, and water quality.

Why Does This Matter?

This perspective matters because we know that every dollar spent on quantification is a dollar that is not going to support farmers. To grow these markets, it’s all about farmer engagement and maximizing farmer support while minimizing the data gathering and engagement burden.

We can do this by:

  • increasing the share of funding that goes directly to incentivizing and de-risking practice change,
  • offering technical assistance and actionable insights to support new practice adoption, and
  • reducing the data-gathering burden for all parties.

Every dollar spent on quantification and project admin is a dollar that doesn't go to supporting farmers.

Where Do We Go From Here?

We know we can only achieve optimal net impact by looking at the whole system. This means operating at the full scale of the US production system and the full scope of field-level systems. Much of the technology needed to do this is here today – now is the time to advance adoption and scale.

Driving adoption and scale will require collective efforts across market sectors, from public policy and funding to private market mechanisms and collaboration, all of which tie back to shared resources the entire industry would benefit from.

Government Policy

The USDA’s Partnerships for Climate Smart Commodities funding announced in 2022 with awards beginning now in 2023 is an exciting step to advance these markets. It is important, however, that we recognize that this is only an initial step in the right direction and has opportunities for refinement, such as ensuring that we are not overly prescriptive with requirements to use certain quantification tools and methods, as this can stifle innovation and keep us stuck with using outdated approaches not designed for scale in an evolving market context.

Funding Innovative Research for Publicly Available Research

From a funding perspective, public data at scale is necessary. A great deal of resources are being wasted through the inefficiency of commercial efforts that create proprietary data sets for individual projects rather than leveraging a pool of shared resources at a national scale.

This is where we can do better – by funding innovative research at the nexus of public research institutions and commercialization efforts for scale. This can serve to ensure a proliferation of publicly available research and data, and importantly, that leading edge research is applied to solve real world problems.

By fostering engagement between these entities, we can collaborate to build valuable research networks to incorporate not just updated soil databases, but also networks of other tools to measure things like in-situ gas flux and field conditions.

Collaborate and Integrate Solutions

Finally, in the spirit of “Yes, and,” we have the opportunity to create a pre-competitive collaboration leveraging the unique strengths of various entities. For example, rather than we at HabiTerre having to engineer and deploy our own soil sampling solutions, the market would be best served by us focusing on our core strength of scalable production system analytics and partnering with those focused on advancing soil sampling technologies and techniques.

This market is too important and too new to race to carve up the competitive pie – we should be focused on collaboration to grow the opportunity for all, especially the farmers that we serve.

Innovative Solutions Require Policy & Funding Support + Innovative Data-Gathering Infrastructure

Policy & Funding


  • Reporting requirements that do not prescribe the use of outdated tools and methods
  • Focus on Maximizing value to farmers


  • National-scale research infrastructure
  • Fund innovation at the nexus of public and private development


Publicly Available, Peer-Reviewed Research

Consistent Data Sources at National-Scale for Everyone

  • Soils
  • Production
  • CO2 and other GHG flux (e.g., expanded eddy covariance research site network, IoT sensors)
  • Water Use
  • Watershet Impacts
Integrated Solutions

Pre-Competitive Collaboration

  • Soil measurement solutions + scalable modeling
  • Transaction mechanisms + practice and outcome verification
  • Institutional research + scalable commercialization efforts

So How Does HabiTerre Help?

HabiTerre’s unique system-of-systems approach, backed by over 100 peer-reviewed publications and over $25M in R&D funding from multiple federal agencies such as USDA, the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Department of Energy, and others, is proof of the value that can be created by working across sectors and with leading research institutions like the University of Illinois. All of this work has been done with dedication to increasing value to farmers in emerging environmental markets while also providing the data and confidence necessary to scale the overall market.

40% Reduction in Soil Sampling Costs

We can reduce soil sampling costs by up to 40% as compared to current voluntary carbon market approaches while maintaining or improving quantification accuracy. This massive cost reduction represents dollars that can go directly to providing more resources to farmers and reaching a greater number of acres.

Efficient Quantification = Greater Share for Farmers

Our approach carries the added benefit of lower overall quantification and data-gathering costs, further increasing the share available to farmers. And with advances in soil measurement, HabiTerre can create a multiplier effect to those improvements as compared to pairing those improvements with other soil modeling approaches on the market today, further increasing the share to farmers.

With Rigorous Science Comes a Bigger Pie

This all comes together to mean that not only can HabiTerre provide the rigorous science and full system perspective needed to grow the overall market pie, but we can also ensure that a greater share of that pie goes where it needs to: the farmer.

Stanford Report: “Data Progress Needed for Climate-Smart Agriculture”

An article published in April 2023 by the Stanford Law School Policy Lab discusses how critical improvements in carbon, methane, and nitrous oxide measurement and monitoring protocols and data sharing are needed to realize the full potential of climate-smart agriculture. 

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