Central Illinois offers a clear view for understanding the potential of regenerative agriculture and emerging market opportunities for carbon credits. In the geographical center of the state, grain farmers are finding even on land they’ve worked for generations that the ground beneath their feet is fertile new soil for discovery.
Meet Brad Hobrock, Nathan Smith and two brothers, Doug Martin and Derek Martin. Long acquainted and working in close proximity to each other, they bring a generational perspective to their farming practices.
“My dad started doing no-till in the 1980s,” Doug Martin of Martin Family Farms explains. “At the time, his primary goal was to reduce soil erosion, which is critically important. But today, with cover crops and other practices, we’re taking new steps to improve the health of the soil.”
Brad Hobrock agrees, “There’s a world of difference between dirt and soil. What we’re doing with regenerative agriculture is returning soil to an effective, efficient system so it can work for us, instead of us working for the soil. We’re building organic matter, sequestering carbon back into the soil, mitigating weather related stress, suppressing pathogens, improving water holding capacity and gas exchange.”
He also reflects, “When I graduated from college nearly 20 years ago, ‘regenerative agriculture’ wasn’t even the faintest of buzzwords. Many of us had to learn on our own, and there was a steep learning curve at first. But we could also look to leaders like Graham Sait, John Kempf and Dr. Arden Andersen. Today, we’re still learning — as we should all be doing — and getting more into the details and intricacies of the process.”
Nathan Smith is a senior agricultural analyst with CIBO Technologies and farms near Brad Hobrock and Doug Martin. “We can’t continue farming the way previous generations did and sustain soil health. At the same time, profit margins in farming are usually pretty slim, so testing and implementing new practices on a large scale isn’t something you do overnight. It takes time, but better access to data today is an invaluable tool for making decisions.”
The good news is regenerative agriculture can improve profitability in terms of reduced management and inputs. All three farmers call attention to cost benefits such as reduced nitrogen rates.
In addition, access to carbon markets with CIBO Impact adds a new dimension to improving soil health. “Early conversations about CIBO’s carbon credit marketplace went well here,” Nathan Smith recalls. “Farmers were receptive, and in a lot of cases, they were already doing things that helped qualify their farms for the program. So making use of practices farmers are already doing certainly helps, as does the minimal amount of effort they need to do to participate on the CIBO platform.”
CIBO Impact enables new possibilities for scaling and accelerating regenerative agriculture by making it simple for farmers to enroll their land and participate in REAP (Rapid Enrollment Annual Payment). CIBO Impact quantifies carbon credits and automates the verification of farming practices using CIBO’s remote sensing and computer vision. Once practices are verified, the credits are registered on the CIBO Impact marketplace where buyers can purchase carbon credits directly from farmers.
What’s next for these forward-thinking farmers in Illinois? All three plans to expand their regenerative farming efforts in 2021 and beyond. Brad Hobrock has 400 acres enrolled in CIBO and notes, “We’re looking into inter-seeding and are already using biological inoculants and foliars.” Inter-seeding plants cover crops between rows to corn or soybeans to among other things help hold the soil in place during heavy rains. Biological inoculants introduce healthy microbes to the soil, and foliar applications increase the rate of photosynthesis plants are capable of, which helps rebuild soil organic matter and humus. All help restore the heath of topsoils and increase soil biodiversity.
Doug Martin comments, “We currently have 2,400 acres enrolled with CIBO and plan to continue adding more acreage. In terms of cover crops, which reduce erosion and improve the water holding of soils, we’re planting cereal rye right now in our fields and going into soybeans next year. On our corn fields, we’re planting oats, clover, barley and radishes.”
He adds, “In a lot of cases, growers are already involved in regenerative farming practices, and with CIBO there’s a financial incentive to do even more. On the Martin Family Farm, we’re always asking, what can we do better? My family has been farming in this area for six and seven generations, and I hope to pass things on to future family members. Improving soil health is one way we can be better stewards of the land.”