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ACR to lead $20M USDA climate-smart agriculture commodities and markets project

New initiative will support U.S. rice and beef producers in Arkansas, Missouri and Tribal Lands

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, ARK. – Sept. 15, 2022 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has named Winrock International to implement the $20 million Growing Value for Producers Through Increased Access to Markets for Climate-Smart Commodities project. The project will support U.S. farmers and ranchers to increase adoption of climate-smart practices and capitalize on their climate value by certifying and monetizing results in commodity markets. Winrock’s proposal is one of 70 selected for USDA funding from among more than 450 applicants.

“There is strong and growing interest in the private sector and among consumers for food that is grown in a climate-friendly way,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in the September 14 announcement of USDA’s historic investment in partnerships for 70 climate-smart commodities and rural projects. “USDA is delivering on our promise to build and expand these market opportunities for American agriculture and be global leaders in climate-smart agricultural production. This effort will increase the competitive advantage of U.S. agriculture both domestically and internationally, build wealth that stays in rural communities and support a diverse range of producers and operation types.”

Winrock's American Carbon Registry will lead the USDA project with support from Winrock's Ecosystem Services and Wallace Center teams. Winrock is partnering with the Intertribal Agriculture Council, based in Montana; Arkansas-based Riceland Foods and Arva Intelligence; and Virginia-based Blue Raster on the new initiative.

"Farmers in the U.S. already provide some of the best, most efficiently produced food in the world, but there's huge additional potential for U.S. agriculture to reduce emissions, store carbon, increase resiliency and provide ecosystem benefits by transitioning to climate-smart practices," said Winrock's president and CEO, Rodney Ferguson.

"That transition has to be both science-based and tied to markets that benefit all producers – including small, family-owned farms, and historically underserved farmers," Ferguson added. "This new USDA project led by Winrock's American Carbon Registry aims to do just that by inclusively increasing access to markets for climate-smart commodities. It incentivizes the transition by enabling producers to obtain agriculture Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Certificates that can be issued and tracked transparently through a fully digital public registry. Those certificates can then be monetized through commodity markets and to corporates towards their supply chain climate commitments."

The Growing Value for Producers project, " will expand the  climate-friendly work that farmers and ranchers across the U.S. are already doing to reduce methane and improve soil health," said Winrock's Mary Grady, ACR executive director and CEO of the Environmental Resources Trust. "Our objective is to reduce the cost burden on farmers to adopt a wide variety of climate smart practices and to streamline the verification of climate results. The project will demonstrate how markets can deliver value directly to farmers by putting them in the driver’s seat.”

The five-year USDA project will develop and pilot a farmer-friendly system to generate producer-owned agricultural GHG Certificates, issued and tracked in a public registry, that producers can monetize through commodity markets for corporate buyers, enabling them to achieve and substantiate supply chain and net zero climate claims. It will offer financial support ($25-$40 per acre per year) and technical support to producers to adopt practices and participate in the market through sales of the certificates.

Winrock will build on its extensive carbon market experience operating ACR to create a producer-friendly, fully integrated, standardized, transparent, and scalable platform for tracking practices and cost-effective verification of resulting GHG benefits issued to producers as traceable certificates. The new platform, called the ACR Agriculture Registry for Climate Smart Commodities, is similar to current carbon market registries, although the assets generated will not be carbon offset credits. Instead, producers will generate agriculture GHG Certificates, a unique type of agricultural environmental asset representing one metric ton of carbon dioxide-equivalent mitigated or sequestered as the result of climate-smart practice implemented in a given year.

Winrock's partners in the new project, the Intertribal Agricultural Council (IAC) and Arkansas-based Riceland Foods, will support producer outreach in beef and rice production. Riceland Foods, a producer-owned cooperative and the world’s largest marketer of rice, has served local communities for over one hundred years. The IAC has, over the last three decades, become recognized as the most respected voice within the Indian community and government circles on agricultural policies and programs in Indian country. IAC producers are conservation leaders despite low access to USDA programs. This project will work with IAC to develop technical solutions that support marketing climate-smart commodities that are designed specifically to support tribal producers. Arva Intelligence and Blue Raster will focus on digital monitoring, reporting, and verification of data. They will provide specialized support in the design, development, and use of the ACR Agriculture Registry.

"The goal is for this work to become nationally scalable for all producers, commodities, and practices across the U.S.," Grady said.

The project is among the first awarded under USDA's Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities investments, which will eventually top $3 billion in funding to expand markets for America's climate-smart commodities, leverage the greenhouse gas benefits of climate-smart commodity production, and provide direct, meaningful benefits to production agriculture, including for small and underserved producers.