Conservation Innovation Grants were first included in the 2002 Farm Bill under the leadership of Senator Harkin (D-IA), the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee during the 2002 Farm Bill and a key leader in the development of agriculture conservation programs. The 2002 Farm Bill also authorized the Grasslands Reserve Program, which preserves grasslands for grazing, seed development, to the exclusion of development..
The jewel of the 2002 Farm Bill conservation programs was the Conservation Security Program (slightly revised and now called the Conservation Stewardship Program), which “entitled” will agricultural producers to payments for conservation practices performed and maintained, as well as for new conservation practices. This comprehensive working lands program recognized the importance of addressing climate change as a viable and valuable objective worthy of compensation.
USDA announced that the creation of a partnership between Chevrolet and private landowners. Specifically, Chevrolet purchased 40,000 carbon dioxide tons from working ranch grasslands in the Prairie Potholes region, which is known for both grasslands and wetlands. USDA’s NRCS provided Ducks Unlimited a Conservation Innovation Grant of over $150,000 to develop methodology to determine storage of carbon for granting the credits. Landowners received monetary compensation for participating (not turning the ranchland into cropland) and Chevrolet gets the credits.
According to the USDA press release the system works as follows:
- Landowners voluntarily place lands under a perpetual easement but retain rights to work the land, such as raising livestock and growing hay.
- The carbon storage benefits of this avoided conversion of grasslands are quantified, verified, and formally registered resulting in carbon credits.
- The carbon credits are made available to entities interested in purchasing carbon offsets.
Maintaining grasslands and wetlands prevents the release of carbon gases that result tilling the land for crop production. The 5,000 – 6,000 acres of saved grasslands also serve as critical habitat for wildlife (Washington Post).