CarbonRancher is a non-partisan, voluntary, non-profit project from American Climate Partners designed to capture atmospheric carbon in grassland soils of North America.
CarbonRancher was launched in Virginia in 2022 as a multi-year pilot project to move the needle on the Commonwealth’s goal of a Net-Zero CO2 economy by 2045 beyond the targets already set by the Virginia General Assembly for the energy sector. These energy targets alone are insufficient to get Virginia to Net-Zero.
Since 2011 American Climate Partners, through its SoilKeepers program, has been providing residential, commercial, agricultural, and conservation services to Virginia landowners that provide the twin co-benefits of atmospheric carbon sequestration and enhancement of land and water biodiversity. Directly as a result of our services, our landowner clients have captured carbon and created grassland and pollinator habitat on over one thousand acres, most in rural areas of Virginia.
Building on lessons learned from our decade of SoilKeepers vegetation and soil health management experience, American Climate Partners has the knowledge and skills to assemble a Team of Partners necessary to synergize regenerative management across the three major grassland sectors of the mid-Atlantic — agriculture, residential/commercial, and rapidly growing solar energy.
Our intention is to help landowners immediately implement once in a generation achievable, common sense, natural carbon capture solutions to move fossil-based atmospheric carbon down into soil carbon pools, where it can be stored for tens to hundreds of years, perhaps longer, depending on depth.
The cost to do this may be a fraction of high-tech carbon capture simply because carbon is only one of multiple tangible benefits from this type of management. If a farmer can still sell cattle, still sell hay, and sequester carbon, the cost of sequestration per ton, drops by two-thirds. If an energy utility has to manage the vegetation under their solar arrays anyway, the cost to stimulate maximum soil carbon sequestration may be negligible as a portion of annual maintenance.
It is likely however that rates of increase of soil organic matter will be very small on an annual basis. However, if the unit cost is low, and landowners can somehow be compensated for long term sequestration – likely over 10-20 years (a timeframe that in some grasslands sectors may be difficult to secure), a significant proportion of the estimated CO2 shortfall to reach Net-Zero may be attainable.
Lots of studies have been completed that reveal how a variety of land management practices, such as no-till agriculture, can increase soil organic matter in the upper few inches of the soil column. Incentives have begun to be developed by government agencies and private companies for particular agricultural practices. These are based on models showing expected soil carbon increases.
The Virginia Grasslands Deep Carbon Program has been created as the applied research phase for CarbonRancher. The Deep Carbon project goes beyond current research efforts by developing data from deeper in the soil profile – down to 12 inches and to expand the methods used to potentially achieve greater soil carbon storage. Another groundbreaking aspect of the project is inclusion of all the major categories of grassland ownership in Virginia – lawns, hayfields, pastures, and grasses under new large commercial solar energy arrays.
THE FIRST GOAL
The first goal is to create a Deep Carbon Monitoring Network to improve statistical reliability and validity of the impact of regenerative management on deep soil carbon. As we understand more about the development of deep soil carbon, we will work with Partners to create new regenerative management incentives, through the CarbonRancher.org website.
THE SECOND GOAL
The second goal is creation of a deep soil carbon Alliance of landowners, committing to long-term sequestration of atmospheric carbon. We recognize the difficulty of gaining such a lengthy commitment and this is where the pool of incentives must be significant enough to compel landowner participation.
We consider this work, to return excess atmospheric carbon to the ground – climate restoration. We reject the notion that it is only the responsibility of large corporations to take responsibility for meeting this monumental challenge. Each of us has contributed to climate instability and collectively we can provide a significant portion of the greenhouse gas reduction needed to get Virginia to a Net-Zero CO2 economy. Many of us are already doing this, through our energy and transportation choices. To this we ask the public to add landscape management choices. Whether we own a home, an estate, a farm, a commercial building, or a solar array, we can manage our soil for carbon – to be a CarbonRancher, at the same cost over the long-term as conventional management.
And it is the case that to make a difference – collectively as individuals – we have to pull together. What must it take to really do this? Words can constrict. Words can liberate. Bad storytellers make spells. Great storytellers break them. We are mostly in an era of spell-making. To exit, we need a new story. As a start, we need immediate and large scale recognition that what lies beneath our feet is alive. Our salvation is indeed our soil. Recognizing this is less about knowledge and more about belief.
So we offer the Soil Carbon Proclamation, a launch into a new story of our relationship to our atmosphere and our land. If this message resonates and you do for the moment nothing else, please sign the proclamation. If you can do more, consider a generous gift to support our work. American Climate Partners is funded through private donations, government grants, and income from our mission-focused programs.