The five-year pilot is supported by a $25 million grant through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program to establish a collaborative framework that:

  • Recognizes producer associations’ leadership;
  • Prioritizes individual farmers’ goals and opportunities for improved environmental and economic sustainability;
  • Engages the private sector as a service provider and vehicle for market development;
  • Situates the land-grant system as an honest broker that brings expertise in climate-smart agriculture and market development as well as experience engaging producers;
  • Provides technical and financial assistance for producers in implementing a customizable suite of climate-smart practices that will be measured, monitored, reported, and verified (MMRV) to establish quantifiable benefits of those practices.

CARAT’s outcomes will be two-fold in:

  1. Improving the environmental performance of participating producers’ lands and operations;
  2. Establishing a value for those improvements that can be trusted by both the dairy producers and customers to establish a fair and credible market for practices that reduce GHG emissions and/or increase the removal of GHG from the atmosphere.

Pilot practices

CARAT is producer-driven and prioritizes the needs of small- and medium-sized dairy farms and industry in Pennsylvania.

CARAT begins with the producer. Dedicated teams, including more than 35 researchers, students, and support staff from Penn State will interface directly with dairy farmers and their operational and industry teams to develop producer-driven implementation plans, also known as “climate-smart comprehensive dairy feeding strategy and nutrient management plans,” which will be designed and implemented with technical support from Red Barn Consulting. The Center for Dairy Excellence will manage the recruitment and contractual agreements with the producers and work with the technical support providers, Penn State, and the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania to build individual implementation teams to facilitate critical producer adoption and industry buy in.

Funds will be used to incentivize participating producers and offset the cost of implementing the climate-smart practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and for access to their farms for verifying and monitoring of those practices.

These partnerships establish the necessary trust along the supply chain and across industries through the creation of a shared understanding that reconciles what is produced on the ground with what is sold or exchanged in markets.

Measure benefits

The Penn State research team will install field equipment on participating farms to measure the reductions in emissions resulting from implemented climate-smart practices, such as using food additives or fine-tuning the cows’ diets to reduce methane or the management of manure and nutrients in the field using nitrification inhibitors and other climate-smart approaches to farming. Information pertaining to individual farms will be confidential, but the aggregated information from the project will be shared transparently to underpin and develop future functional climate-smart market opportunities.

The remainder of the funds from the award will be used to support the rigorous research-oriented work of measuring, monitoring, reporting, and verifying (MMRV) the benefits of these practices on the participating farms as well as the market development research required to understand the value of these practices in an emerging climate-smart commodity market. This project brings together the interdisciplinary expertise of Penn State researchers and students across plant science, animal science, meteorology, veterinary and biomedical science, agricultural economics, and rural sociology.

A strong climate-smart commodity market that rewards producers for their practices requires a reliable and accurate valuation of the reductions resulting from the climate-smart practices, from the measurement to the market.

Develop commodity

Penn State scientists will use a variety of publicly available tools and other computational tools developed at Penn State to monitor and document the reductions in GHG emissions. CARAT partner, Proagrica, will deploy existing software and, alongside the CARAT partners, will scope the structure of the data needed to record, monitor, and verify these benefits, ensuring that climate-smart commodities can be reliably traced through the supply chain.

The majority of the state’s 5,000 dairy farms are small, with an average herd size in the state of 94 milking cows, in comparison to the national average herd size of 232. Although Pennsylvania’s dairy industry retains many small- and medium-sized producers compared with Midwestern or Western states, the Commonwealth still ranks 8th in the nation for milk production and in the top 5 for multiple dairy products. The project team will leverage its networks with external partners to reach a representative cross section of the diversity of Pennsylvania’s dairy farms, including underserved groups such as plain-sect farmers, women-owned farms, new and beginning farmers, and the large Latino workforces employed on dairy farms.

Conducting this project in Pennsylvania affords the team unique opportunities at a manageable scale for the pilot but the results and conclusions drawn from this study can be extrapolated for use in similar regions, in which the size and scale of the average farm have not yet been the focus of carbon market efforts. Economic, environmental, and geographic traits of Pennsylvania—from its proximity to large urban centers to its critical role in the Chesapeake Bay watershed—provide a unique study site to better understand the challenges facing the nation and other regions and an opportunity to test and validate solutions.

The success of CARAT relies on the trust that has already been established with a producer network, and Penn State will nurture that trust by working closely with our partners and relying on their leadership across different interest groups, expertise in providing technical assistance, and understanding of market needs.