More than 50 thousand acres of Oklahoma farm and ranch land has now been enrolled in a voluntary program that rewards landowners for good natural resource stewardship that sequesters carbon in the soil while providing additional conservation benefits, according to Joe Parker, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD). 

“We are extremely excited about the response we have seen from agriculture producers to this unique, one-of-a-kind program,” Parker said.  “By helping landowners sell the carbon credits generated on their land when they practice good conservation, we are rewarding them not just for the carbon they are sequestering, but also for the other benefits the practices they are undertaking on their land generate, including controlling soil erosion, improving wildlife habitat and protecting water.  This is a great way to help address numerous natural resource issues while putting a little money in producer’s pockets.”

Started as a pilot project on the North Canadian River system, the Oklahoma Carbon Initiative has now grown to a state-wide program with acres under contract in all parts of Oklahoma.   Farmers, ranchers and other landowners throughout the state are now receiving per acre payments on conservation practices ranging from conversion of conventional-till crop production practices to no-till cropping, improved pasture management, conversion of marginal crop land to grass and improved range management based on the amount of carbon these practices store in the soil. 

According to Sarah Pope, Director of the Oklahoma Carbon Initiative and Special Projects at OACD, enrollment of this many acres is a testimony to the stewardship ethic of Oklahoma landowners.

“From the days of the dust bowl, the farmers, ranchers and other landowners of Oklahoma have always stepped up to the plate when called on to address environmental challenges,” Pope said.  We are glad that we have had the opportunity to help reward some of the good work done by so many Oklahomans to protect our natural resources.”

In addition to the commitment of the state’s landowners, Popes said this program also has benefited from the dedication of many private and public entities.

“Western Farmers Electric Cooperative, an electrical generation cooperative in Oklahoma, first got the ball rolling by making the initial large-scale purchase of credits on the North Canadian River,” Pope said.  “Next we were able to get support from both the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (better known as the stimulus plan) and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG). 

“We also were able to initiate the ECOpass program in partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation to allow visitors to Oklahoma to offset the environmental footprint of the their trip to our state by purchasing these credits and we were able to utilize the only active state government credit verification system in the United States through the Oklahoma Conservation Commission’s Credit Verification Program to make sure everything was above board and adequately verified. 

“The bottom line is that it’s been a long road, but the hard work and dedication of so many individuals is clearly paying off with the success of this program.”

Pope said that while the enrollment of 50 thousand acres is a great accomplishment, OACD plans to continue expanding the carbon program.

“We are very happy with the success we have had so far with this initiative but we are just getting started,” Pope said. “Our goal is to continue to help the landowners of Oklahoma to address issues affecting our soil, water, air and wildlife habitats through voluntary, locally-led means.  We believe this is a great way to reward good stewardship on the land while addressing a natural resource concern through a voluntary, market- based approach.

“Producers are getting paid for protecting our natural resources; individuals who want to reduce their carbon foot print have a means to do that and we all benefit from the work done on the ground.  This is a big win-win for everyone and we are proud to be a part of it.”