Pilot project will enable southern cotton growers to participate in ecosystem markets

The Ecosystem Services Market Consortium, US Cotton Trust Protocol, Manulife Investment Management, and Forum for the Future announce the launch of an Eco-Harvest pilot project in Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, and Tennessee. This project will work with cotton farmers to generate high quality carbon and greenhouse gas credits on over 2,300 acres. Cotton producers targeted for enrollment include those implementing conservation practices such as nutrient management, reduced tillage, and cover crops.

Once producers are enrolled in ESMC’s Eco-Harvest program, ESMC quantifies credits and arranges third party credit verification by a global certification body, SustainCERT. Corporate buyers can purchase these verified credits to help meet their supply chain sustainability targets.

The project will apply ESMC’s Eco-Harvest streamlined programming to support cotton farmers’ transition to regenerative agriculture using financing provided by the Cotton Foundation. US Cotton Trust Protocol and Manulife Investment Management are working separately as enrollment specialists helping their network of cotton producers through ESMC eligibility requirements, sign up, and crop data entry into the Eco-Harvest Digital Platform.

Participating farmers, who may be new to private voluntary ecosystem markets linked to conservation practice adoption, will develop knowledge on and the ability to participate in markets. ESMC capacity building will allow for continued expansion for cotton growers to participate in ESMC’s Eco-Harvest program. In the future, this project plans to enroll Black, Indigenous, and People of Color farmers to ensure ESMC’s program builds capacity to enroll producers who may encounter barriers to participation in agricultural carbon markets.

“We are excited about Eco-Harvest program expansion into new regions and new crops like cotton,” ESMC’s Executive Director Debbie Reed said. “With collaborators US Cotton Trust Protocol, Cotton Incorporated, Manulife Investment Management, and Forum for the Future, we can ensure this program works first and foremost for the agricultural producers, and ensure they are rewarded for the value and the outcomes of their work adopting conservation practices. We will quantify improved outcomes in our science-based, standards-based Eco-Harvest program, sell the credits to corporate buyers, and pay producers. This pilot will expand our program to producers that have been traditionally left out of agricultural market programs and other opportunities.”

Sandra Seru, Managing Director for Forum for the Future Americas, said: “Forum for the Future sees this pilot as an exciting opportunity to work with partners, ESMC, Manulife Investment Management and USCTP to understand how ecosystem service markets can support the transition to just and regenerative agriculture systems by helping to de-risk the transition for growers. ESMC brings a robust monitoring, reporting, and verification system to enable farm communities to financially benefit from the positive climate, water, and biodiversity benefits they deliver, while USCTP has built an incredible network of trusted relationships with growers and technical expertise on regenerative cotton systems. Manulife Investment Management’s participation enabled this pilot to be deployed across significant acreage to ensure the pilot delivers meaningful results. In addition to supporting conventional growers, this pilot will diagnose and design solutions to address barriers to participation for BIPOC farm communities and smaller farmers. We’ll be paying attention to challenging trade-offs and consider how ecosystem services need to sit alongside other financial tools to ensure a transition to regenerative agriculture that allows farm communities to mitigate risk and thrive long-term.”

Brandon Lewis, Director, Sustainability, at Manulife Investment Management, said, “Implementation of sustainable agriculture practices, including cover cropping, carries significant upfront costs that can be prohibitive for our tenants. We seek to support them in the transition by providing training, information, and financial support through the generation of soil carbon credits. We’re excited to be partnering with ESMC and Forum for the Future – organizations also dedicated to the development of ecosystem marketplaces – to support large scale transition to regenerative agriculture.”