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COMET-Farm™: Conservation Calculation

Posted by Spencer Miller, NRCS in Conservation
Aug 21, 2013
Healthy soil captures and stores carbon. Photo by Ron Nichols, NRCS
Healthy soil captures and stores carbon. Photo by Ron Nichols, NRCS

USDA’s new online carbon-capture calculator, COMET-Farm™, has nothing to do with comets. This tool is all about farms and their potential to help planet Earth. Since its recent release more than 4,200 visitors have already explored the new online COMET-Farm™ tool to learn how they can become part of the climate change solution.

Record-breaking concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are accelerating climate change. Agriculture has the unique opportunity to help contribute to a solution, as demonstrated by COMET-Farm™.

“When farmers use conservation practices, they improve soil health,” NRCS air quality scientist Dr. Adam Chambers says. “Healthy soil captures and stores carbon, effectively removing it from the atmosphere.”

Chambers, a lead developer of COMET-Farm™, has spent the past three years improving this tool, which calculates the environmental benefits of conservation.

Here’s how it works: producers enter information about their land and management—including location, soil characteristics, land uses, tillage practices and nutrient use—into the online tool. The tool then estimates the environmental benefits associated with conservation practices for cropland, pasture, rangeland, livestock operations and energy.

NRCS scientists released the first version of CarbOn Management & Emissions Tool (COMET) in 2005. Developed in partnership with Colorado State University, the first version calculated only how much carbon soil could capture. Later versions expanded the scope of the tool to include agroforestry components, energy and livestock.

“As scientists, our greatest challenge in developing COMET-Farm has been knowing when good is good enough,” says Chambers. “We wanted the tool to be as accurate as possible, but we had to find that balance between scientific accuracy and simplicity.”

With environmental markets emerging around the country, COMET-Farm™ will help producers estimate the value of carbon credits they could earn from various conservation practices. Conservation will not only pay indirectly through improved yields, lower energy costs, soil resiliency and other production-related benefits,– but could also be profitable in the environmental marketplace.

COMET-Farm™ is applicable to all agricultural lands in the lower 48 states. The tool is available for use at Future model releases are planned by NRCS as new methods for calculating greenhouse gas emissions become available.

Since its inception in 1935, the NRCS conservation delivery system has advanced a unique partnership with state and local governments and agricultural producers delivering conservation based on specific, local conservation needs, while accommodating state and national interests.

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Category/Topic: Conservation