A new online tool called COMET-FARM enables agricultural producers to calculate how much carbon their conservation actions can remove from the atmosphere.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the free tool in a June 5 address to the National Press Club in Washington, where he outlined a vision for modern solutions to environmental challenges.

As a collaboration among USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Colorado State University and USDA’s Climate Change Program Office, COMET-FARM will also help producers calculate and understand how land management decisions impact energy use and carbon emissions.

“With the help of USDA’s conservation technology and efforts, agriculture and forestry have the unique opportunity to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it permanently in healthy soils,” NRCS Acting Chief Jason Weller said. “Tools like COMET-FARM will make it easier for producers to evaluate their soil’s carbon holding potential and allow for the adaptation of proactive climate change adaptation strategies.”

COMET-FARM works like this: producers enter information about their land and management using a secure online interface – including location, soil characteristics, land uses, tillage practices and nutrient use. Only the producer has access to data inputs and the information calculated by the tool. The tool then estimates carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emission reductions associated with conservation practices for cropland, pasture, rangeland, livestock operations and energy.

With record-breaking concentrations of carbon dioxide, or CO2, now in the atmosphere, agricultural conservation, especially soil and crop management, can contribute to removing CO2 from the air. Historically, conversion of native lands to crop production using intensive tillage has resulted in significant releases of soil carbon.

According to USDA’s Agriculture and Forestry Greenhouse Gas Inventory, conservation tillage and other practices have helped reduce these losses and, in many cases, reverse them. Agricultural soils present an opportunity to absorb a significant amount of carbon. Carbon-rich soils are healthy soils, meaning they’re more productive and resilient to extreme weather events, such as drought, because they hold more water and reduce soil temperature.

NRCS is helping producers employ a variety of different conservation practices on their land to better enable the soil to capture the carbon, including no-till farming. COMET-FARM will be instrumental in helping producers decide on the suite of practices that are best for their operation and their land.

COMET-FARM is applicable to all agricultural lands in the lower 48 states. The tool is available for use at www.comet-farm.com. Future model releases are planned by USDA as new methods for calculating greenhouse gas emissions become available.    

For more information about NRCS programs and services, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov or your local USDA Service Center.