Carbon programs and markets are cropping up around the United States, and agricultural stakeholders are finding it difficult to find trusted sources for information about these programs. In 2021, ASA, CSSA, and SSSA began work on building a source for unbiased, science-based information to evaluate today’s opportunities in carbon and ecosystem services practices and markets—which is now called Decode 6.
Decode 6—named for carbon, the 6th element on the periodic table—is a free, accessible online site that helps those interested in adopting carbon programs or creating policy to help curb climate change and evaluate the science behind the practices. The program seeks to answer the key questions that ag retailers, conservation and carbon sequestration nonprofits, startups, technology providers, ag retailers, seed providers, and equipment providers are asking.
“In this emerging area that is surrounded by hype, gaps in knowledge, and entities looking to profit, it’s especially important that we provide a tool that will allow individuals to make the best, most informed decisions while recognizing uncertainties,” Seth Murray, CSSA President-Elect, says. “I am excited that ASA, CSSA, and SSSA are leading the way with Decode 6 to inform farmers, land managers, policymakers, conservationists, industry, and the public about carbon sequestration and ecosystem services in an unbiased way.”
After media personalities like John Oliver and investigative journalists at outlets like ProPublica tackle the problems surrounding carbon sequestration, both farmers and the public are left wondering: Do carbon markets really work? And how do we sift the wheat from the chaff—the ones based in science and research from those that fail to meet our climate goals?
“The pinch point in adoption for many of these carbon programs is education,” Chris Boomsma, the Director of Science & Strategy for Decode 6, says. “Decode 6 is in a key position to provide unbiased, accessible, scientific information for farmers and their trusted advisers.”
With over $2.8 billion in recent USDA investments in Partnerships for Climate Smart Commodities, information about the science behind carbon sequestration and ecosystem services will be invaluable to project participants and implementers.
Covering six key topic areas, including carbon, markets and economics, water, nutrients, biodiversity, and climate, Decode 6 will provide bite-sized, science-based sources of information in question-and-answer format. Podcasts, videos, and short articles seek to answer exactly the questions farmers are asking when it comes to putting agricultural and ecosystem service practices into play.
“Going down the rabbit-hole of lengthy, peer-reviewed articles…is not always practical for most farmers,” says Nate Salpeter, a farmer and co-founder of Sweet Farm. “What excites me most about the Decode 6 launch is that there will now be a location where farmers can get short- and medium-format information from researchers across complex topics. It creates access to information to improve land stewardship across many different regions around the world, not just here in the United States.”
Decode 6 aims to provide short, timely explainer documents to important decisionmakers like policymakers and government leaders. These groups are often engaged on issues of agriculture, food, forestry, natural resources, and environmental protection—key resources. As USDA and other government entities seek to meet climate goals through innovation in the agricultural sector, they’ll find resources on decode6.org that briefly and concisely explain the issues of the day, giving them the background information they need to make informed decisions and guide policy development.
“It’s a huge opportunity for Decode 6 to leverage the interest in carbon right now to provide holistic information not just for farmers, but for everyone in the agronomic space,” says Dianna Bagnall, a research soil scientist at the Soil Health Institute. “In the long run, we’re going to find that carbon is really important, but it’s part of the bigger picture—this platform will help support practices that improve the ecosystem services of our agricultural systems, too.”