The “Scalable on Farm Greenhouse Gas Reductions and Water Quality Improvements: Development and Implementation of an Economical and Verifiable Insetting and Accounting Framework” project began in December 2016. At the time, corporate interest in supply chain interventions that reduce GHG emissions was growing and many coffee, chocolate and cosmetics companies had already begun to implement on-farm emission reduction projects in their supply chains. However, at the time no guidance on how the impacts of supply chain interventions, often called ‘insetting’ projects, should be quantified and reported was available and there was concern about the credibility and consistency of these insetting claims.
With funding support from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS’s) Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) Program, Bayer, NCGA and partners began work to develop a unique and comprehensive value chain intervention that places climate smart agricultural practices on the right acres, verify the success and impact of those practices, and ultimately create a replicable approach for corporate carbon emissions reduction in their supply chain. One of the most innovative components of the project focuses on delivering management practice systems that create both opportunities to reduce corporate value chain emissions and provide improved economic outcomes for farmers. When complete, it will be the first externally-validated intervention for the supply chain for row crops in agriculture. Bayer is committed to positively impacting climate change and in the past year has set goals to reduce field greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030 as well as be carbon neutral in its own operations.
The project is the second pilot in the world to achieve Design Certification – see: https://registry.goldstandard.org/projects/details/2824.
What is "insetting"?
“Carbon insetting” is a concept that takes an alternative approach to “carbon offsetting” by helping companies achieve carbon/greenhouse gas reduction goals. Unlike offsetting, where tradable assets like carbon credits are created and sold to others, carbon insetting is a proactive approach to reducing carbon directly and reporting those reductions within a corporation’s own carbon footprint.
In this CIG project, participating companies partnered with farmers in their supply chain who took steps to reduce Greenhouse Gases on their farms. Although many different pathways have been explored for corporate GHG reduction, such as purchasing offsets, the concept of insetting brings many co-benefits that offsetting doesn’t have. As an investment, insetting can move the company several steps closer to being carbon neutral, while also improving efficiency, strengthening communication and trust within the supply chain and improving communities.
Aligned with gold standard
Part way through the project (2018), the Gold Standard released its Value Chain Interventions Guidance. This guidance was developed by the Gold Standard in collaboration with Danone, Livelihoods Funds, WWF, MARS, the Science Based Targets Initiative, CDP and UNEP. Gold Standard was identified as the entity who could facilitate, through Ag working groups, and their various Pilots, further development of the Value Chain Guidance. The guidance was meant to inform for Agri-Food corporates how they may embed emission reductions from interventions in their supply chains (or Scope 3 emissions) and report those against their GHG inventories (using the WRI GHG Protocol). Shortly after, the Gold Standard also released is draft Soil Carbon Guidance. This document provides guidance on how to quantify carbon sequestered in soil. Collectively, these two pieces of guidance influenced the global dialogue on carbon insetting.
Given this, the project team reviewed both documents and identified an opportunity to align this project with the Gold Standard’s work. Specifically, the project team saw an opportunity to broaden the Gold Standard 2018 guidance by adapting its ‘supply shed’ concept for agri-food companies (i.e. companies sourcing products from farms such as MARS, Danone and others), into a ‘sales shed’ concept that could be used by agri-input companies (i.e. along with Bayer, Syngenta and Nutrien who are now participating) interested in influencing on-farm interventions. In this respect, we have broadened the opportunity for multiple entities to collaborate and invent on farm to bring about reductions and removals through interventions. The relationship between agri-supplier and agri-food corporations’ scope 3 emissions is provided in the figure below.
A Low Cost, Low-Touch Verification System
The project was implemented in six phases over a 39-month(3.25 years) period. Out of six phases, Regrow (Dagan at the time) was responsible for two phases of the project for which the details are provided below.
Water Quality Co-Benefits Measurement
DNDC model, now part of FluroSense Carbon module, was used for the analysis of the impact of using no-till (vs. conventional till) and cover crops (vs. no cover crop) on rates of nitrate (NO3)leaching. Data from county level summaries of DNDC simulated NO3 leaching rates from more than 1.7 million field segments were used in this analysis. The investigation found that on average the higher the percent of conventional tillage in a county, the higher the county level rate of NO3 leaching. Further, the higher the percent of no cover cropping in a county, the higher the rate of NO3 leaching, while there was insufficient contrast in no cover cropping percentages to make conclusions.
A Low Cost, Low-Touch Verification System System Development
The Operational Tillage Information System (OpTIS), now part of FluroSense Sustainability module, was used to observe and quantify tillage practices, cover cropping practices and crop residue on over 800 fields on Soil Health Partnership (SHP) farms. Certified crops advisors were also engaged in these regions to gather road-side information for validation purposes. Specifically, field visits were completed to collect cover cropping data for the surrounding watersheds and the validation process demonstrated that OpTIS maps conservation practices with accuracy greater than 80%.
The project team was able to also obtain high resolution satellite imagery for multiple 10 SHP sites for multiple years from the SPOT4 and Planet Labs satellites with spatial resolutions between 3 and 5 meters. Analysis on these farms indicated that higher resolution imagery was more sensitive and better able to detect tillage and cover crop practices than 10-meter Sentinel imagery, but cost and availability hinder its usefulness for large scale applications. The possibility of using drone imagery was also explored. Drone imagery was very successful in mapping tillage and cover crops, including residue levels and percent biomass; however, cost, logistics and FAA restrictions on the use of drones once again hamper practicality. Overall, the system was designed with the goal of providing low-cost and low-touch verification, and although the inclusion of high resolution imagery is possible, it is not required for OpTIS to operate.
The framework, soil organic carbon quantification methodology and low-cost, low-touch verification system were piloted, and insets were generated.
As a result, the CIG Project is the second intervention, globally, to achieve Design Certification under the Value Chain Intervention Guidance and Gold Standard for the Global Goals (GS4GG) (see (https://www.sustain-cert.com/press-release-2/). This achievement verifies that the project has followed best practice principles and is a key milestone toward unlocking credible value chain emissions reductions and removals aligned with corporate reporting, Science-based Targets and Net-Zero goals. Regrow team (represented by Dagan at the time) has played a critical role in the design and development of the low-cost low-touch verification system required with the accuracy meeting globally recognized standard.
The Project Partners
The CIG project had six partners: Soil Health Partnership, Bayer, Regrow (formerly Dagan Inc), Radicle Balance, Crop Growers LLC, Viresco Solutions and EFC Systems (formerly AgSolver). The roles and responsibilities of each organization are as follows:
- Soil Health Partnership (SHP)– SHP was the project administrator, responsible for coordination and financial reporting. In addition, SHP’s grower-cooperator sites formed the basis for evaluating the climate smart agriculture practices against conventional methods of production.
- Bayer – Bayer co-funded the project and was heavily involved in all aspects of the project related to Bayer’s GHG insetting program. Bayer also reports on all the verified environmental benefits achieved from the project.
- Regrow [formerly Dagan] – Dagan was responsible for design and development of a low-cost, low-touch verification process. Specifically, the Operational Tillage Information System (OpTIS) was tested to audit crop residue, tillage and cover crop practices. The DNDC model was used to quantify these metrics.
- Crop Growers LLC (CG)– CG was also be involved in the testing and development of the low-cost, low-touch verification system. Specifically, CG uses data from the Satellogic constellation (which provides real-time coverage) to assess cover crops and reduce tillage practices.
- Viresco Solutions – provided project management and technical support and lead the creation of the carbon accounting and insetting framework.
- EFC Systems – EFC Systems deployed its precision business planning services to the participating growers, provide high resolution environmental performance analysis and evaluate the economic and environmental performance of the project using precision agriculture data sources.