By Adrian White | 2.15.2021
How do we get carbon markets to take off? And how do we know if there’s interest in adopting sustainable and regenerative farming practices on a larger scale— and finally take that leap to scale up? Industry and ag tech leaders found interesting insights to these questions earlier this month.
In an online webinar held in February, geared towards carbon buyers, agronomists, farmers, ranchers, and more— and funded by the USDA, The Nature Conservancy, and other major farming conservation groups— two industry leaders of sustainable ag tech companies Dagan Inc. and FluroSat explained the initiatives of carbon markets and sustainability data mapping technology to a total of over 800 registered participants: a strong and diverse representation of agricultural industry in the U.S. and Canada.
Attendees’ reception to questions at the end of the webinar painted a provocative picture, and possibly the next best step, for scaling regenerative agricultural efforts. The thrilling news is that yes, immense interest in carbon markets and sustainable techniques is out there. Though more importantly, there is now a clear and exciting new path sustainable ag tech companies can take to give carbon markets, regenerative agriculture, and quantifiable climate solutions better traction in the ag world for years to come.
What are carbon markets?
Carbon market initiatives, which embolden massive-acreage farms to grow regeneratively, are on the rise. Major ag companies like Bayer, Nutrien, and the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC) have each launched carbon market programs in their own effort to galvanize progress towards carbon neutrality— or, better yet, going carbon negative. Each program incentivizes farmers—often through financial compensation and “carbon credits”— to adopt regenerative production in different ways: such as building soil health, crop rotation, and more.
Software giant Microsoft recently announced their own sustainability pledge and climate goals, vowing to become carbon negative by 2030. Their plan includes their own carbon credits and agricultural programs, already in the process of being adopted by and compensating farmers.
Sure, some successes have already been reported— but how are these initiatives faring on the ground? And to what scale? How could they be moved forward, and what help do they need? That’s what FluroSat C.E.O./Founder Anastasia Volkova, and Dagan C.O.O./Co-founder Stephen Hagen, wished to find out as they concluded their recent Sustainability Watch webinar.
Are farmers and consultants “getting” the carbon markets?
By the end of the webinar (held by the American Society of Agronomy), it was clear: carbon market programs are not yet common knowledge. Nor are they in the practical toolsets of most farmers, agronomists, and consultants geared towards regenerative practices.
On the other hand, it was undeniable there was strong interest and a desire to learn more about them, and that this interest is growingly quickly. Webinar feedback showed that most participating professionals were intent on learning more and knowing exactly how they can partake in these programs, and – better yet— how they could get more farmers and consultants on board.
Live attendees of the webinar (around 350 in all) represented a wide swathe of the diverse agricultural world: mostly carbon-oriented industry leaders, carbon credit buyers, agronomists, consultants, and farmers from the U.S. (across all states), Canada, and several other leading agricultural nations. This showed feedback would be quite globally representative.
The first exciting takeaway: over three quarters (87%) of this group reported they had been asked by farmers about how to boost conservation and sustainability practices on-farm. Closer to a third said they were asked quite often about this, while over half had been asked at least one time only. (A mere 13% had never been asked about improving sustainable practices whatsoever.)
It’s evident that interest in sustainability is there. But what about interest in carbon markets, a leading incentive getting mainstream farmers to make the switch? Feedback showed knowledge about these programs and opportunities was being talked and asked about far less. Only a third of participants were being asked about them at all, while just a small 5% percent expressed no interest in them at all, and/or hadn’t been asked.
Most encouraging was that total interest in carbon market opportunities by attendees was 95%. Combined with 87% being asked about adopting higher sustainability standards, this suggests the ag world is heavily considering the practical implications of carbon markets and thinking through the practical steps to get involved!
Clearly, the interest is there; however education, access, and a connection (or an incentive) to these opportunities is lacking. Many carbon market programs exist or are being established. More work needs to be done to close the gap between markets and regenerative ag interest, as well as between carbon market developers and agronomists, the farmers, and the consultants.
And what’s the final frontier for bridging this connection? This is where ag tech companies, like FluroSat and Dagan, step in.
The Sustainability Watch Program
How can industry professionals, CCA’s, CPAg’s, and other consultants cater to regenerative farming interests, while connecting farmers with carbon opportunities? Ag tech leaders and webinar speakers Volkova and Hagen brought attention to the Sustainability Watch Program (supported by The Nature Conservancy and Conservation Technology Information Center) as just one compelling solution for closing these gaps, and which ag professionals can participate in and even get accreditation for.
What might finally convince farmers, consultants, and carbon market developers/buyers to adopt sustainability: simply having the right data in their hands to do so. By utilizing and demonstrating data solutions— such as mapping, quantifying, monitoring, and addressing large spans of acreage for where soil health improvements and rotations have been and can be made— carbon farming isn’t just some ideal for a better environment and climate. It can also be made into one of the most actionable and practical ways to farm regeneratively— and arguably to farm, period.
Volkova and Hagen explained that putting “hard”, field-specific data in farmers’ and agronomists’ hands takes away all the mystery and uncertainty of regenerative farming, and companies like Dagan Inc., FluroSat, and the Sustainability Watch Program can make it possible. It is an effort to continuously map adoption of conservation practices and engaging farmers and ranchers, as well as their advisors in collection of ground-truth data that allows to scale from in-field to remote sensing-based estimates without compromising the accuracy. The program produces annual conservation adoption maps, which are free for public use at the aggregate scale, thanks to support from the sponsors at TNC and CTIC. These maps offer unbiased visibility of agriculture’s progress in soil carbon sequestration, and not just for consumers, but for the farmers and ranchers who will be able to use it and make a livelihood from it as well. Paired with the financial incentives for adoption of the regenerative agriculture practices, as well as carbon markets and credits, a massive transition of acreage to sustainable farming all over the globe is drawing nearer and nearer—and clearly, it will be data driven.
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