In a world facing a climate emergency, farmers can be the biggest solution to our crises. Agriculture and carbon markets have become essential in offsetting emissions — though neither is without its hurdles.
Four experts and leaders from top innovative agrifood tech companies convened for an online panel in November 2020, outlining obstacles to scaling up regenerative agriculture. The answer was clear: based on their collective progress, emerging solutions are only a matter of time and tenacity.
“How close do you think we are today to leveraging agriculture to drive nature-based climate solutions?” asked panel leader Renée Vassilos, Director of Agriculture and Innovation for The Nature Conservancy (TNC).
For panelist Anastasia Volkova, CEO and Co-Founder of Regrow, it’s all about getting more data on soil health and providing that data to demonstrate real-world benefits to farmers. And this isn’t just any data: Anastasia is talking about site-specific data, tailored to the individual farmer, their location, and their unique scaling challenges. Volkova believes this is critical but will take time.
“We’re a global agrifood tech company that solves problems using data, backed by science,” said Volkova. “So, [we’re] working with cooperatives, retailers, food processors, and manufacturers to really help them to distill the rich data world of food production into something that’s manageable and that they can…improve on.”
Proving the benefits of soil health will encourage more farmers to adjust their practices, which could bring more profit in terms of reduced inputs and payment for carbon credits.
One example Volkova gave was nitrogen data. “As you know…we need to get [nitrogen] inputs right. Letting the inputs right is by no means simple [in regenerative farming],” said Volkova.
“Every farmer always said, ‘It’s nice that you have this…scalable system [for soil health]. But how do I know what’s right for me?’”
Regrow Co-Founder Ph.D. William Salas echoed Volkova. The biggest hurdle to adoption is proving the benefits of soil health practices to farmers. Collectively, we need not only a data-driven solution, he insisted, but also the innovative technology to capture that data.
“Our mission is to make resilient agriculture ubiquitous,” said Salas about Regrow. “We’re working to combine technology, soil modeling and satellite observations, can help build a business case for soil health, so we can scale up.”
Together, Volkova and Salas believe that Regrow’s products can provide incentivizing evidence to leverage change. By monitoring widespread soil conditions on farms, how they can be improved, and compiling that data through cutting edge technology, Regrow speeds things up for soil health on farms around the globe, and at a very critical moment in agriculture.
“If we’re going to feed a growing population, we’re going to have to increase soil health,” said Salas. Increasing soil health allows farmers to produce food more efficiently, and can lead to additional carbon sequestration, which farmers can be rewarded for in today’s carbon markets.
Climate solution company Nori— a TNC/TechStars Sustainability Accelerator graduate — is one of the administrators of emerging carbon markets: a carbon market in which farmers are rewarded for improving soil health based on these technologies and data.
Nori’s Co-Founder and Chief Development Officer, Christophe Jospe, chimed in at the panel about Nori’s mission. “Nori’s…taking the concept of a carbon market, which is incentivizing behavior that results in a carbon outcome,” said Jospe. “What matters most in all of that is that [farmers] adopted new management practices, and they now have the proof to say ‘I was doing it the old way, now I’m doing it in this new way.’”
How can farmers be convinced to farm regeneratively beyond data and technology? By monetizing their results, according to Jospe.
Above: Recording of the panel "Sustainability Tech Stack: What is needed to unlock and scale regenerative farming incentives e.g. carbon markets?"
“If…that new way results in an incremental soil organic carbon stock change, we actually issue an NRT (Nori Carbon Removal Tonne)…a tradeable asset in our marketplace,” said Jospe, and added, “We’ve issued over 40,000 NRT’s, even though we’re still in the pilot program.”
With data growing on regenerative farming outcomes — paired with intriguing financial incentives and technology — farmers in every corner of the world will be drawn to soil health as a powerful on-farm asset in a matter of time.
Still, there are other obstacles to these innovations, besides time.
Salas said companies are still figuring out how to define carbon assets and quantify them between companies. “At this point, the buyers are trying to understand — well, what are all these different initiatives? How do they relate to one another? Are they using similar methodology?”
Jospe posed similar questions, reiterating that all working parts — data collectors, carbon markets, and farmers alike — must find a universal language of standards between them to make carbon markets as impactful, user friendly, transparent, and safe to use as possible.
Added Jospe: streamlining and facilitating data collection is also a must. “Effectively, participating in any carbon market [right now] might be as stressful as filing your taxes,” he said of the administrative side.
While U.S. companies troubleshoot a carbon market baseline, Volkova says this has been spearheaded in other parts of the world already — with New Zealand and Australia being great examples.
“Farmers are natively putting in information and getting results,” said Volkova of data standards in different countries under Regrow, which has offices in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, and Ukraine. Volkova said, for example:
“By reducing or changing a specific practice, you just saved carbon emissions equivalent to 68 flights between Oakland and London…or this many car trips between two cities they know about.
“It’s literally what our interface says. It’s intuitive,” added Volkova.
Today, Regrow has developed the first independent MRV, which helps growers monitor, report and verify on-farm practices to receive carbon credits for adoption of conservation practices.
Companies like Regrow and Nori are in a race against time to help agriculture reverse climate change. While their biggest obstacles are time-dependent — gathering more data, making carbon markets user-friendly through independent MRVs, and fine-tuning industry communication — it could all hit critical mass soon for scaling up, and their outlooks are optimistic.
They have to be.
“I think we’re all here because we recognize that global agriculture is at a critical crisis,” said Salas. “And soil health is a major issue we need to deal with. We’ve lost 50 to 70% of organic matter in agriculture.”
Learn why the industry is optimistic about the future of carbon.