Nature-based climate solutions are quickly gaining traction for corporations looking to reach climate goals. In agriculture, soil is a particularly prominent aspect of nature-based solutions. If managed correctly, soil can help us reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with agricultural production and pull existing carbon out of the atmosphere.

The emissions reductions and carbon sequestration associated with soil can be traded in carbon markets. Markets are a great way to incentivize change and facilitate a large-scale transformation of our food systems. At Regrow, we think carbon markets should be part of a holistic approach to mitigating climate change.

However, there are still uncertainties surrounding carbon markets. How do we accurately measure emissions reduction and carbon sequestration in agricultural systems? How can corporations use sustainable farming practices to reduce their own emissions and incentivize change? How can we scale our science and technology to promote change at a more holistic level?

This week, Regrow hosted a panel discussion to tackle these nuanced questions. In this discussion,“Exploring the Science Behind Soil Carbon and Carbon Markets,” experts Steve Rosenzweig from General Mills, Karen Haugen-Kozyra from Viresco Solutions, and Regrow Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer Bill Salas discussed the science behind soil carbon measurement, the scalability of carbon markets, and how corporations can utilize soil carbon to make real change.

Read on for a recap of their discussion, or watch the full webinar here.

The Need for Nature-Based Solutions in Agriculture

Climate initiatives have grown significantly in demand over the last several years. Karen Haugen-Kozyra, President of Viresco Solutions, has been working in this field for 15 years and has seen the growth in climate commitments firsthand. As she shared, 1,400 corporations had made net zero pledges at the beginning of 2020. Today 5,400 corporations are working towards net zero pledges. That’s a 286% increase in public commitments in less than three years.

However, corporations need assistance in understanding the opportunities available to them, including nature-based solutions and carbon markets. This is especially true in the agricultural sector, where carbon credits are not as common as in other industries (it accounts for just 0.2% of voluntary offset issuances to date).

So, how does soil carbon contribute to corporations’ climate action plans, and how can we ensure that nature-based solutions can be a significant part of a holistic approach to climate action? 

The Science Behind Soil Carbon Measurement

In order to assess the potential of soil carbon and take advantage of that potential, we must have a process for measuring the carbon that is stored in the soil and an understanding of the relationship between soil and carbon in various agricultural systems. Bill Salas, Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder of Regrow, explained the science behind soil carbon measurement. 

Historically, the amount of carbon that is stored in the soil (also known as soil organic carbon, or SOC) has been measured through soil sampling. In this process, analysts will pull a core sample of soil on a farm and use dry combustion methods to measure the amount of carbon stored in that sample. This process is highly accurate, but it’s time- and resource-intensive.

Current SOC measurement technologies include in-situ sensors and remote-sensing analysis (which can help us develop soil sampling strategies across an area). Finally, scientific models can help us understand and predict how SOC levels change over time and in dynamic environments. 

According to Bill, there is a place for all of these technologies — we collectively need to find the balance of technologies that will scale best with the agriculture industry.

How can corporations use soil carbon measurements — and the learnings we glean from them — to achieve their climate goals? First, they must address and overcome a series of challenges related to agriculture-based carbon markets.

Carbon as a Commodity: Utilizing Soil Carbon to Reach Climate Goals

Corporations have many different opportunities to use soil carbon as part of a holistic climate action plan. Karen Haugen-Kozyra outlined some of those opportunities during the panel discussion. 

Some of the discussions in this space address the idea of carbon insets and offsets, and the differences between the two. Carbon insetting is a process in which a corporation invests in actions to reduce carbon emissions across their value chain. Offsetting, on the other hand, is a process in which corporations purchase carbon reductions from other actors, as a way to compensate for their emissions. Karen believes that both offsets and insets are important for a robust climate mitigation strategy.

Karen also discussed the challenges that corporations face when it comes to nature-based climate solutions. Those challenges fall into three categories: risk, cost, and scale. Many corporations must address the risks associated with accurate carbon measurement, leakage (activities shifting outside the project), and permanence (how long carbon is stored in the soil after it’s removed from the atmosphere). Corporations must also make room for the cost of carbon measurement, program development, and program implementation across farms.

Finally, stakeholders must understand and promote the most scalable programs accessible, so that more growers can adopt sustainable farming practices, and more companies can utilize their benefits.

Companies are working hard to assess these challenges and invest in the science and technology necessary to overcome them.

In Practice: General Mills Accelerates Soil Health Practices

Steve Rosenzweig, Agriculture Science Lead at General Mills, spoke about how General Mills is approaching climate action through agriculture and soil carbon. General Mills is focused heavily on reducing carbon emissions across its value chain — the process known as carbon insetting.

General Mills has had SBTi (Science Based Targets initiative) targets in place since 2015, and has had soil health initiatives in place since 2019 (when the corporation established regenerative agriculture advancement goals). 

So far, the company has worked diligently to understand its current emissions from agriculture supply sheds. General Mills has also built coalitions and collaborative working groups to accelerate local transitions to sustainable farming practices, and is working with Ecosystem Services Market Consortium to advance ecosystem markets (like agriculture-based carbon markets). 

General Mills is working across the CPG industry, with local growers, and with national markets services to incentivize the transition to sustainable farming practices and accelerate change.

Collaboration across the industry is imperative to progress.

As Steve mentioned, “No one company is going to have the large-scale impacts that we need to achieve our planetary goal. We need to work collaboratively and invest in local approaches for change.”

Steve also highlighted the importance of the involvement of non-food companies in climate action. “We need everyone who has an agricultural footprint to get involved. Often, there’s a lot of scrutiny placed on companies with very public-facing food brands, but the reality is that only a fraction of the agricultural landscape is producing human food.”

Seeing the Potential

There is significant potential in agriculture-based soil carbon. The industry is nuanced and complicated, but if we can overcome the challenges associated with this field and promote scalable, accessible climate action, agriculture-based companies can have a significant impact on the future of our ecosystems.

Keep an eye on our social channels, where we’ll be answering questions from the webinar and following up on important topics. 

Learn more about Regrow’s soil carbon model on our website.

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