About 9 months ago

What Is Needed to Unlock and Scale Regenerative Farming Incentives?

The article was written by Adrian White – a freelance writer and organic farmer based in Garber, IA. It was originally published on PrecisionAg.com on Dec, 17th 2020.

Cohesion in the emerging ecosystem of players in the sustainability measurement and verification is critical to enabling the industry across the value chain to efficiently discover and participate in sustainability incentives. These incentives are immediate steps to participation in climate-smart economy driving additional profits on the farm, yet they are difficult to discover. In a session titled “Sustainability Tech Stack: How Can Ecosystem Market Service Providers Enable the Industry to Unlock and Scale the Regenerative Farming Incentives?” at the Sustainable Agriculture Summit in November, a panel of experts focused on carbon markets and recognizing incentives. This article is based on that session.

In a world facing climate emergency, farmers could be the biggest solution. Agriculture and carbon markets may be the major keys to offsetting emissions — though they’re not without their hurdles.

Four experts and leaders from top innovative ag tech companies convened for an online panel in November, outlining obstacles to “scaling up” regenerative agriculture hopefully to the millions and even billions of acres. 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 Founder of FluroSat, it’s all about getting more data on soil health to prove its great outcomes to farmers. And not just any data: 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 ag tech company that solves problems in data-informed decisions in agronomy,” 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.”

One example Volkova gave: nitrogen data. “As you know…we need to get [nitrogen] inputs right and getting the inputs right is by no means simple [in regenerative farming],” said Volkova. As such, FluroSat is working hard dialing in the best nitrogen input data on a location-by-location basis— even convincing skeptical farmers on-farm. “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?’”

Interim CEO, Chief Strategy Officer, and Ph.D. William Salas of Dagan, Inc. echoed Volkova. The biggest hurdle is the proof of the benefits. This needs not only a data-driven solution, he insisted, but also a technology-driven one to capture that data.

“We’re an ag tech company whose mission it is to make resilient agriculture ubiquitous,” said Salas about Dagan. “We’re figuring out how the role of technology, as soil modeling and satellite observations, can help build a business case for soil health, so we can scale up.”

Salas thinks Dagan working with data-drivers like FluroSat can provide very 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, this could speed 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. He added that cover crops and soil coverage are some of the best approaches.

Climate solution company Nori on the other hand— a TNC/TechStars Sustainability Accelerator graduate — might provide the perfect keystone to Dagan and FluroSat’s solutions: a carbon market where 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 some kind of intervention, and you 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.

“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 of every stripe will be drawn to soil health as a powerful on-farm asset in a matter of time. Still, there are other obstacles besides timeframe.

Said Salas, 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?”

Recording of the panel “Sustainability Tech Stack: What is needed to unlock and scale regenerative farming incentives e.g. carbon markets?”

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 FluroSat, which has offices in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, and Ukraine. Volkova said, for example: “By reducing or changing this 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.

Companies like FluroSat, Nori, and Dagan 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, 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 are 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.”

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