Correcting myths around carbon markets

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24 October 2022
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Thousands of pounds in potential income could be unlocked for UK growers.

GROWERS could top-up their annual incomes by thousands of pounds if they monetise the carbon they capture each year through sustainable farming practices like reducing the intensity of their tillage and planting cover crops, it has been claimed.

 

And if incomplete information presented to growers about how carbon markets operate is corrected, more farmers stand to benefit, industry experts agree.

 

Speaking at a carbon markets myth-busting round table, hosted by agronomy firm Soil Capital, more than 20 experts from across agriculture discussed ways to correct the most important misunderstandings about how carbon markets work so that more growers feel empowered to enter the market.

 

Top of the list was how to help producers realise that carbon markets pay for carbon saved or added to the soil on-farm each year a farmer participates in a carbon programme — not for carbon locked in the soil in the distant past.

 

“From our experiences of bringing Europe’s first certified carbon payment programme to the market in the UK, France and Belgium, we can see where the biggest information gaps about the carbon market are in the UK,” said Andrew Voysey (pictured), Soil Capital’s Head of Impact and Carbon.

 

“British growers should understand that carbon certificates can be bought by crop buyers, not just high-emitting businesses unrelated to farming, so that crops and carbon can be kept together, in line with industry net zero expectations.

 

“Equally, carbon payments can reward the farmer’s transition up to net zero, rather than only being available once net zero is reached, and waiting for higher prices may mean that growers are no longer meeting the market’s expectations that carbon improvements must be new to be rewarded.

 

“In these areas and more, farmers have been presented with incomplete information, which is why it’s so important that industry bodies and experts focus on sharing the best advice available.”

 

Berkshire farmer Andrew Randall, who hosted the round table on his 320ha arable farm, signed up to Soil Capital’s own carbon payment scheme earlier this year after researching the market and realising much of what he’d heard about carbon markets was incorrect.

 

He told attendees he expects to make about £50/ha in his first year by utilising sustainable farming practices such as direct drilling, growing multi-species cover crops, reducing nitrogen use and spreading organic matter across 240ha of his business.

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“When people started talking about carbon payments I realised we were ticking a lot of boxes with our planned practices and that we could capitalise on that,” he said.

 

“A lot of the farm-level chat has been ‘don’t sell the rights to all the carbon under your feet’, which is a huge myth that needs to be busted.

 

“I’m not selling a bank of carbon — I’m benefitting annually from the practices we do on farm, and if we don’t benefit financially from those environmental gains we’re making, it’s simply a wasted opportunity,” he added.

 

From now until next harvest, what happens in the field above and below ground is what we’re being rewarded for.”

 

Mr Randall said by adapting the farm’s rotation, increasing cover crops, spreading organic matter one year in six, and working to reduce nitrogen use, Soil Capital had calculated the business would net sequester at least 2 tonnes of carbon per hectare/year.

 

“From Soil Capital’s calculations, that will hopefully see us make over £10,000 this year, which is a useful way of starting to get back what we’re losing from the basic payment scheme,” he added.

 

“It has been a leap of faith in some respects, but by doing my research and getting good advice I don’t regret signing up, and I’m considering whether to bring another farm into the scheme.

 

“If we don’t capitalise on the opportunity now, we don’t benefit from all of the improvements we’re making on farm to become more sustainable.”

 

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