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    On the journey to carbon farming

    By Georg Goeres, Head of Indigo Europe 


    On the journey to carbon farming

    By some estimates we have less than one or two decades to save the planet. The degree to which this is accepted may vary depending on where you are but there is no doubt about the renewed sense of urgency in tackling climate change. And this is now forcing every sector of our economy to think about how it can improve its carbon and environmental footprint. Agriculture is no different in this respect but there appears to be a dawning realization that the sector may actually be part of the solution rather than a problem to be solved.

    This is why I was greatly encouraged by the recognition of the role that carbon farming can play in tackling climate change in the European Commission’s recently published Farm to Fork Strategy, which aims to accelerate our transition to a sustainable food system.

    Realizing the farm to fork ambition feels more important and relevant than ever, yet at the same time the path to achieving these goals can often seem unrealistic and daunting. This is especially true for farmers who are already under pressure to deliver enough safe, healthy food, when and where we want it, as sustainably and cheaply as possible.

    Ensuring that the central role of the grower is fully recognised and supported will be crucial in delivering the farm to fork strategy.  Encouragingly, I believe the strategy has tried to think creatively about how growers can be supported in making the transition and how new business models can be developed which offer greater reward for their efforts. One example of this is the potential win-win of carbon farming, particularly with respect to soil.

    More carbon in the soil leads to a number of benefits such as more nutrients, stronger plants, less erosion etc. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants are able to capture carbon from the atmosphere, use it for energy and store it in the soil. Certain sustainable practices – often referred to as regenerative practices – enable growers to increase the amount of carbon that they can sequester and permanently store in the soil. Practices such as using cover crops, applying fewer chemicals, minimum or no-tilling, rotating crops, all allow for an increase in carbon.

    And the amazing thing is that agricultural soils represent one of the world’s biggest, most accessible and affordable carbon sinks.

    In my view, carbon farming can be good for the soil, good for the planet, and good for the grower’s profitability. For instance, using fewer chemical inputs and less tractor fuel can lower their  operating costs. So, you might wonder, why everyone is not farming in this way? Well, there are a few hurdles that make it hard for farmers to transition:

    • To break the existing cycle, farmers need alternative technologies that can help them get the results they need with less or no chemicals – because producing enough food requires them to manage disease and pest pressure.
    • It requires changing farming methods that were successful, at least in terms of productivity, for years. Farmers need access to agronomic support and knowledge to know which changes to make and how to make them.
    • Some of the regenerative practices, like not tilling the soil, require new machinery which can require additional investment.

    What we are trying to do at Indigo is help farmers overcome these hurdles. We want to make carbon farming financially rewarding and agronomically achievable for farmers. Indigo Carbon gives farmers a financial incentive in the form of a carbon credit for every tonne of carbon they sequester. Consumers and companies can purchase these credits and so give farmers the support they deserve. On the agronomic side, our microbial products - that serve as alternatives to chemical inputs - and our digital technology help growers in making the transition to less chemical intensive farming feasible, which also benefits their bottom line.

    I am hopeful that when we give farmers the support they need, and the recognition they deserve in capturing carbon and helping society to tackle climate change, we will have realised the laudable and unarguable ambition set out in the Farm to Fork Strategy.