The BBC reports that, having spent decades on the fringes of the agriculture community, carbon farming is starting to catch on. The European Commission is promoting the practice as part of its new Farm to Fork Strategy, with the launch of an EU-wide carbon credit market expected later this year. Similar moves are underway in the United States, with the recent passage of a carbon-focused Growing Climate Solutions Act, and in the UK, where private projects are springing up at pace.
The Sustainable Futures Carbon Bank is one such enterprise. “The enthusiasm around carbon capture has really increased in the last couple of years,” says Paul Rhodes, co-director of a Yorkshire-based sustainable agriculture consultancy. Keen to kindle this growing interest in green farming, Rhodes and business partner Steve Cann recently established their carbon bank: a scheme that helps British farmers harness, and ultimately profit from, CO2 sequestration.
Offering advice on soil restoration, crop diversification, cover plants and cultivation techniques, the pair will shortly be marketing an initial 10,000 tonnes of their members’ certified soil-stored carbon.
Carbon farming seeks to capture emissions, not create them. The challenge has been to make this form of regenerative farming financially viable, paying landowners to rejuvenate degraded soils by turning their fields into vast CO2 sponges.
Achieving this requires a range of regenerative techniques. Cover cropping is particularly popular – fields blanketed with grasses, cereals, legumes and other plant life that pull carbon from the air during photosynthesis, then store it in the soil below. After a couple of years and some meticulous measurements to show the changing carbon content of the soil, the sequestered carbon is certified and transferred into credits, before being sold.
For its proponents, carbon farming promises a bold new agricultural business model – one that tackles climate change, creates jobs and saves farms that might otherwise be unprofitable.
While some farmers have made tens of thousands of pounds (or even more) from their sequestered CO2, there are deep concerns around so-called phantom credits – carbon units of dubious provenance that may have no basis in reality.