What to do with your carbon?

Written by Thomas Gent from Agreena

Reading this magazine means even if you are not practising regenerative farming I am sure you are at least considering the transition away from ploughing. We of course are also seeing now that the government incentives are going to be rewarding this type of farming, everything seems to be pushing us in this direction. 

So the next question that comes to mind in today’s world is what do I do with my carbon?

We need to start thinking about carbon in two separate ways firstly carbon stock, so the existing amount of carbon held on your farm in the soils, trees and hedges etc. This is the carbon that is currently not being traded and is an asset on your farm that you should protect carefully.

Secondly is your additional carbon. This is the carbon that can now be quantified and traded on an annual basis should you choose to do so. This is made up of two separate sections, reductions and removals. Reductions represent the reduction in GHG (GreenHouse Gas) emissions for example by burning less diesel or using less artificial fertilisers. Removals represent the act of taking carbon out of the atmosphere and adding it into your soils, for example by growing a cover crop.

This annual additional carbon compared to a baseline is what carbon programs are looking to help farmers quantify. It should be thought of as a second crop, so at harvest when travelling through the field with the combine you are going to be harvesting the grain crop whilst simultaneously finishing your carbon crop harvest for that year. Just like a crop of wheat the annual yield of a carbon crop depends on the actions you take in the field to improve it over the year and just like a wheat crop post carbon harvest you can choose how best to use that asset.

There are currently a few options that exist for what to do with your carbon certificates.

  1. First and usually most obvious one is that you can choose to monetise. There are companies that are looking to purchase high quality carbon certificates from local farmers. Depending on the program you join you may have the flexibility to sell these carbon certificates yourself or you can usually ask the carbon program to assist you with this.
  2. Secondly, holding onto your carbon certificates. Carbon certificates do not expire instantly; they can be held for multiple years. Some farmers I know are holding onto the certificates because they are betting that the price will rise and others are utilising the carbon within their own operations to maybe offset the emissions from another part of the estate. Either way with some programs you can choose to hold the certificates and only choose to sell when the price is right for you.
  3. Thirdly and most interestingly in the future will be the option to gain premiums for your produce. We are starting to see the emergence of this as a viable option but it is not yet something commonplace or operational at scale.

On my farm I have completed two carbon crop harvests, the first one in 2021 which I chose to monetise as there was no other option of what to do with the carbon that year. Second is from the 2022 harvest which I will probably choose to also monetise as there is no further option. For my coming 2023 carbon harvest I am hoping there will be an option to use the certificates along with my grain.

The important conclusion to the above is to understand that a farmer can issue carbon certificates yearly therefore by not joining a carbon program you are simply missing out on a harvest. We see no options in the market for farmers to backdate and issue carbon for previous years and no likelihood that a method for this will exist.

A farmer who is eligible for a carbon program (not ploughing) who is not part of a carbon program is missing out on harvest. As a farmer you are most likely already taking some of the actions that would help you issue carbon certificates therefore you should look to produce a carbon certificate for this to evidence the actions you have taken that year even if you are not looking to trade.