Soil sequestration: An emerging opportunity for farmers and food producers

15 Jun 2022

Sequestration of carbon into soil has almost the same potential to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as the use of wind or solar power and provides farmers with an opportunity equal to that of reforestation strategies, according to Berry Marttin of Rabobank.

Speaking at the recent F&A Next conference in Wageningen, the Netherlands, Marttin told delegates that the most recent United Nations IPCC report provides some “very interesting” reading for the food supply chain as it is the first time that the report recognised carbon sequestration via soil.

Soil sequestration: An emerging opportunity for farmers and food producers

“They said that, actually, the opportunity for sequestration of carbon by farmers is almost as big as wind. Almost as big as solar,” he noted. “It's very important so that we start thinking about this huge opportunity.”

Recognising the carbon sequestration potential of farms

However, Marttin noted that despite appearing in the most recent IPCC report, the guidelines on Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions of the current GHG Protocol don't mention sequestration of carbon from land, which is causing an issue for companies looking to reduce emissions and hit net zero through soil sequestration.

“It's just not there,” he said. “If you have a bank right now, like us [at Rabobank], and you talk about your finance emissions, we cannot net for this.”

“Something is very wrong here,” he warned.

However, Marttin predicted that the current paradoxical situation will change in the future, and that as a result banks, investors, and farmers will begin to think “not just about the food production value of farmland, but also the sequestration potential of that farm”.

UK supermarkets are leading the way

He noted that while most major retailers and supermarket chains have begun to make commitments against Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, looking at the value chain and Scope 3 emissions will be the next major challenge.

“Your Scope 1 and 2 actually don’t matter,” he said. “The real thing is, 97% of all emissions is actually Scope 3.”

“As a supermarket, to say you are going to be carbon neutral on Scope 1 and 2, actually it is not really relevant,” he said. “The question is, what are you going to do with your value chain? How are you going to turn around and say, ‘Value chain, I need to go carbon neutral’?”

Marttin cited commitments being made by UK supermarkets as leading the way in this area, noting that 75% have already made commitments to reducing Scope 3 emissions. He added that when it comes to Scope 3 emissions, 70% of the emissions are coming from ‘before the farm gate’.

“So, where are they going to look at? Who has to deliver?” he questioned. “It's really farming.”

Farmers need financial incentives to change

The Rabobank board member said the major opportunity to truly decarbonize the food supply chain will only ever happen if solutions are found to get farmers moving towards decarbonization and carbon sequestration.

However, he noted that farmers see no value or gain in moving towards these solutions.

“When do you move?” he questioned. “When you make money.”

“Why should I move if I get nothing for it?” he said. “Why should I invest now, if I'm not going to get any money for that? My neighbour doesn't invest, and then is going to have a bigger cash flow than I have.”

‘A huge opportunity’: Exploring the potential of carbon farming

He suggested that farmers will begin to explore the potential of ‘carbon farming’ as the pressure to decarbonise the economy continues to grow, and as the price of ‘carbon’ goes up.

Indeed, with a current price of around $25 USD per tonne of carbon captured, and the potential for capturing up to two tonnes of carbon per hectare per year, there is an opportunity for farmers to begin to explore soil sequestration.

“You have an opportunity of extra cash flow on the piece of land,” said Marttin. “If carbon is going to go to $200 or $300 [per tonne], which many of us expect, then imagine the beautiful cash flow.”

“This is where it's going to happen,” he said. “It's a huge opportunity.”

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