In the discourse about agriculture’s impact on the environment, some voices are advocating for a new way to perceive the people who grow our food. Instead of viewing them as the source of the problem, this camp believes they ought to be viewed as the source of our solution.
“The bottom line is that even if all companies comply with the Paris Accord goals to reduce emissions by 2030, we are still not on track to contain global warming to two degrees by the end of the century,” Aldyen Donnelly, co-founder and director of carbon economics at carbon marketplace facilitator Nori, tells AFN. “The interesting thing is the capacity of croplands alone – not even grasslands or grazing land – to draw down and store incremental carbon between now and 2030.” Getting crop growers to commit to practices that can help to drawdown carbon will help reach the two degree goal, she adds.
Launched two years ago, Nori operates a blockchain-based marketplace to provide carbon accounting while connecting suppliers directly with buyers. It also provides a secure payment process. The Seattle-based company is a member of the Techstars Sustainability Accelerator.
Recently, Nori partnered with Locus Ag, a microbial soil amendment startup, to provide farmers with a way to get paid for ecosystem services provided on their farms.
Locus has developed a microbrewery-type process to manufacture certified organic soil probiotics that are aimed at reducing emissions from food production. Its Rhizolizer product won the global Crop Science Award last year for Best New Biological Product (Biostimulants category) based on its proven efficacy. This is a big deal given that biologics have faced ongoing skepticism about whether they can provide farmers with the same reliable tools that synthetic inputs have offered. According to trials, Rhizolizer can supercharge sequestration up to an additional nine metric tons of CO2 equivalent per acre compared to other grower practices, according to Locus.
The partnership will allow farmers to take advantage of its immediately scalable microbial product that can treat tens of millions of acres while putting carbon back into the soil. To quantify the impact of Locus’ product, Nori is using the COMET-Farm carbon and greenhouse gas accounting system provided by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and developed by the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State University.
“It certainly has incentivized us to think about what we can do to enhance the ability of our product,” Locus’ chief agronomist and CEO emeritus Paul Zorner, tells AFN. “If we can work with growers to not only help optimize productivity in terms of yield per acre but also add a new income stream, we think they are going to expand the use of our product because it becomes a very powerful tool for them.”
To sign up to participate in Nori’s marketplace, growers can go to Nori’s website where Nori runs models for interested farmers to deliver a 10-year projection of whether they will be able to earn credits for various practices. Locus is also sending employees to participating farms to help them walk through the program and alleviate any concerns about the time it takes to sign up and be approved.
Growers have until March 15 to sign up to be paid in full this year for carbon credits earned over the last four years, according to Locus. If they sign up before March 15, they will get $15 in cash and a Nori Credit that is tradeable in the future for a floor of $15 for every ton sequestered on their acreages from past regenerative practices. After March 15, growers can still enroll but they’ll only receive the Nori Credit.
Interested applicants are not required to use Rhizolizer to earn credits, although there are advantages to doing so such as assistance with data management and measuring carbon sequestration from Locus, says Donnelly. Groweres can simply demonstrate that they’ve implemented a certified regenerative agriculture practice such as no-till and cover cropping during the past 10 years to receive credits for the prior five years.
Nori’s marketplace is technology agnostic, which means that it’s open to certifying virtually any tool, technique, or product that has proven efficacy at sequestering carbon. Although its currently working with the COMET tool to measure drawdown, it may work with other credible scientific authorities in the future.
“Nori is not telling you what to do. We are saying that if you try something new, we can ensure that there is research proving that it is really working, and we will issue credits reflecting the impact you had going back to the start of the project. We will do that with any and every innovation,” Donnelly says. “The tendency with other markets or government programs is to prescribe practices and a way of doing things. We want to make sure our market is positioned to reward innovation and success.”
There are requirements when it comes to having a proposed practice or tool vetted, including agreeing on the protocol that will be used to validate its efficacy. She’s keeping an eye on developing technologies across the board, such as data sensing to detect new microbial activity.
Donnelly also seems open to working with farmers of different flavors. Even if a farmer is only capable of sequestering one ton of carbon per acre, that will lead to profit increases down the road through better soil and more efficient resource use. She also notes that carbon credit markets offer an opportunity to generate income for farmers outside the food system. Although consumers are showing more willingness to pay more for their food when it comes to certain certifications or qualities, consumers aren’t paying the true cost of production, she says, causing most developed nations to offer some type of subsidy program for food production.
“If a big electric utility commits to offsetting emissions, they might end up being a new source of revenue for farmers delivering ecosystem services, diversifying farm revenue for the first time,” she says. “It’s crazy that this is not the first place everyone everywhere is going to invest and increase soil productivity and ensure food supply security.”