Food Agility Summit shines a spotlight on carbon markets for farmers

Agtech, carbon markets and the latest in agrifood research featured prominently at the recent Food Agility Summit 2021, with leading agriculture, food and technology experts taking to the virtual stage to talk about the here, now, and future of food.

In this week’s feature we look at a summit panel which focused on the hot topics of sustainability, climate change and carbon markets, with benefits to the ag sector a key topic of discussion.

The rise of sustainability, climate change and carbon markets as supply chain drivers

The panel participants for this session brought a diversity of experience and views to the table around the topics of sustainability, climate change, and the ever-expanding potential of carbon markets. Participants included:

  • Gordon Cairns, Chair, Woolworths Group

  • Molly Harriss Olson, Fairtrade Australia New Zealand

  • Tony Mahar, National Farmers’ Federation

  • Raphael Wood, Market Advisory Group

  • Sonia Nazaretian, Microsoft

  • Facilitator: Mara Bun, Food Agility CRC

Molly Harriss Olson discussed how consumers are getting serious about sustainability when making purchasing decisions, with 28 percent of people having switched brands over 2020 in response to sustainability - that’s double on 2019 of 14 percent making the switch. This will and has been having a direct impact on the supply chain and no doubt we will be seeing more technology for farmers, suppliers and retailers that will provide evidence of sustainability credentials from paddock to plate. (See Traceability and Provenance agtech solutions on AgTech Finder).

Sonia Nazaretian from Microsoft talked about how as one of the world’s biggest tech companies it is going all in, committing to net positive and drawing down on historical emissions. Importantly by “throwing down the gauntlet”, Microsoft are influencing a worldwide corporate response. They are committed to investing billions into nature-based offsets including on farms, and this is where farmers will benefit.

By 2030 Microsoft will be carbon negative, and by 2050 Microsoft will remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975.

It was ground-breaking for the Australian livestock industry to have a New England sustainable agriculture cattle business, Wilmot Cattle Co., sealing the deal with a significant sale of carbon credits to Microsoft. The carbon credits have been verified and sold by the US-based Regen Network, under their CarbonPlus scheme, and will form part of Microsoft’s carbon offset initiatives.

The Wilmot farming enterprise has achieved this by being data-driven, using agtech, and measuring carbon for over a decade. This data-driven approach has seen them able to prove and monetise their carbon assets.

Raphael Wood from the Market Advisory Group, pointed out that COVID has changed carbon markets and we’ll be seeing them rocket upwards over the next 5-10 years with potential profit for regional communities and farms. However, soil carbon data will be the key. He said that at $25/tonne for soil carbon environmental plantings will be economical, but still be constrained due to logistics such as the number of people needed to plant trees and nurseries to grow trees. The price could move from $16/tonne today to over $35/tonne by the end of decade. The economic potential, and of course the productivity gains, for farmers that can take advantage of soil carbon is going to be significant.

Tony Mahar, CEO of the National Farmers’ Federation reiterated that “farmers will adapt and take up new technology if there is certainty.” Farmers make decisions every day and if there’s co-investment and certainty from business and government, then that can mean additional revenue for farmers. As part of a $100 billion 2030 Roadmap for agriculture, NFF has advocated for a goal for 5 per cent of farmers’ income to be derived from ecosystem services and wants to bring this together using existing standards and systems.

We want to reward, recognise and renumerate farmers for what they’ve been doing and what they can do going forward.

It was obvious that carbon markets in particular had turned a corner in Australia and agtech and data driven measurement is going to drive these markets. To get inspired, here is some of the latest carbon market information in the news:

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