Farming Carbon's story
We work with businesses providing sustainability consultancy on everything from carbon management to social value. We help businesses to understand what kind of issues and projects would resonate with their employees and with their key stakeholders, and then we help them to deliver those kind of projects in schools, community organisations and local farms.
Alongside this, we are developing a technology resource that helps to empower and educate farmers on the importance of regenerative agriculture.
Regenerative agriculture is a productive system of running a farm delivering to an economic bottom line and an environmental one. It’s working well for farmers like Pat, who we have been working with for a while now. His main income comes from grain, and this used to be his only crop. Since adopting regenerative farming practices, Pat now has a three-crop rotation.
His primary crop is still the grain, but once that is harvested, he will plant a mixed crop – a legume (peas or beans) alongside another grain. This is a “protein crop” and the two different plants will be harvested at the same time and usually sold to livestock farmers for feed. The final phase is planting the field with a diverse crop – usually a mix of leafy vegetables and root vegetables which have roots of all different lengths. These help to open up the soil and allow it to retain moisture more effectively. These vegetables are not harvested, instead, Pat borrows a herd of animals and grazes them in the field. As the animals graze, they poo, which adds more to the microbiome of the soil, making it really robust and healthy.
This helps with the resilience of the entire farm because the risks from drought and flooding are significantly reduced: there is residual water in the soil even when it hasn’t rained for a long time, but if it rains too much, the soil is far more effective in absorbing it. Without these measures, the soil can become completely eroded and the nutrients from the top will just run into water courses causing algal blooms and toxicity.
The Farming Carbon tool enables farmers to have peer to peer conversations about what works and what doesn't work. For farmers that want to go further, we also offer a service where we install sensors on their farm that can give real time readings that can be accessed through the Farming Carbon dashboard. This means they can see their own specific data and understand how that fits into the bigger picture, through comparing and contrasting with the data of all the other farmers using the dashboard.
Moving forward, we are developing an ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) Marketplace, bringing the two parts of our business together. We will be connecting businesses with our regenerative farms – enabling farmers to access funding and businesses to show their social and environmental value through investing.
Useful learnings from Farming Carbon
This year we've planted 6000 trees over 15 farms working with farmers. It’s really important to try to acknowledge that change doesn't have to be a complete shift. It can be small steps in the right direction, which is definitely the case with a lot of the farmers we're working with at the minute. We're doing projects like planting trees along the riverside or creating small woodlands in parts of the fields that are not particularly usable anyway. We’re creating more ecosystems for birds and wildlife. We're protecting that water resource from any kind of runoff, but also still acknowledging the importance of growing food, the importance of the farms remaining productive and not trying to displace the productive land with additional plants, additional growing.
We are losing a lot of small-time farmers in Northern Ireland. The average age of a farmer in Northern Ireland is 58, which is a real concern because we don’t know who will take on these farms next. Not only that, but it makes it more challenging to try to implement change, because a lot of these farmers have always done things the same way. It’s important to consider the nature of what they do – an academic type course probably isn’t going to suit someone who is so practical in their approach. So peer-to-peer, self-led type upskilling may work better. We are facilitating meetings and meetups, even farm walks, opportunities for farmers to learn from one another and see these ideas in practice.
Even just a small piece of land that can be left as a wildflower meadow or a bird area can be incredible. If you have a lot of birds nesting, then there is an instant solution to problematic insects. There are so many nature-based solutions, tree planting is great, but there are lots of other things that should be added into the mix, and if more people supported these farmers, and regenerative practices, it would have a huge impact. Buying local helps, buying direct from farmers, and eating seasonally as well. At the moment, shopping in a farm shop is a luxury, but the more people that do it, the more farmers can put back into their farms and the costs will come down.
Farming Carbon's metrics
Number of sensors installed on farms.
Number of businesses sponsoring farm/tree planting projects.
Number of trees planted.