How farmers will be paid to capture carbon

Once the EU has a regulatory framework for certifying carbon (or methane) removals,  carbon farming can get under way
How farmers will be paid to capture carbon

EU farmers can look forward to carbon farming ideas like this milk from cows fed a product which reduces their methane emissions 38%; if the milk sells well, and the company can sell carbon credits on its back, farmers will get the feed supplement free.

Never waste a good crisis may be the motto of the promoters of a climate-friendly milk now marketed to UK consumers, from cows fed Mootral, one of the many products that cuts cattle greenhouse gas emissions.

The feed supplement, with extracts of garlic and citrus, has been proven to cut methane emissions as much as 38%, thus helping in the fight against the climate crisis.

If Mootral can get enough supermarkets and other outlets to stock the milk, and enough environmentally conscious consumers to pay a premium price for it, it will be able to get more farmers feeding the supplement to their cows, ideally at no cost.

The milk is already used by the London-based Gail’s bakeries chain, and can also be bought from the Butlers’ Larder specialist online grocery store.

Part of the marketing message is that if all 1.5 billion cows in the world ate Mootral Ruminant for a year, the reduction in methane emissions would be equivalent to taking 330 million cars off the road (17% more than the number of cars in the EU).

Another reason the company hopes to eventually provide Mootral Ruminant at no cost to farmers is that it has become one of the first companies to generate and sell credits eligible for Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).

Businesses across the globe can purchase these “CowCredits” to offset their emissions.

A CowCredit equals an emissions reduction of one tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent, based on emissions from cattle.

Mootral plans to turn their attention next to the climate-friendly beef market.

Along the way, the company seeks help from ethical investors in their mission to make the feed supplement available at no cost to all cattle farmers.

It’s a British-Swiss company, and “CowCredits” methodology was approved by Verra, a Washington, DC-based non-profit organisation that manages standards for reducing emissions.

It will be quite a while before the EU has a regulatory framework for certifying carbon (or methane) removals, to open the way for carbon farming ideas (like “CowCredits” ) in the EU as a new green business model that creates a new source of income.

It was only last week that the European Commission published the final report of a two-year study on how to set up and implement carbon farming in the EU.

Building on this study and other preparatory work, the Commission plans to publish an EU carbon farming action plan by the end of 2021.

It will primarily promote nature-based solutions that remove carbon from the atmosphere, to help the EU achieve climate neutrality.

Such solutions should be rewarded, says the EU.

But certifying carbon removals must be based on robust and transparent carbon accounting to monitor and verify authenticity.

The study concluded that carbon farming brings benefits such as carbon sequestration and storage and increased biodiversity and preservation of eco-systems.

The Commissions’s Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said: “Our climate action must first and foremost reduce human-made emissions.

“But we also need to restore and protect natural carbon sinks, so that we can capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in our soils and forests.

“Carbon farming offers new income opportunities for farmers.”

Ireland should be well-placed to take advantage, because we have experience since 2014 of beef carbon schemes, and the Burren Project’s role in managing soil organic carbon in grasslands, and result-based payment schemes for biodiversity such as the Co Leitrim species-rich grassland and marsh fritillary butterfly habitat scheme and the Shannon Callows species-rich flood meadow and wet grassland suitable for breeding waders schemes.

All of these were included in the Commission’s two-year study, as case studies of how to operate carbon farming.

One of the lessons learned is that any scheme where the intention is to sell carbon credits will need a system of carbon audits for integrity.

As well as maintaining and enhancing soil organic carbon on mineral soils, and livestock farm carbon audits, other promising carbon farming area relevant to Ireland include peatland restoration and rewetting, and agroforestry.

Enhancing soil organic carbon in depleted arable land not only helps climate action; it also improves the productivity and resilience of farming activities, of great importance in continuous tillage soils across vast areas of the continent.

The same end result comes from protecting existing carbon-rich soils, such as grasslands and peatlands, with appropriate management techniques.

Planting new forests, restoring degraded forests, and improving the management of existing forests also help climate action. Supplying biomass for production of long-lasting bio-based products is another carbon farming possibility.

The European Commission says pilot initiatives should be developed at local or regional level in order to gather experience to upscale carbon farming, and expand farmers’ knowledge and understanding of the potential benefits for them.

The EU offers financial support for pilot initiatives on carbon farming through the LIFE programme and the European Regional Development Fund, among others.

Then Member States can accelerate the roll-out of carbon farming practices in the new 2023 Common Agricultural Policy, the main finance source for carbon farming initiatives, along with State aid, private initiatives linked to carbon markets, or through a combination of these funding options.

The land sector is seen as key for reaching a climate-neutral economy, because it can capture carbon from the atmosphere. However, to encourage the agriculture and forestry sectors to deliver on climate action and contribute to the European Green Deal, it is seen as necessary to create direct incentives for adoption of climate-friendly practices, as there is currently no targeted policy tool to significantly incentivise individual farmers to increase and protect carbon sinks.

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