Farmer Focus: Leaving carbon market as costs don’t stack up

As ever, the new year brings new opportunities, and time to reflect on old ones.  

A few years ago, we signed up to a carbon certification company. We calculated and crunched our arable inputs and outputs to see if we were storing more carbon than we were emitting, with the option to sell surplus carbon certificates.

The early signs were promising. Direct drilling, cover cropping and reduced nitrogen ticked the boxes.

See also: Can you farm carbon? One Nuffield scholar seeks answers

About the author

Richard Harris
Richard Harris manages his family farm in partnership with his father in south Devon. The farm grows wheat, barley, linseed, grass and cover crops, with a small pick-your-own pumpkin patch.
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This was looking like it might be worth £50/ha for us, but the modelling changed and tightened, reducing this figure to nearer £10/ha after all associated costs.

This made it unviable and not worth the time required. So, with regret and some frustration, we pulled out of this market and we will now sit back on the fence for a while, and wait to see how it evolves.   

Having sat on the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) fence for a while, I feel it’s time to come off and sign up for it.

It’s not overly inspiring, and not what I thought it might be when they were piloting it a few years ago, but there is just about enough to make it worthwhile.  

I was hoping for a flexible claiming system, where you could sign up to sensible, sustainable options like the non-insecticide or companion crop options, for example, but only claim retrospectively if you successfully achieved the goal in the spring.

This would give flexibility to allow for all the variables we deal with, such as weather and weed control, taking the above options as an example.

I have dabbled with not applying insecticides the last few autumns and been caught out more than I have succeeded, based on costs versus return.

I also tried to establish clover in the linseed which didn’t make it through the herbicide programme, so that one needs rethinking too.   

It’s frustrating the system is not a retrospective one. For now, those two options seem far too risky to commit to for three years, given the fact we don’t have a clue what’s around the corner, let alone years away.

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