The New Cash Crop: Carbon

Tractor spraying field of soybeans

The New Cash Crop: Carbon

What if farmers could get paid for practices that promote ecosystem services? Let’s say you’ve been using cover crops as a way to reduce the amount of nutrient inputs and keep carbon in  your soil. Well, now it’s possible to get paid for that. But it’s complicated. So, Field Work podcast hosts Mitchell Hora and Zach Johnson talk to Christophe Jospe, the co-founder of Nori, one of the new companies trying to make this all work.

To start, what would qualify as an ecosystem service? According to Jospe, ecosystem services can mean anything from carbon sequestration, water retention, carbon reduction, and nutrient density. An ecosystem service market, according to Jospe, “is like a digital crop that you can sell. So along with physical grain crops, there are abstractions of the improvement of what you can do to your land and then sell that to companies.”

Those companies could be interested in your data for the supply chain or those who are looking to offset their carbon emissions by paying someone else who can remove an equal amount or carbon.

Nori is focusing solely on carbon removal, meaning the increase in soil organic matter or soil organic carbon in U.S. crop lands.

“If you could incentivize people who could do things that could reduce or remove carbon, that could address the excess CO2 in the atmosphere,” said Jospe. 

But it’s important that they are pulling carbon out of the atmosphere above what would normally happen-- a concept called “additionality.” Nori has developed a Dynamic Baseline that isolates the specific practices that increase carbon in the soil, to eliminate climate or weather patterns that naturally increase carbon in some soil types.  

Nori is making its own carbon market, with its own units of tradable carbon credits. So, in order to actually get paid for those services, farmers need to choose a field they want to enter into Nori, and assess things like field boundaries, seeding and harvesting dates, yields, fertilizer application, and organic matter additions. They can enter up to five years of previous practices, or start new practices. 

Then, they get an assessment and a quote from Nori based on that data of what they might make. If they decide they want to enter into a ten-year contract, then farmers have to pay a third party verifier to measure the changes over the time of the contract. 

The goal for Nori is to make these assessments faster and more affordable for the farmers, and to continue to understand how to quantify carbon sequestration and streamline the process.