Regenerative agriculture is gaining popularity. It is a term that covers farming and grazing practices that amongst others aim to reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity, resulting in carbon breakdown and improved water quality.
An increase in this practice can be seen in response to both consumer demands, government regulations as well as emerging carbon credit incentives.
The demand for carbon offsetting is growing, as more and more organizations and companies announce their plans to become carbon neutral. With that comes the need to create good practices around carbon accounting methods.
Farmers realize the farmland they own is their legacy. Many of them however still lack the knowledge or insights on how they can benefit from transitioning to regenerative ag practices. If these benefits and financial incentives for regeneratively produced products are not clear to them, farmers will maintain their conventional systems or production styles. Once farmers get educated and informed, we expect that an increasing number of them will welcome practices that can improve their yields and generate additional farm income.
Regenerative agriculture and carbon credits all are part of a broader sustainability discussion. This is something we are monitoring closely. At Hamlet Protein we focus not only on our supply chain to reduce our carbon footprint, but we also believe that our improved feeding technologies for young animals contribute to a more efficient and sustainable production of animal protein.
Carbon credits and supply chain
Successful action on climate change through practical action in livestock agri-food systems is becoming increasingly more important, but it must not come at the expense of other sustainability objectives, particularly those relating to ending poverty and achieving zero hunger.
Hence there is a need to balance the benefits of food from animal sources (milk, meat, and eggs) and livestock keeping for nutrition, health and well-being, with the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to tackle the climate crisis, which also threatens food security.
At the same time, most farmers walk a tightrope of a market that asks them to supply food at low prices, while simultaneously addressing increasing regulations and consumer demands – both on environment and animal welfare – as well as growing labor and land costs. Against that market reality new solutions are needed. The carbon credit market could be an approach that helps countries in general and farmers specifically achieve such balance, but more will be needed.
Finally, the principle of carbon offsetting does not cancel out the emissions to which they are linked. While the projects sponsored under the offsetting approach can be valuable and have a positive impact on our environment, it should not reduce the responsibility of the industry to try and reduce its own emissions in the first place.
The two main sources of greenhouse gases from livestock operations are the animals themselves and the manure they generate. When livestock breathes, it produces carbon dioxide as a normal product of respiration. Carbon dioxide thus is unavoidable. Methane is a byproduct of digestion. Methane inhibiting antibiotics – still used in some markets -, higher feed quality, improved genetics and reduced feed intake generally lead to reduced emissions. Manure is the other main source of emissions, with carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide being the most prevalent greenhouse gases.
There is currently a lack of standardization within the carbon credits market which makes the system inefficient and difficult to work with. Credits ought to be transparent and verifiable using a standard method of measuring emissions, or lack thereof. Livestock agriculture may initially be better off using carbon dioxide equivalents of other greenhouse gases to be compatible with most of the carbon credits market, especially for entities supplying carbon credits for other enterprises that need to offset their own carbon emissions.
Agri-food systems around the world vary greatly in diversity and complexity, which impacts the motivations and challenges for stakeholders when transformative change is required. Successful sustainable action can only be achieved if these differences are respected, and the diverse stakeholder groups are involved in developing relevant and practical measures for implementation.
Livestock agriculture has done a tremendous job at reducing its environmental impact thus far, but there is much room for improvement still, just like in any other industry.
We would encourage livestock producers to drive projects that reduce emissions whilst simultaneously exploring the opportunities of sequestering emissions. Both government support – in the form of subsidies -and commercial initiatives can motivate small to midsized producers to adapt carbon neutrality practices and remain competitive.
Whatever initiatives are selected, the solution will lie in a joint approach across the entire value chain. Open and transparent sharing of insights will accelerate the acceptance of certain practices and thus its impact.