Carbon farming is the long-term removal, capture, or sequestration of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to slow atmospheric CO2 pollution and to mitigate climate change. Additional benefits include less erosion and soil loss, better soil structure and fertility, healthier soils, more biodiversity, and greater water efficiency. There are many forms of interventions that are part of carbon farming including: crop rotation, agroforestry, organic amendments, and reduced tillage. There are still significant challenges in the adoption of carbon farming including uncertainty about permanent storage, the question of additivity (e.g., what counts as new activity), and the challenges of accurate affordable measurement.
For carbon markets to take off, which would enable farmers to earn money in return for capturing and storing carbon, establishing a trusted measurement method is critical. Currently there are few players like SoilCapital in the U.K., Stichting Nationale Koolstofmarkt in the Netherlands, Corteva and CommodiCarbon offering certifications for measurements and there are a handful of marketplaces such as IndigoAg and Nori and CIBO in the U.S. where carbon certificates are traded. Soil carbon credits are currently based on either use of models to predict the amount of carbon sequestered or physically measured through laboratory analysis from samples. The downside of models is that these are not flexible and not yet validated on a large scale, which means a small flaw can lead to risking the entire certification system. Additionally, when using models, the amount of carbon sequestration realized by individual farmers is not tracked and farmers are not compensated for their actual contributions which may be higher or lower than the model predicts.
Measuring carbon in soil samples is time-consuming, expensive, and complicated by the fact that it can take several years to measure the effects of increased carbon storage. There is a need for innovative, reliable, and scalable solutions to ensure that carbon benefits are measurable, transparent, verifiable, and certified. Currently the dry combustion method and near infrared (NIR) methods are accepted techniques for measuring carbon stocks (where the required accuracy should be around 0.1%). The project proposal starts with critical research to evaluate the availability and performance of the latest developments in carbon verification & measurement technology through aerial imagery, soil moisture & soil carbon correlations and physical measurements (e.g., sensor solutions and soil samples). Innovative solutions will be assessed and tested, through data analysis, lab testing and field trials, to significantly improve current methodologies, where carbon measurements can be derived from satellite & soil moisture analysis, possibly in combination with an IR-based sensor for real-time carbon measurements. The project ends with a prototype solution that will be evaluated against end-user requirements with a Go / No- Go decision depending on the reliability, affordability, and scalability of the solution.