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Introduction toNature Markets Assessing landopportunities Working withother farmers Baselining,planning andmeasuring Workingwith buyers Farm businessplanning Liability & riskmanagement Using repayablefinance Signing legalcontracts Public sectorfunding & policy Tenancy &ownership
  1. Groundwork
  2. Market Engagement
Introduction toNature Markets Assessing landopportunities Working withother farmers Baselining,planning andmeasuring Workingwith buyers Farm businessplanning Liability & riskmanagement Using repayablefinance Signing legalcontracts Public sectorfunding & policy Tenancy &ownership
  1. Groundwork
  2. Market Engagement

Summary of Blaston Estate

Hylton Murray-Philipson of Blaston Estate in Leicestershire has generated soil carbon certificates by implementing regenerative farming practices. In the first transaction in 2022, the farm generated 6,500 certificates gross and – after deducting on-farm emissions and putting 20% into a buffer pool – sold 5,000 certificates to Respira International.

Respira underwrote the transaction with a guaranteed minimum price and subsequently on-sold the certificates to third parties including DASH Water, Truck East, Helical and Weatherby’s Bank. Blaston Estate takes a holistic approach to managing the land. Although the nature market focus is on soil carbon, the farm has implemented practices which have co-benefits for overall soil health, biodiversity and water quality.

 

Farm Profile:

  • Location: Leicestershire
  • Size of Land: 400 ha
  • Tenancy & Ownership: Owner/Occupier
  • Nature Market Focus: Soil Carbon
  • Interventions: Direct Drilling, Cover Crops, Crop Rotations
  • Project Partners: Respira International, Ecometric, Indigro, Fisher German

 

What do I need to know about nature markets to begin with?

 

This section of the Toolkit provides a brief overview of nature markets in England and how they relate to farmers. It is designed to answer some of the early questions that farmers may have around nature markets. All Toolkit content, including this Introductory section, will be updated regularly.

 

What market opportunities are available to me based on my land and goals?

 

This milestone will guide you through an initial assessment of your land as you determine what your broad vision is in relation to nature and help you to identify what opportunities might be available to you to attract private sector finance.

The actions taken at this stage can be taken before you’ve made the firm decision to engage in nature markets. The considerations presented in this milestone will help you determine whether nature market participation makes sense for your goals, the condition of your natural capital and your farming business.

You can also apply many of these considerations to develop a broader vision around your natural capital and other potential funding sources – such as government grant schemes or philanthropic funding.

 

Will I need to partner with other farmers, and if so, how?

 

Once you have a vision for your farm, the environmental enhancements or changes you want to make and a sense of the related income opportunities, you may want to consider joining up with other farmers in your area to implement your outcomes at scale to attract buyers.

Aggregation models, often started among  farmer clusters or as farmer cooperatives, bring together multiple farmers or landowners to collectively participate in nature markets. These models aim to harness the combined efforts and resources of farmers to maximise environmental benefits and economic opportunities. This section will introduce the factors that may influence your decision to join up with other farmers and some of the key considerations to keep in mind when setting up and participating in such a group.

 

How do I measure the environmental outcomes that I can produce in a robust way?

 

At this stage you will have developed an overarching vision for your land and a rough plan for what you want to improve. You will now want to make robust baseline measurements of the condition of your land and develop a detailed plan for interventions and intended outcomes. Plans will also include how you intend to maintain your interventions, measure the impact you are having and verify your outcomes in order to sell them.

 

How should I identify and approach buyers for my outcomes?

 

During your initial project scoping, you may have identified potential buyers of the environmental outcomes you are planning to deliver. Now that you have a project plan and a robust baseline, you will be ready to approach and engage buyers more formally.

Buyers will vary in their expectations and requirements. This milestone will help you prepare for initial conversations with potential buyers to ensure you are empowered to ask the right questions and present a project that will attract a fair price. Your buyers may be within your own supply chain such as retailers and businesses, or organisations who benefit directly from your ecosystem services such as water companies or firms who seek to offset their own environmental impacts.

 

How would this project fit in with my current farming business model?

 

Nature market projects are often just one part of a farmer’s wider business. Some people compare building nature market projects to developing ‘micro businesses’ for the farm. As such, much of the content you see here will be familiar to you.

However, these projects also have key features that separate them from the businesses that farmers usually engage in. For example, the longer timeframes associated and the current uncertainties relating to how nature market projects (and the deals that result) can be blended with government schemes.

Below is a list of questions that will help you think through how to incorporate these projects into your current farm business plan. This includes considerations on building a cashflow or partial budget, but also the less quantifiable factors, such as the potential drawbacks and opportunities to your wider farm that sales of present.

 

What kind of risks should I be aware of and how can I manage them?

 

Like with any aspect of a farm business, risk management is critical – especially for nature market projects that can run over several years. As the landholder, you may be leading the development of the project, be part of a wider group of farmers, or be working with a third-party project developer that is taking the majority of the risk.

In any case, it’s advisable to have a clear understanding of the likelihood of the risks involved, what will happen if the risk materialises, what you as the landholder might be liable for, and how the risk is being managed to prevent this liability.

This Milestone sets out the different types of risks that nature market projects (and the deals that result from them) often carry. The last section covers the types of legal entities that farmers might form, as these can help to manage certain risks and benefit the overall operations of the project.

 

Is it possible to use repayable finance upfront to meet any of the costs?

 

Repayable finance from investors – typically debt or equity – is not always necessary in nature markets if upfront costs can be met by the buyer or through grants.

It’s also important to note that, even when repayable finance is needed, farmers do not necessarily have to secure this themselves.

In the UK, there are very few examples of individual farmers taking out loans and no examples of farmers issuing shares to use specifically to finance a nature market project. Typically, the upfront capital required is organised by a third party – for example, a third-party project developer, a broker etc.

However, as nature markets develop further, and in the case of larger farms, there is potential for farmers to secure repayable finance and meet up-front costs, as with other parts of their business.

The below therefore sets out some questions that farmers (and, more likely, third party project developers) could ask themselves to secure repayable finance from lenders and investors, whether that’s taking on finance independently, or as part of a larger group or partnership.

 

What do I need to be aware of when signing contracts?

 

This Milestone is about the legal contracts you will use and sign to officially commit to the project and transition it to a fully fledged deal. As business owners, farmers are familiar with contracts and understand the need to carefully review the details before signing any such agreements.

Any nature market deal is likely to involve legal agreements that will be tailored to each set of circumstances. However, for ease this Milestone sets out what contract set-ups are used in this space, common contract types, and other key considerations to ask yourself at this stage.

Disclaimer: The information in this Milestone does not constitute any form of legal advice but instead serves as practical advice that has been written by speaking with lawyers, farmers and other practitioners. We recommend that appropriate legal advice should be taken from a qualified solicitor before taking or refraining from any action relating to your contracts and projects.

 

Can I participate on tenanted land?

 

The tenancy and ownership structure of land can have significant implications for farmers engaging in nature markets in the UK. The rights of tenants in relation to nature markets is still not entirely clear in the UK and may differ on a case by case basis. Below are some key considerations which can help both tenants and landlords in asking the right questions when considering engaging in nature markets as policy and legal frameworks develop. Further guidance prepared by the Tenant Farmers Association and the Country, Land and Business Association can be found here. 

 

How do public sector funding and policy align with nature markets?

 

In England, the role of public funding and support to farmers is undergoing change on a scale not seen in decades. The government hopes to strengthen the link between environmental and farming practices to meet its climate and nature restoration targets, while maintaining food security and the viability of farm businesses across the country.

This section offers a summary of how government is working with farmers to access nature markets, and provides guidance on:

 

  • How nature markets might work with public subsidy schemes,
  • What development funding is available for farmers to explore their opportunities,
  • What ‘market infrastructure’ the government is supporting – including Standards and Codes.

Groundwork

 

We have separated out these Milestones into ‘Groundwork’ and ‘Market Engagement’ to indicate which Milestones you will want to read as you consider and/or prepare for nature markets (Groundwork) and those you will move through if and when you decide to become a seller of environmental outcomes (Market Engagement).  

We recommend all farmers read through the Groundwork Milestones in addition to the Introduction to Nature Markets in order to understand better whether nature markets are for them, and how they can, at the very least, explore and baseline their farms so they are ready for any opportunities that may arise later.  

Market Engagement

 

We have separated out these Milestones into ‘Groundwork’ and ‘Market Engagement’ to indicate which Milestones you will want to read as you consider and/or prepare for nature markets (Groundwork) and those you will move through if and when you decide to become a seller of environmental outcomes (Market Engagement).  

We recommend all farmers read through the Groundwork Milestones in addition to the Introduction to Nature Markets in order to understand better whether nature markets are for them, and how they can, at the very least, explore and baseline their farms so they are ready for any opportunities that may arise later.  

 

Acknowledgements 

With many thanks their time and insight on this case study:

 

Hylton Murray-Philipson, farmer and estate manager at Blaston Estate

Respira International

 

David Wright, CEO, ecometric

 

Roger Davis, Director & Co-founder, Indigro Limited

Richard Sanders, Farm Consultant, Fisher German

 

Date published: 19/11/2023

Next Milestone

Key Takeaways

  • Plateauing yields and the colonization of blackgrass on the arable fields at Blaston indicated to Hylton Murray-Philipson that the farm’s soils were in poor condition. This, compounded with the running down of the Basic Payments Scheme ( BPS ) were the impetus for the farm moving to more regenerative practices – to improve the environmental and economic resilience of the farm.
  • Blaston implemented three primary changes to improve soil health and increase carbon sequestration: minimum soil disturbance, permanent soil cover, diverse crop and animal rotations.
  • Blaston now focuses on soil health as its primary objective. Sales of soil carbon certificates helped fund the transition.

 

 

Why did Blaston Estate get involved in soil carbon markets?

To determine what market opportunities might be available, the first step is to assess the current state of natural capital and identify potential areas of intervention which align with the overall goals of a farm. The Blaston Estate in Leicestershire had long been farmed intensively on an oilseed rape – wheat rotation, and farmer Hylton Murray-Philipson had noted a plateau in yields and increased need for synthetic inputs. When he began looking closely at the state of his soils, he noticed a significant decline in earthworms on his arable fields, increased erosion and runoff, and colonisation of blackgrass indicating poor soil health.

The loss of the Basic Payments Scheme under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy was another impetus for Murray-Philipson making changes to improve the productivity of his soils. His concern was in the continued viability of the farming business as well as the overall environmental condition in which he would leave the farm to the next generation.

 

What changes did Blaston Estate implement to increase soil carbon?

Murray-Philipson tasked agronomy consultancy Indigro and land agents Fisher German to design a farm management plan with improved soil health as the primary objective. The ensuing plan was based on three core regenerative principles:

 

Minimum Soil Disturbance
Decades of heavy cultivation had led to a significant reduction in soil organic matter and thus the fertility of the soil. Blaston stopped ploughing and introduced direct drilling after the first cover crop was established. All arable fields at the farm are now direct drilled which has led to a reduction in emissions from the soil, reduced compaction, reduced soil erosion, increased soil organic matter, increased worm counts and improved overall soil health.

Permanent Soil Cover
Like minimizing soil disturbance, cover crops reduce erosion, increase soil organic matter and improve carbon sequestration. Introducing permanent cover can also help to build the soil and manage the nutrients which aid productivity of the main (cash) crops. Blaston Estate introduced both cover crops and catch crops into its arable fields.

Catch Crops are fast growing crops that are planted between harvest and autumn sowing. Blaston introduced catch crops to harvest sunlight between rotations, generate additional organic matter, stimulate mycorrhizal fungi and sequester additional carbon into the soil.

Cover Crops Cover crops can draw down CO2, decreasing net emissions and increasing soil carbon. Blaston Estate has sown permanent understories of white clover to reduce pesticide and herbicide use and fix nitrogen to be used by the cash crops.

 

Diverse Crop Rotations and Interactions
Blaston reintroduced rotational grassland, temporary grass leys and livestock grazing into the arable rotation. The livestock  (60 suckler cows and 500 ewes) help improve soil fertility as they spread their manures; introducing temporary grass leys into the rotation reduces the blackgrass burden through grazing and increasing competition from a wide variety of grasses, herbs and clovers. When sheep graze white clover after harvest, they rest adjacent pastures and add fertility through manuring.

 

How did Blaston Estate finance up-front costs?

The upfront costs of project implementation depend on the type and scale of intervention, as well as the current income from the land. For Murray-Philipson, the primary costs were income forgone on 400 acres of cereals which he converted to rotational grasses and the capital costs of acquiring cattle and erecting buildings to over-winter them. Murray-Philipson paid for initial baseline assessment and project planning costs out of pocket. To alleviate some costs and spread them over a longer time period, the cattle brought onto the farm were initially sent to a neighbor to over-winter – thereby avoiding the necessity to erect buildings. Murray-Philipson used this time to evaluate how the intervention was working and further develop his project plan. As underwriter, Respira paid for the soil carbon credits generated on the farm before they were sold to a final buyer. This inflow of cash in 2022 was used to finance the following year’s project implementation costs.

 

Lessons Learned

“The key to genuine sustainability – environmental and financial – is putting the condition of the soil centre stage. Focus on margin rather than yield. If you look after the soil, the soil will look after you. After a couple of years’ reduction, yields recover as the natural fertility of the soil returns. Regenerative practices deliver similar outputs with lower input costs – and higher margins. The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) can help fund measurement costs. Soil carbon isn’t a panacea for every farmer, but in the right place with the right conditions it is certainly something to consider.”

– Hylton Murray-Philipson

 

Hylton Murray-Philipson, Estate Manager at Blaston Estate

 

 

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