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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 the Gent Family Farm

Thomas Gent is a fourth generation family farmer who manages land regeneratively on his family’s 800 ha mixed arable farm in South Lincolnshire. Thomas is currently working with the carbon program Agreena to quantify and sell soil carbon certificates generated on the farm. Despite the farm’s soils being in good condition as a result of regenerative practices, Gent is still able to generate and sell soil carbon certificates as he has implemented further use of cover cropping and the addition of organic matter across the farm.

 

 Quick Stats:

  • Location: South Lincolnshire
  • Size of Farm: 800 ha
  • Tenancy & Ownership: Owner Occupied
  • Nature Market Focus: Soil Carbon
  • Project Partners: Agreena

 

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.  

 
Acknowledgement

 

With many thanks for his time and insight

Thomas Gent, Fourth generation farmer and UK Country Lead at Agreena

 

 

Date Published: 19/11/2023

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Key Takeaways

  • The Gent family had been farming using regenerative practices for 15 years before they started measuring their soil carbon to sell certificates . Despite their soils being in relatively good condition, the family is still able to generate and sell certificates     .
  • The Gent family focuses on three regenerative practices:
    • Minimizing soil disturbance through direct drilling
    • Maximising soil cover through cover and catch crops
    • Reducing artificial inputs wherever possible and adding organic matter
  • The Gent family works with Agreena, a Denmark-based carbon certificate program to measure, quantify and market their soil carbon certificates

 

 

Why did the Gent family decide to sell their soil carbon?

The Gent family had been managing their farm using regenerative practices for over 15 years and thus, the farm’s soils were in quite good condition before the family embarked on selling soil carbon certificates. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Thomas Gent, a fourth-generation farmer became interested in quantitatively measuring the condition of the soil and the impact of the regenerative practices the family had been using. He aimed to see if they could derive some financial benefit from quantifying sustainably managing the soil beyond selling agricultural products.

Thomas initially set out to measure the state of his soils independently but soon came to the conclusion that using a third-party intermediary to quantify and ultimately sell his soil carbon would be far easier for the farming business. Thomas researched and approached several companies before settling on Agreena, a Denmark-based CO2e certification programme and carbon certificate broker.

Thomas Gent was the first UK farmer to use Agreena and has since begun working for the company to expand the business in the UK.

 

How did the Gent family decide on practices which would increase their soil carbon?

The Gent family had been managing their farm regeneratively for over 15 years by the time Thomas set out to monetise their impact through soil carbon markets. However, once Thomas began studying regenerative farming more seriously, he began to focus on three main areas of interventions to maximise the farm’s soil health. These practices form the basis of Agreena’s farm management and carbon certification methodology. Focusing on these three areas allows the Gents to maximise their annual carbon certificates whilst improving the state of their soil and decreasing their input costs.

 

    • Minimise soil disturbance

When Thomas’ grandfather began managing his farm regeneratively, there were few options for direct seeding available to him. As a machinery designer, he took the task on himself and designed what became the Gent Disc, a now patented, low-disturbance seeding machine which the family now licences       throughout the world     . The family now uses the machine across the farm to minimise soil disturbance through direct drilling     .

 

    • Maximise soil cover

The Gents ensure maximum annual soil cover by planting catch crops and overwinter covers to minimise carbon losses from the soils and decrease erosion. The farm includes legume and herbal-rich leys which they implemented as part of their Mid-Tier Countryside Stewardship scheme and also plant grazing cover crops  through an arrangement with a local sheep grazer.

 

    • Reduce artificial inputs

The third regenerative principle the Gents apply on their farm is reducing artificial inputs and replacing them with organic inputs wherever possible. The Gents do not apply insecticide on their fields and have significantly reduced their application of fungicide. Where possible, they have increased the use of manures in place of synthetic fertilisers working with a local AD plant.

 

What is the role of Agreena at this stage?

The Agreena system estimates the number of certificates by modelling and measuring the impact of different farming practices on soil carbon. Once the certificates have been quantified, farmers are able to choose what to do with them. They can keep a portion or all of their certificates to evidence their own environmental impact, allow Agreena to sell the certificates on their behalf, or keep their certificates to sell directly to buyers. The Gent family chose to sell their credits through the Agreena platform in the first year.

 

Lessons Learned

  • Get a good understanding of the market and options available before jumping in
  • Read contracts in detail to ensure you are fully happy with what is being laid out
  • Utilise the carbon certificate income to the benefit of your business whether that is selling your grain for a premium or using the money to further your transition

 

 

 

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