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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 measured soil carbon certificates by implementing regenerative farming practices. In the first transaction in 2022, the farm sequestered 6,500 tonnes CO2 and, having deducted on-farm emissions and placed 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 credits to third party buyers including Dash Water, Helical, Howden, Truck East and Weatherby’s Bank. Blaston takes a holistic approach to managing the farm and works closely with Severn Trent Water. 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. Profitability has increased as applications of artificial N have been reduced.

 

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

  • Blaston Estate used Ecometric to conduct the initial baseline assessment and ongoing monitoring. Physical soil sampling was combined with AI remote sensing to produce an accurate measurement of movements in soil carbon.
  • Blaston Estate worked closely with Indigro Ltd. a firm of independent agronomists, to develop a farm management plan for improving soil health and increasing soil carbon.

 

How did Blaston Estate conduct its baseline?

Blaston works as a team. Once Hylton Murray-Philipson, the owner, had set out his vision for improving the health of his soils, Indigro and Fisher German worked on implementation. Guided by Respira, the underwriter of the transaction, the team hired Ecometric to conduct baselining. Ecometric uses Artificial Intelligence to combine on-site soil sampling and lab analysis with remote sensing data. Although comprehensive soil sampling is more expensive than modelling, Ecometric’s methodology was the only approach accepted by underwriter / initial purchaser Respira.

Having completed the third year’s testing and generated the second year’s carbon sale, the project is currently being profiled on the Regen Network platform and will be publicly available for ongoing scrutiny. Continually ground-truthing the remote sensing data through soil testing has increased the accuracy of the AI system to over 90% – key to reducing costs over the longer term. See more about the farm’s engagement with buyers in the case study for Milestone 4.

After settling on Ecometric’s methodology, Blaston had its first comprehensive soil carbon baseline done in 2020. The 2021 round of measurement demonstrated an increase in soil carbon which was then sold as certificates in 2022.

 

 

How did Blaston Estate develop its farm management plan?

Murray-Philipson had already worked with agronomy company Indigro for 25 years before tasking them to develop a management plan for the farm which would reverse declines in soil organic matter, restore soil health and increase soil carbon.

Areas which were the most depleted in terms of carbon content were prioritised for intervention. The farm had a mixture of arable fields and permanent grassland. To assess the potential uplift of the arable fields, measurements were also taken on the adjacent permanent pasture. The permanent pasture’s Soil Organic Matter (SOM) content was 8.5% while the arable fields were at 3%. This suggested that the arable fields would have a saturation level of about 8.5% and thus had substantial room for uplift.

Indigro developed a plan based on three key regenerative principles: Minimising soil disturbance; permanently covering the soil with cover crops, and introducing diversity into the system in the form of crop rotations and grass and livestock integration. Learn more about the specific practices employed at Blaston in the case study for Milestone 1.

 

How does Blaston Estate conduct ongoing monitoring and measurement?

Blaston Estate measures its soil carbon annually using the same methodology it used for its baseline. Indigro remains highly involved in monitoring the condition of the soils and adjusting the farm management plan each year in response to changes in yield, soil carbon and other environmental indicators such as prevalence of blackgrass. In addition to restoring soil health, Murray-Philipson has also established wide field margins to reduce runoff; planted habitat strips for biodiversity and to encourage beneficial insects allowing for zero insecticide use in arable crops; planted 10,000 trees, and introduced agroforestry with 200 walnut trees.

 

Lessons Learned

With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been advantageous to do more comprehensive soil testing on day one. However, when the initial soil samples were taken we didn’t have access to the technologies required for current day high integrity methodologies.

The second year generated fewer carbon certificates than the first year. This was because herbal leys established poorly in wet conditions in the spring. They grew less biomass above ground than anticipated; and there was less activity in the roots and less carbon sequestered. Compounding the problem, they were then overgrazed as there was a shortage of fodder elsewhere on the farm. It is important to remember that ground conditions will affect the yield of both crops above ground and the sequestration of carbon below ground

 

 

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