Carbon offset startup AgriCapture hit a milestone earlier this year when it completed a 4,000-acre cover crop program after harvest 2021. The company says it’s the largest cover cropping project of its kind in the Mississippi River Valley, which encompasses multiple states in the US. AgriCapture’s project involved nine farms in Arkansas and Mississippi.
AgriCapture works with farmers and landowners to help them transition to regenerative agriculture practices and carbon offsetting.
The 4,000 acres of cereal and rye crops are one small part of a much larger project. The Nashville, Tennessee-based company is currently monitoring climate-smart farming practices across nearly 52,000 acres with plans to add additional acres in the future. AgriCapture says that some benefits for farmers from this project are improved premiums for sustainably-grown crops, carbon credit generation, and marketing rights.
Sami Osman joined AgriCapture as president in October 2021 after spending 10 years at non-profit Climate Action Reserve. He recently chatted with AFN about AgriCapture’s current projects and what it will take to get more farmers to adopt regenerative agriculture practices.
AFN: Tell us a little bit more about AgriCapture and what you all are doing in regenerative ag.
SO: AgriCapture is still young but rapidly expanding. One of the main areas is developing carbon offset projects for the agricultural sector. We’ve listed our first carbon offset project and that covers 82,000 acres in the Mississippi River Valley area in the Delta. And so this cover crop initiative is a small subsection of a larger project 52,000 that we’ve already got up and running.
Aside from that, we’re also actively developing carbon offset projects for grasslands and rangelands, and that includes things like grazing. That’s also going very well in the United States and Canada.
Then one other thing that we’re already up and running with is an innovative brand new program that we developed ourselves for certifying climate-friendly crops, commodities coming off the land — in particular, the crops coming off the farmland, but then also for sustainable beef coming off the rangelands and grass. We’ve actually already earned revenue from those sustainable crop premiums. So those are tied together really nicely with the pilot and also that larger 52,000-acre carbon offset project.
I think what’s really interesting about AgriCapture from a carbon offset perspective is that a lot of the land that we’ve got in that 52,000-acre first project is actually owned by a sister entity, Land Fund Partners. The founder of Land Fund Partners is actually the founder and owner of AgriCapture, so it’s a really close, very healthy working relationship, and it’s fairly unique in the carbon offset world. It allows us to have those really close working relationships and a really good understanding with the landholder and the farmers themselves. We can take our time to carefully get to know the farmers and understand what their priorities are and then really dig in and work with them on some of the practice changes that will be needed to generate offsets. That really gets us off to a really good advantage there with respect to building these complex offset projects, especially on the farming land.
AFN: How did the relationships with the farmers in the program come about?
SO: That first offset project that we have 52,000 acres, I think roughly half of it is owned by Land Fund Partners and then the other half is essentially the same farmers. Some of [those farmers] have their own land and some of them leased land from Land Fund Partners. There’s a few main farmers in particular, so [we have] a very long-standing relationship with them. Because of that, they’ve also brought some of their own lands in and that’s the case for the 52,000-acre project and I think that’s also the case for that cover crop trial.
AFN: Describe a bit of your approach to working with the farmers.
SO: The way we approach it is we carefully sit down and work with each farmer and get to understand their specific circumstances. So we need to understand the soil conditions on their farm, the climate conditions on their farm, also what their historical practices are, and what crops they want to grow. And it’s only once we have all of that information that we can sit down and pull from some professional agronomic advice and really try to tailor a solution for their particular farm.
Sometimes the specific soils will dictate the results: the results of cover cropping will be more immediate in certain soils; and it’ll take a little bit longer in other soils. And so we need to carefully work with the farmer to understand their conditions. And then from there, even the next year’s intended crop, the cover crop they choose, and the way they terminate it, will also impact the timing and how they approach their next season. So we need to understand their history, what they’re doing today, what they want to do tomorrow, and then carefully formulate a program that fits with all of those so that we know which cover crop will work best. We know the timing of when to put it in, when to terminate it and how that will affect the next year’s crop.
AFN: How do you help farmers manage some of the financial risks and burdens often attached to cover cropping and regenerative ag in general?
SO: Yes, there are risks, there is complexity. What we see in the past from a lot of our peers is that offsets marketers don’t always necessarily study the cost-benefit analysis for all stakeholders around. So we’re going to very carefully do that and assess the ROI or cost benefit for these actions [regen ag practices].
Yes, economically, [cover cropping] makes sense. It might be cost-prohibitive, so we’re very carefully studying the costs in terms of time, costs for the seed, how much [the] extra hours delay decision-making — all those things will impact our cost-benefit analysis. We very carefully walk through all of those steps before we sit down with the farmer and say, “Look, we got all your information, and here’s three or four options, and this one we think looks best, but these three are probably pretty good for you too.”
We’re also carefully exploring all options that we can possibly find to add value for the farmer. So we’re actually increasing the value of the farmland itself. And we’re going to get offset revenue streams. We’re going to get sustainable crop premiums as a new revenue stream. But we’re also going to look at things like USDA, NRCS programs, and they have funding for all sorts of different things, including specifically for cover crops. So what we’re doing with these farmers is we’re helping them understand what those USDA programs are and actually helping them enroll in those so that they will actually be able to get cost share from the USDA to cover a lot of the cost of some of those cover crop activities. We’ll try to couple together very carefully as many of those layers of revenues as we can.
All that’s an example of the sort of slow, careful, holistic approach, and for quite a few farmers that are careful, analysis will show that yes, the return on investments [for cover cropping] is pretty strong.
AFN: What is the timeline from initially connecting with a farmer to them actually being able to implement these practices?
SO: It will vary from farmer to farmer. Managing expectations will be critical. [As] we get to understand the farmers’ priorities [we understand] what the calendar looks like. Let me give you an example. A lot of the guys in the Delta will finish harvesting their crops late in the season, maybe September, October. Then there’ll be some tidying up of the fields, and then hopefully they get to relax as much as they can during their whole busy year [from] October through March. That’s probably a really good timeframe within which we could give some initial guidance and then if they’re interested, come back and really dial it in so that by the time late Jan or Feb rolls around, if they’re interested, they’ve got full detailed guidance. It could range from a couple of meetings, a couple of hours to get an initial sense of whether it will work for [the farmer] through to a couple of months by the time we will hopefully have enough information.
But honestly, it’s going to be an ongoing exercise where all of us will be continually improving together. And we’ll refine these systems over the years. One thing we’re very focused on is [to] cut down the amount of time we need to spend face-to-face with the farmer, especially collecting the data. Going forward, we will try to whittle it down as much as we can using technologies and satellite imagery and machine learning and pointing towards forms as opposed to making 50 phone calls.