In the private sector to date, more than 50 US-based food and agriculture companies have set rigorous greenhouse gas reduction targets – leading to a widespread focus on reducing the largest portion of their footprints: Scope 3 emissions. These include all upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions that fall outside of a company’s direct control, typically within their upstream or downstream supply chains.
As the largest source of emissions, Scope 3 also offers the greatest opportunity for reductions. For the ag and food companies we work with, farm-level interventions hold immense potential both for reductions and removals. Despite this potential, successful farm-level interventions can be complex and challenging to design and implement. Many companies have conducted supply shed hotspot analyses and even identified strategic interventions to implement – but are struggling to truly generate results on the ground.
At AgSpire, we drive success down to the ground level with a simple approach: putting the producer first. By using that as our guide, we are able to amplify and accelerate results – delivering benefit throughout the supply chain, from the farmers and ranchers on the ground, to the companies we work with, and ultimately to our environment at large.
When designing a farm-level program, here are four ways in which putting the producer first can lead to measurable progress:
- Get Regional: The US EPA currently breaks ecosystem management into 12 ecoregions across the continental US – each with different climates, weather patterns, soils, water sources, and plant species. As such, growing corn in South Dakota, for example, looks very different than growing corn in Kansas. In a Scope 3 program, this may mean approaching growers in different regions with entirely customized opportunities, practices, and incentives – based on the context, markets, and ecosystems of those localities. This regional approach helps accelerate adoption and lead to better outcomes.
- Design for Resilience: It is imperative to remember that implementing practice changes of any kind creates financial risk for the farmer – including additional input costs or investments in new equipment or other infrastructure, for example. This risk can create challenges for program recruitment, enrollment, and even program retention. That said, designing programs that simultaneously reduce GHG emission and create on-farm benefit through a positive return on investment in the form of improved profitability, enhanced farm resilience, shrunken costs, or greater productivity go a long way to creating producer motivation and interest.
- Build with Empathy: Despite the credibility that comes with rigorous models, standards, protocols, and verification practices, these requirements don’t always align with how a producer runs their operation. For example, not all producers keep 3-5 years’ worth of records on file at any given time at the level needed to enter the most rigorous carbon programs. Understanding these realities and adapting program requirements helps lower barriers that might keep an interested farmer or rancher from participating or changing practices.
- Provide Support: On-the-ground success is dependent on helping connect producers with the right practices, programs, and incentive mix for their operation. Providing producers with technical assistance to successfully implement the practices and financial assistance needed to cover the financial burden of tackling the change can be a significant motivator for participation and on-going retention.
About the Author
Director of Carbon & Ecosystem Service Markets
Zach promotes company strategy and client success by assisting industry groups, food and ag companies, and farmers on their sustainability goals. Zach has worked on carbon issues for stakeholders across the agriculture value chain and in a wide array of commodities, developing expertise in farm-level carbon accounting, MRV platform usage, voluntary and compliance market schemes, science-based targets, ESG reporting, and strategic planning.