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One year in to SOS-UK’s Farming for Carbon & Nature pilot project

Tilly Jarvis
May 4, 2022

This year has shown FCN’s potential to address the climate, nature and health crises; and to be more innovative, scalable and replicable than we originally thought possible!

Farming for Carbon & Nature (FCN) is a 3 year pilot, funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, to set up an innovative fiscal model that helps universities meet their net zero targets and farms adopt more nature friendly farming practices. Our first year presented itself with both unexpected challenges and unexpected opportunities. We are now eagerly entering our 2ndyear when students will be doing the first soil carbon tests and biodiversity surveys on the farms.

We are very thankful to the  incredible twenty two experts and stakeholders that have helped us shape FCN in its first year. We have a core advisory group, four working groups, plans for a further two working groups, and four fantastic farms that have offered 825 hectares to the FCN pilot. We are now looking for more farms to join us - details of how to get involved are below or you can just go straight to filling in our Expression of Interest form.


Storing carbon in the soil

It took several months to develop and agree a soil carbon sampling and testing methodology that could be verified and was robust enough to satisfy the leading experts in our soil working group. After factoring in student availability for the sampling and testing, as well as crop growing/harvesting times, we agreed the initial baseline soil samples will be taken in September 2022.

All the baseline testing will be done in one university lab to ensure consistency and a robust test of our agreed protocols. The methodology will be accurately documented so it can be replicated in future years by other university labs as FCN grows and more farms are involved.


Increasing wildlife and biodiversity

SOS-UK staff, under the oversight of our biodiversity working group, are working on a robust methodology for biodiversity monitoring on the farms. Students will undertake their first surveys at the in the 2022/23 academic year.

We started the pilot using the term ‘net biodiversity gain’, but later discovered that this is predominantly used for planning and development projects to avoid or compensate for biodiversity losses. As a result we’re now referring to ‘biodiversity increases’ instead, as this is a much better fit for FCN.


Testing the nutrient density of food

Not all food is created equally, in fact the nutrient value of the same food type can vary widely. We are extremely keen to explore the nutrient density of food produced on FCN farms and how this links to farming practices, increased farm biodiversity, and the ability of soil to draw down carbon.

This area of work was not in our original plans but provides the opportunity to address the climate, nature and health crises we face. We are hoping to secure further funding so students can undertake nutrient-density testing on the food produced by the FCN farms.


Is offsetting the right financial model for FCN?

We originally thought so but we have been looking at several financial models, not just offsetting. Our financial model working group are trying to develop a model that could work for farms managed by universities/colleges, tenanted farms on university/college owned land, and also universities without any farmland. Just some of the many considerations we are grappling with are having a model that is robust and externally verified; having some assurance of permanence for the stored carbon, needing to ensure there is no potential for double counting of the carbon; and whether or not payments could be made for farm ecosystem services rather than just carbon sequestration.

This is probably the most challenging aspect of the pilot so when the opportunity came to apply for funding for further technical expertise we took it! We submitted an application to The National Environment Investment Readiness Fund (NEIRF) in February and should hear if we have been successful or not in June.


Join us to see where this FCN pilot leads!

We currently have 4 very engaged farms involved in the pilot and would like another 5 or 6 this year and to have 15 by the end of the pilot in March 2024. If you know of a farm that is on university or college owned land that may be interested please ask them to complete this Expression of Interest form. We will recruit suitable farms on a first come first served basis. The farms can be managed by a university or college or be tenant farms on university or college owned land.

For more information, or if you would like to be added to our FCN mailing list, please email Tilly Jarvis.