The three case studies presented here highlight the diversity of models and stakeholder groups that could become involved in collaborative carbon farming. These stakeholder groups include:
- Farming systems groups: Starting with an existing group like this can maximise trust and social bonds. A farming systems group is also likely to have members with similar enterprises and land management practices, which can make it easier to work together. It may also present an opportunity to tell a collective provenance story about a group’s carbon credits as well as their primary farm products such as beef. The 8 Families case study on p. 14 provides an example of how a group formed around a shared farming philosophy might explore carbon farming together.
- Landcare or similar groups: Landcare groups may have high levels of trust and social cohesion, but often lack a history of commercial relationships between members. Such groups may therefore choose to start collaborating around knowledge-sharing and social support, with members able to pursue individual commercial arrangements with carbon service providers or follow a DIY model. The Regen Farmers Mutual case study on p. 15 provides an example of how Landcare and other local groups may be incorporated into a larger carbon farming business model.
- Existing co-operatives: As shown through the example of the Casino Food Co-op on p. 14, existing agricultural co-ops have an opportunity to assist their members to engage in carbon farming. Services provided by a co-op could include knowledge provision, assistance with baselining, project registration, introductions to carbon service providers, ongoing monitoring and auditing, marketing of credits and even land management. However, carbon alone is unlikely to justify the creation of a new co-operative where one doesn’t already exist for other purposes (e.g. beef or dairy production).
- Carbon service providers: Carbon service providers (or “aggregators”) may work with landholder groups in diverse ways – and are already doing so. Win-win opportunities exist around the initial stages of knowledge-sharing and preparing to establish a project, where working with a collaborative group may increase awareness of a provider’s services, demystify carbon farming and build trust. However, service providers indicated there was limited benefit in establishing more integrated projects involving multiple landholders, as they already have ways of aggregating credits from multiple properties and each project and landholder is different in terms of risk appetite, support with practice change and ongoing monitoring.
- Government: There was little appetite amongst the people we interviewed for government to play an active role in directly creating collaborative carbon farming groups. However, state governments and regional natural resource management agencies were seen to have an important role to play in providing information about carbon farming as a land use option and connecting landholders to service providers and existing collaborative groups that may help them to set up a project.
Case Study: The 8 Families
The 8 Families are located around Gundagai, Holbrook and Wagga Wagga in southern NSW. They came together in 2008 as a community of practice for regenerative farming after attending a Holistic Management course together. Their shared goals around reducing soil loss and increasing the availability of water and feed in dry times led them to share knowledge and data and advise one another on changes to farm management practices. As their collaboration deepened over the next decade, enhancing soil carbon and questions about carbon markets became part of that knowledge-sharing and social support.
”the broader ecological improvements will only work if the social connections are there as well”
Peer support has been a vital ingredient for the 8 families since they started working together. Support groups of like-minded individuals can create a ‘safe space’ for exploring new ideas and practices – as well as for exploring new and uncertain markets like carbon. In the case of the 8 Families, it has also helped that they are close together in a single region. This enables them to come together regularly in person and create a community of place as well as a community of practice. It also helps to make their soil monitoring and other ecological data more relevant to others in the group.
Over the years, the group has collaborated in exploring various environmental markets, including stewardship schemes, collective marketing of beef and payments for increasing soil carbon. Group workshops and joint discussions with carbon service providers has helped the group cut through some of the complexity of engaging in these markets. However, the group has also maintained the flexibility for each member to set up their own carbon project that allows them to move at their own pace, choose what they each want to do with any carbon credits they create and enter into separate contracts with different carbon service providers.
Overall, this case study shows the potential benefits of knowledge-sharing and social support while maintaining independence over farm management decisions and business relationships.
For more details on this group, check out the Soils for Life website.
Case study: The Casino Food Co-op
The Casino Food Co-op began in the Northern Rivers of NSW in 1933 as the Northern Co-operative Meat Company. It provides a tailored service to its more than 500 members to help them get their beef, veal and pork products transported, processed, packaged and marketed. The Co-op runs a range of programs with its members on soil health and catchment management and in recent years it has expanded its activities into carbon farming.
Under the four-year Casino Co-op Carbon Farming Project, the Co-op is working with 20 of its farmer members to baseline their existing soil carbon levels using methods that have been approved under the Australian Government’s Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF). However, the model being developed does not involve selling credits to the ERF or to external businesses for use as offsets. Instead, the aim is to utilise the carbon that is sequestered in soils on members’ properties to assist the red meat industry in Australia to become carbon neutral by 2030. This is turn may deliver additional long-term benefits for Co-op members through better market access, price premiums for their meat and maintaining their social licence to operate from communities in Australia and overseas.
“We are proud the Co-op is farmer owned and that we are one of those farmers that can benefit from membership activities including soil health, riparian regeneration and working on a path to carbon neutrality together”
– Gavin & Catherine Henderson, Co-op members
Given that many of its members have small holdings of around 100 ha, working with the co-op enables them to overcome barriers related to inadequate scale and the high transaction costs involved in registering projects and marketing credits. It also enables them to pursue a collective marketing strategy that positions carbon credits within the overall red meat supply chain, which could not be achieved through an individual approach. This in turn may enhance the value of Co-op members’ farming production by enabling them to tell a stronger story about the provenance of their beef.
Check out their website for more details on The Casino Food Co-op’s carbon farming project and farmer stories.
Case Study: Regen Farmers Mutual
Regen Farmers Mutual (RFM) was formed through a co-design process involving farmers, conservationists and Landcare members starting in mid-2020. The vision was to create a farmer-owned broker that would enable landholders to better engage in environmental markets – including carbon markets. RFM acts as a “Regen Advisor” for its members, helping farmers to recognise the value of their natural assets, share resources and aggregate their market power without a middleman.
Landholder collaboration has been a central element of the RFM model since it was first conceived. RFM recognises and supports the local landholder groups to which its members belong. One early model employed by RFM was the “80/10/10” model, whereby 80c for every dollar earned from carbon payments would go to the farmer, 10c to the farmer group that supports them and 10c to RFM to cover the costs of transactions and legal governance. This model provides for some pooling of revenue and collaboration on shared interests, while ensuring that individual landholders retain the bulk of any revenue from environmental markets and independence around how they manage their land.
“It’s unique, it’s fit for purpose for allowing small producers on a regional basis to aggregate their environmental services and reduce the audit verification and assessment costs dramatically through the mutual model whereby we all participate, we all share the costs, and we all share the benefits.”
– Rick Humphries, Queensland Horticultural Farmer
Over time RFM has moved towards a “Net, Inset, Offset” approach in which farmers are encouraged to retain rather than sell any credits from carbon farming. Participating farmers are supported to first utilise any carbon credits they generate to shift their own operations to net zero emissions, then to explore “insetting” opportunities within their supply chain before selling credits to other agricultural enterprises in their industry looking to offset their emissions.
In terms of its structure, RFM is a company limited by guarantee. It is made up of members rather than shareholders and farmers can become members by using services of the mutual or its partners. Farmers can participate in decision-making via the Member Council and the Board, with surplus earnings returned to members as rebates. This adds an additional layer of collaboration on top of the local-scale farmer groups to which the farmer members belong.