5. Pathways and enabling factors

Through the interviews and workshops that were undertaken with farmers, landholder groups, government agencies, carbon service providers and various experts for this guide, the area that emerged as the most promising starting point for collaboration around carbon farming was knowledge-sharing and support with project establishment. Key reasons for this include:

  • Collaboration in this area has the potential to help overcome some of the greatest barriers to setting up a carbon farming project by helping landholders to obtain basic knowledge on how carbon farming works, navigate complex regulatory arrangements and better manage project set up costs.
  • It is an area in which relatively informal collaborations could have a significant impact without exposing participants to excessive risks.
  • It can act as a “base-case” on top of which additional areas of collaboration could be added (e.g. around marketing of credits or ongoing project management)

The options below begin with the pathways that can enable informal knowledge-sharing arrangements and move on to more formal collaboration and expansion into other aspects of carbon farming.

Informal knowledge-sharing groups

The complexity of carbon farming rules and processes can be a major barrier for a single landholder seeking to set up a project. The upfront costs of measuring a soil carbon “baseline” can also be significant and income from carbon credits may not be realised for several years. These two barriers lead most landholders to enter into an arrangement with a carbon service provider to cover upfront costs and help them navigate the system in return for a share of the future income from carbon credits. Collaboration on knowledge-sharing could help landholders to be better prepared before engaging with a service provider and increase transparency around these relationships.

Some landholders opt to take a ‘DIY’ approach to setting up a carbon project, in which they educate themselves, obtain some services on a fee-for-service basis (e.g. soil testing) and cover their own upfront costs. Landholders taking a DIY approach may benefit from informal collaboration with other landholders by reducing the information they need to source by themselves, sound out ideas with each other to build confidence in decision making and having the opportunity to learn from one another’s mistakes and successes.

One relatively informal approach to knowledge-sharing and project set-up could involve a group of landholders coming together to share their experiences and help one another as they take individual journeys towards carbon farming. Such a grouping could emerge from a Landcare group, a group of neighbours or friends, an online group, a Farming Systems Group, a family network or come together specifically for the purposes of carbon farming. The 8 Families case study in the previous section provides an example of a group that has taken this approach, while leaving each member free to enter into their own contractual relationships around carbon farming.

Enabling factors for group formation

The following factors were mentioned in our interviews and potential enablers to consider when setting up a collaborative group:

  • Geographic proximity: Views were mixed on how important it was for collaborating landholders to be close to one another. Close proximity may improve the chances of achieving landscape-scale co-benefits around biodiversity or erosion control, but direct neighbours may be unwilling to enter into close commercial relationships or share too much data due to the need to maintain stable relationships and not become too invested in one another’s land management. Some interviewees suggested catchment boundaries could be a more appropriate scale for enhancing co-benefits without needing to be direct neighbours.
  • Soil type was mentioned as an important characteristic that could make collaborative measurement (and potentially modelling) of soil carbon easier.
  • Shared practices and common farm outputs were seen as important for sharing knowledge about what works, as well as developing collaborative marketing approaches. Examples could include regenerative agriculture practices such as time-controlled grazing or pasture cropping.
  • Shared values and vision built on proven trust was cited by some interviewees as more important than either proximity or common practices. Shared values are important for telling a good provenance story about what the group is doing to produce both its carbon credits and its other farm produce (e.g. beef). More importantly, shared values can be critical in the ability of the group to continue collaborating over the long-term.

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