The carbon credit marketplace is heating up but clear information on the key players and their relative benefits is sparse and convoluted. As many of you have likely learned – Google searches won’t get you very far here.
As a masters student studying carbon markets and an intern at FarmRaise, I’ve tracked these players closely over the last several months. In this blog post, I hope to share what I’ve observed and shed light on the five most-watched carbon credit companies
- Indigo Carbon
Overview: As the name most recognized name in the farming community, Indigo Carbon has an impressive list of well known corporate buyers like The North Face, Blue Bottle Coffee, and JP Morgan Chase. While Indigo is touted as a leader in the emerging industry, it may not be the best option for all.
- Indigo carbon has a proprietary software platform that allows farmers to easily input data from enrolled fields
After enrolling, farmers have access to Indigo’s agronomists and support teams to help implement changes and answer questions
- Farmers only get paid for adopting new practices (ie. cover cropping, no-till, reduced N fertilizer, etc.), so if you’ve been cover cropping for years, you’re unlikely to be eligible. (Note: If you’ve been using a single crop cover crop and switch to a multi-crop cover crop you may be eligible.)
- Farmers need to have detailed management practice information from the past 3-5 years (even though you aren’t paid for those practices retroactively)
- Right now they only service specific states (Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas)
Overview: Nori is a blockchain-enabled company whose sole mission is to be a leading carbon marketplace. Unique to the carbon-removal industry, they are powered by cryptocurrency. Through this pioneering approach, they hope to create efficient and transparent carbon removal transactions. .
Companies can purchase NORI tokens (whose price depends on the market price of a carbon removal credit at time of purchase). Once it has a NORI token, the company can exchange it for an NRT (or Nori Removal Token).
Farmers create NRTs when they sequester 1 ton of CO2. That NRT translates into a NORI token which is priced at market value and can be sold whenever you feel is right. The exchange rate between a NORI token and an NRT will always be 1:1.
Companies like this model because they can buy lots of NORI tokens and bank them, then eventually exchange the NORI tokens for NRTs which count towards carbon removal. Farmers like this model because they get the power to sell their banked carbon when it’s most beneficial to them. (Hello invisible hand of the market.)
- Nori’s pilot phase will award up to 5 years of grandfathered credits (2016-2020).
- Nori is paying farmers cash right now and will continue to pay cash until the tokens are launched
- Once the token payment platform is launched, farmers will be given a NORI token (which is essentially ‘real-money’) for every tonne they sequester and can cash in whenever they want. The NORI token is priced at the market value of a carbon credit, so the idea is that the longer you hold onto a NORI token, the more it will be worth in the long run, much like stocks.
- Farmers are able to directly connect with buyers– by cutting out the middlemen, it saves time and money on both sides
- The NORI token/NRT currency is interesting and could attract major attention when NORI tokens are finally offered (expected in October 2021)
- They’re still doing pilot programs right now and won’t have NORI tokens available for corporate purchase until October at the earliest, so it’s a waiting game until more information is available from the company.
- TruCarbon by TruTerra
Overview: TruTerra is a subsidiary of Land O’Lakes – the world’s largest farmer owned cooperative. The current state of the program is only available to farmers with data from 2016-2020– i.e. don’t sign up if you don’t have field data from those years.
- They have a tool called Truterra Insights Engine that allows farmers to aggregate data from the past five years in a format best suited to enroll in a carbon program.
- To my knowledge, they’re the only company interested in paying farmers retroactively. This means that if you made a change in agronomic practice between 2016-2020, you are eligible for payment from Truterra. I won’t be surprised if/when Truterra expands to allow farmers to enroll for future payments, but right now they’re only focused on retroactive accounting.
- Enrollment is contingent upon committing to a 20 year reporting period using the Truterra Insights Engine (carbon reporting contracts are similar to conservation easements, meaning that they can be transferred in the case of transfer of property).
- Bayer Carbon Initiative
Overview: Bayer’s recently announced Carbon Initiative is still in its beginning phases with very little public detail. That said, we do know that they (like many of the other carbon credit companies on this list), will only pay farmers for adopting new cover crop or no-till/strip till practices.
- Bayer is a hugely influential food & agriculture company in its own right, so they have the resources and expertise to roll out a strong program after this pilot season.
- Their program is still young and the pilot program for the 2020-2021 season is already full.
- Bayer is an ag retailer, so make sure to read the fine print when enrolling in the program to make sure you’re not also signing up to use Bayer’s proprietary products (unless that’s what you want to do).
- Nutrien Ag
Overview: Nutrien’s core businesses are creating seeds, fertilizers, herbicides, and software to optimize farm performance. So in November 2020 when they announced their involvement in the carbon marketplace, I was intrigued. Below is what I’ve been able to gather so far.
- They’re starting their two year pilot period in 2021, so interested farmers can still state their interest and potentially be accepted to the program
- Nutrien has a deep bench of agronomists on staff to provide guidance for newly enrolled farmers, so entering the market may have additional benefits for farmers looking for guidance on how best to sequester carbon
- As a global retailer they have plenty of connections to influential companies who might be interested in purchasing carbon credits once the program is officially launched
- Because Nutrien has its own proprietary products, enrollment in their carbon program could mean you’re signing up to use their products– if you’re interested in signing up, make sure to read the fine print
The bottom line: Does it make sense for me to pursue carbon marketplaces for my operation?
While these programs vary slightly in stage of development and market mechanisms, they generally seek farmers who:
- Have multi-year on-farm data for all the land they want to enroll in the carbon marketplace. Oftentimes, the data needed is so granular that farmers may not qualify to enroll until after they start taking more detailed measurements.
- Own the land they enroll. For farmers who lease the land, this is a key barrier to entry.
- Plan to farm the land they enroll for years into the future. Contracts with carbon brokers can extend for substantial periods of time (think: 20+ years)
At FarmRaise, we are monitoring the development of these marketplaces closely so that our customers receive the best, most up-to-date information on their development. As each of these marketplaces develops and government regulation / intervention develops, we will look for ways to plug our farmers into these markets quickly and efficiently.