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Using technology to facilitate ESG in agriculture

February 02, 2022

Using technology to facilitate ESG in agriculture

Synopsis
5 Minute Read

Accurately measuring and monetizing carbon offsets in the agriculture industry is not always easy. Canadian ag-tech is working to fix that.

Senior Manager, General Practice

This article was authored in partnership with Deveron, an agriculture technology and data company based in Toronto.

We have seen the effects of climate change happening before us in real time, resulting in a sense of urgency to push for real action to mitigate its impact.

In January 2020, a landmark moment in the world of business occurred to address this issue. Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, wrote an open letter to business leaders all over the globe declaring a mandate for them to take a hard look at their environmental footprint and do everything they can to reduce it.

Since then, Fink and BlackRock have practiced what they preach. They declared “climate risk is investment risk” and outlined new policies that put climate change at the centre of what they do including prioritizing business’s Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) performance. They’re making sustainability integral to their portfolio construction and risk management, while exiting investments that do not meet the new criteria.

With that precedent set, investment firms and banks all over the world, including Canada, began to follow suit. A prime example was BMO’s announcement in April that they would be helping one of their biggest clients, Gibson Energy, fully transition their credit facility to a sustainability-linked loan.

With organizations around the world now put on notice by the biggest financial players in the market, how can they take action to modernize their business and take control of its environmental impact?

Opportunities for change in business

For some businesses, these operational changes will be relatively simple to identify and fix. Others, however, may have to fundamentally alter how their service or product is developed and brought to market. What options are available to them to help reduce their environmental impact and improve their ESG?

Many businesses have turned to the carbon offset market, which involves purchasing carbon credits from other businesses who have found ways to reduce their carbon footprint beyond their own ESG needs, allowing them to monetize their excess.

Agriculture and farming operations have the ability to participate in the carbon offset market, helping the planet and growing their revenue by using innovative techniques to capture carbon in their soil. Unfortunately, carbon sequestration practises within the farming and agriculture industry have been largely untapped, mainly due to barriers-to-entry that farmers face.

Deveron, a Toronto-based business that specializes in agriculture data collection practises, is one company looking to help change that.

Hurdles between farmers and the carbon offset market

Due to the nature of their work, agriculture operators should be in a prime position to help offset carbon emissions and be compensated for their efforts. For example, they can use techniques such as employing zero-till agriculture or planting cover crops during the off-season.

The Canadian federal government laid out the draft regulations for its Greenhouse Gas Offset Credit System in 2021. Despite many farmers being keen to participate, many found the framework and the restrictions difficult to navigate, and the parameters unrealistic.

For example, farmers are required to maintain the carbon levels in their soil for at least 100 years or be forced to pay back the monetary value of the credit they sold. Also, the “beyond-business-as-usual” requirement would mean that farmers will only be credited for carbon sequestration practises that go beyond what they were already operating; any efforts they have put into practise in the past will not be counted. Industry experts have argued these parameters would be difficult to monitor and enforce.

Despite this, many farmers are already conducting carbon sequestration practises within their own operations or have plans to begin doing so, but have faced a second hurdle: They need the proper technology and personnel to make it happen.

Leveraging technology

Deveron and other ag-tech companies are working to tackle this second problem. They focus on empowering farmers to operate their own carbon sequestration through a scalable, rural labour workforce equipped with modern technology.

“Deveron is an agriculture technology company that helps growers and agronomists make more informed decisions in their field. The way we help them do that is by solving a big pain point in agriculture, which is a shortage of labour,” says Liron Brish, Deveron’s VP of Products and Sustainability. “We're able to be the boots on the ground to collect field data that most other farmers don't have capacity to do.”

Canadian based ag-tech companies like Deveron build relationships with local operators, and equip them with the training and technology they need to manage their own carbon capture operations, all while respecting the long-standing traditions and culture of Canadian agriculture. 

The current monetization potential for carbon offsets is $15 per carbon ton. Brish and other industry experts believe it can reach somewhere between $50 and $100 down the road.

“At those prices, it makes sense for farmers to do this because they'll actually receive the financial support they need to continue their climate sustainability efforts,” says Brish.

In matters of ESG, the future is bright for Canadian farmers and agriculturalists who embrace technology and data as strategic enablers.

Contact

To learn more, contact David Campbell at [email protected].

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