Mandate for rapid reduction

The Cool Farm Tool has evolved to become THE global farm-level tool for measuring carbon. halOur mandate now is to manage a rapid reduction of emissions. Measurement might turn out to have been the easy part.

The Cool Farm Tool began modestly. After Unilever and the University of Aberdeen developed a beta version of the tool, Christof Walter said he wanted to test the tool with other companies and farmers scattered around the world. We agreed that the Sustainable Food Lab could help recruit partners and manage the outreach. In the course of it we also started making improvements to the tool, in response to participant feedback.

When, Daniella Malin helped Costco egg suppliers input data into the calculator, I watched those growers share what they learned and copy best practices from one to another, significantly lowering emissions across the supply chain. Mark Pettigrew did the same thing with PepsiCo potato growers in the UK. This is the process that needs to go viral.

For climate, the pot of gold we all seek is a significant reduction in net carbon from agriculture. Many of the leading companies have made GHG commitments, and our collective challenge is to get from measurement to impact across millions of hectares. The Cool Farm Alliance, in partnership with SAI Platform and as many other platforms as possible, is well placed to lead.

Just as dozens of scientists are contributing to the effectiveness of the tool itself, impact will require continuous improvement in thousands of supply chains. Carbon reduction will not result from checklists and compliance because farmers are still figuring out just which practices reduce net emissions in specific climates and soil types. The Cool Farm Tool is best used as a management support tool, helping farmers continually adjust rotations, tillage, input selection, and feed and manure management for livestock.

As weather becomes more volatile, and as resilient productivity requires continual adoption of specific practices, farmers, their agronomic advisors, and all players in supply chains will be using the Cool Farm Tool to measure, learn, make choices, reduce emissions, and sequester carbon in the soil.

The business case for better practices is the lynch pin of carbon reduction. Some practices like rotations, cover crops, mulching, and shade trees are costly in the short term, even though they have long term soil health, productivity, and water benefits. Market signals and incentives, as well as public policies, will have to combine to turn the Cool Farm Tool’s measurement capabilities into the carbon positive agriculture we know is possible.

By Hal Hamilton, Founder and Co-director at the Sustainable Food Lab