Carbon accounting framework for perennial crops cultivation systems

A project run in partnership between Quantis, the Cool Farm Alliance and Control Union.

We are thrilled to announce the official kick-off of the Perennials project which aims to fill the gap in carbon accounting methods by developing an operational framework to accurately model GHG emissions and sequestration potential in perennial cropping systems in the Cool Farm Tool.

The evaluation of GHG emissions induced by agricultural production systems has been largely documented and enhanced over the past years, with comprehensive methodologies being published such as the Cool Farm Tool (Hillier et al 2011) and its Technical Documentation (Kayatz et al. 2020) or the Methodological Guidelines for the Life Cycle Inventory of Agricultural Products (Nemecek et al. 2019). Such methods are, today, widely used by global stakeholders in the Food & Beverage sector for carbon accounting, feeding the definition of science-based targets, corporate sustainability strategies, supply chain management or product eco-design, among other applications.

These methods are tailored for arable crop production systems. Unlike annual crops, perennial crop systems have a greater capacity to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store in biomass and soils. Including this possibility in GHG emission inventories has been largely overlooked due to technical challenges in calculation and accounting. As announced during the Cool Farm Alliance AGM in April, recent research by Ledo et al. (2018, 2019, 2020) has developed methods and data to drastically enhance the CFT capacity to model carbon sequestration in perennial systems, and to measure from there carbon fluxes and stocks, accounting for both above-ground (AGB) and below-ground biomass (BGB) as well as soil organic carbon (SOC) and plant residues.

The objective of the project is to develop an offline tool for the accounting of carbon emissions and sequestration potential in perennial cropping systems as well as a methodology report. Targeting at first the four core agricultural perennial crops cocoa, coffee, citrus and apples, the framework will serve as baseline for the generic application of the model to perennial crops globally. The outputs of the project lay the foundation for the design and technical development of the new perennials features in the online CFT.