Carbon Farming and climate labeling
Agricultural land possesses great potential to contribute to climate change mitigation by retaining CO2. However, little research has been done on societal expectations and marketing opportunities for carbon farming and climate labels.
The debate on the impacts of agriculture on the climate involves consumers, farmers, the agri-food sector, politicians, and scientists alike. The debate is inhibited by a lack of transparency and distortions of perception barring consumers from making climate conscious and climate friendly choices when shopping for food. In the absence of labeling, consumers have little opportunity to consider the climate impact in their behavior. Farms can restore and further build up the humus content of soils degraded by long-term use through improved agricultural management. As a result, surplus CO2 would be withdrawn from the atmosphere by growing intermediate crops or clover, creating flower stripes or integrating hedges among other plants.
Farmers could thus play an important role by slowing down climate change. However, the implementation of such regenerative production methods is expensive. Little research has been done on the expectations of consumers or society towards this type of regenerative agriculture and whether it or the resulting products can be marketed convincingly (e.g. with the help of labels).
farmers, consumers / citizens
In order to gain first insights into the actual expectations of consumers and farmers about carbon farming, regenerative agriculture, climate positive food and climate labelling, a multi methodologic approach was chosen. Building on previous work by the INTERREG project, questions were drafted for structured one-to-one interviews with farmers and consumers. As to comply with the latest public health advice, all interviews were conducted by phone or online and taking approx. 35 minutes. The interview questions were structured around these main topics:
All participants voluntarily replied to a call by the institute, so the interviewee will have a vested interested in the topic. In this case, this is an advantage, because the topic is still quite new. The results of the interviews were analyzed and used for the preparation of a WebEx survey. This survey was done during a workshop on the respective topics with farmers, consumers, scientists and stakeholders.
Climate change assessment
The results show, that farmers as well as consumers’ have great hope in actively contributing to a reduction or at least a slowdown of climate change via well adapted farming and respective consumption.
What do you already do for a more climate friendly agri-food sector?
Farmers are already involved into more climate friendly production. The protection and enrichment of humus are targets of regenerative farming and carbon farming techniques. Both approaches are not yet fully defined or regulated, however, greening and the supply of biomass are central. Actually there are a number of initiatives that support the enrichment of humus by certificates for carbon fixation.
74% of the farmers interviewed in a survey of the INTERREG Project „Carbon Farming“ in the North sea region in 2019 (BE, NL, DE, N: N = 449, 85 organic, 364 conventional, 44 in northern GER) stated to already implement measures of carbon farming such as the application of farm manure, the cultivation of catch crops or a wide range of crop rotation.
These findings are supported by our study. 9 of 13 interviewed farmers stated to already use carbon farming. Most of them used a mixture of wide range crop rotation, cultivation of catch and nurse crops reduced tillage and mineral fertilization.
Some also mentioned more specialized forms of regenerative agriculture such as agro-forestry systems. Moreover, the use of vegetable carbon was mentioned several times, however, their impact on soils and climate is not clear yet.
The interviewed consumers are already very interested and involved into the topic. Many of them already try to consume climate friendly by buying local, seasonal or organic products, reduce or even renounce meat consumption. Overall, these people try to consume consciously. Some of the interviewed persons have already noticed climate labels during their food shopping, but most of them are not really sure how to recognize climate friendly products.
Cimate labeling: need for infomation and trust
The results show, that the topic of regenerative agriculture, carbon farming and accordingly produced foods is still a quite complex and inscrutable one for most actors. Many terms and contexts are still not fully understood. Accordingly, there is a need for even more information and an intensified exchange between the different actors along the supply chains to develop a joint framework for successful business cases. Here, participants point out the importance of science for distributing important and credible information. However, also single farmers are able to gain consumers trust by reporting authentically about their efforts.
Not clearly defined production techniques with complex impacts like the regenerative agriculture make the respective products credence goods that are not communicable without labeling. Here science can help to realize the need for comprehensive and credible communication and labeling.
From reaserach about organic or animal welfare labeling there are a number of successfactors known for labeling:
If labels are able to influence consumers buying decision they are able to achieve their ideal: to have positive climate impact on supply chains.
The results of the interviews and online survey show, that all actors are hoping for more intense exchange between farmers and consumers, because the interest in climate friendly agriculture and food is high on every stage of the supply chain. Moreover, farmers are hoping for more appreciation of their work, better marketing opportunities and sustainable advantages for their soils. Consumers are hoping to positively influence climate change by their climate friendly consumption and buying behavior.
Outlook: Ways for successful dialogue and market development
The results of the study show the need for clearer definition of the measures and communication of climate friendly techniques and products. Moreover, it seems to be important to continue the dialogue between the stakeholders also on local level. It is especially necessary to address and solve ethical goal conflicts of the todays agri-food systems together with all actors along the supply chains and thus gain trust into each other.
The analysis points at the opportunity to create convergence in particularly on a local scale, building decentralized structures and achieving real fairness through true personal commitment.
Willingness to pay should not yet play a major role. Many consumers state to be willing to pay more for credibly climate friendly products.