Carbon certification could help farmers reduce emissions while cashing in on changing consumer trends

A new carbon certification programme aims to help farmers adapt to increasing regulatory pressure and changing consumer trends.

New Zealand's agriculture sector accounts for nearly half of the country's greenhouse gases, and in recent years there have been more calls for the industry to lower its emissions.

Now, new certification by Toitū Envirocare aims to not only lower those emissions but also to cash in on it at the same time.

"All farmers are aware that we're heading into a carbon-constrained world," says Steve Dixon, Toitū Envirocare's general manager of strategy and partnerships.

"Both regulation and consumers are wanting producers to start to work on their carbon footprints and to engineer them down."

Dixon says the certification would essentially allow farmers to "future proof" their farms, by staying ahead of anticipated regulatory requirements while potentially being able to earn more for their product, particularly in export markets.

"There is definitely a market here and internationally for sustainable products, and carbon-zero is one of the ways you can prove sustainability. There are other ways as well,  GMO-free and grass-fed. There are all sorts of valuable branding you can put on products but carbon is top of mind to lots of consumers these days," Dixon told Dominic George on Magic Talk's Rural Today on Tuesday.

"It's undoubted now that consumers are purchasing based on ethical and environmental consideration."

In order to give certification Toitū Envirocare will be working with OverseerFM, which makes farm nutrient management planning software already used by many farmers.

Dixon says much of the information captured by OverseerFM already is suitable to give them the necessary data surrounding carbon.

"One of the beauties of this is we're using existing data, so we're not asking farmers to input a whole lot of new data. So if you're on Overseer - and about half of farmers already are - then you can download your Overseer data directly into the back of our tool, we'll ask you a few extra questions to pick up a few things that Overseer don't cover and then we ask you to look at your reduction plan."

Toitū Envirocare's e-manage software then gives farmers the ability to analyse that data and "really understand" what it means.

"Then you can build a reduction plan, you can go back into Overseer, you can model that reduction plan through their scenario tool."

Farmers' reduction plans are audited by AsureQuality, "then at the end of that we'll give you a certificate that allows you to say 'our farm has a verified carbon footprint'," Dixon says.

Carbon certification could help farmers reduce emissions while cashing in on changing consumer trends
Photo credit: Toitū Envirocare

Farmers wanting to go one step further can then aim to be carbon-zero - either by purchasing carbon credits or by using their own on-farm trees to offset their own footprint.

Dixon admits it won't be a simple task for farmers to go carbon-free, but says the tool is about "taking those first steps".

"The old adage 'if you don't measure it you can't manage it' is really true with carbon," he said.

"It's not as easy as in some other sectors but there are definitely opportunities for reduction."

The carbon certification programme costs $1500 per year for membership plus $2095 for the first year’s audit and certification.

The cost of audit and certification drops in the second and third year as they will be conducted remotely.

Toitū is also offering an introductory price of $1000 for membership.