20 Jan Incentivizing a voluntary green future
Simon Haldrup, CEO, Agreena, discusses the company’s plans to incentivize low-carbon practices in Europe and the world and the need to push change at the micro level to meet our current net-zero targets.
Can you give us an overview of Agreena’s operations and ambitions in lowering carbon emissions in Europe?
Our key mission is to mobilize a scalable approach for farmers to adopt sustainable practices in their agri-production. The first way we do this is by capturing a lot of data on farms and quantifying it into the context of decarbonization; how much carbon can they take out the atmosphere and put into the soil? We verify the data using technology and experts through an independent third party with two layers of verification. Those carbon certificates are then issued to be sold in the voluntary market. In this way, we plug in economic incentives for farmers to adopt new practices. Additionally, secondary income from carbon certificates mitigates the hole in European farmer’s financials.
Europe has approximately 110 million arable hectares. Our ambition is to help transition these areas into regenerated land. To do so we need to attract as many farmers as possible across Europe to participate in the carbon market. We are currently in eight different countries; we have farmers in the program from Moldova and Romania in the east to the U.K. in the west. Our second aspect of focus is to enhance the program and make it easier to use by improving technologies, algorithms and the specificities of verification. Carbon farming is a toolbox with many different instruments; we are looking into adding more land uses and systems to our methodology to ensure that the entirety of European agriculture can be eligible for these types of programs. Our current goal is to have the total sum of our farmer’s carbon dioxide removal to surpass 2 megatons annually by the end of 2022.
What markets is Agreena looking at to share its carbon-emission lowering strategy?
Agreena is currently focusing on the greater European region, including Ukraine and Russia because of similarities in how arable agriculture is performed. This allows us to drive scalability and cross fertilize good practices across this geography. Additionally, there are a lot of political symmetries that can be leveraged. In markets such as the U.S., South America or Australia, it is sometimes a different logic that drives the market. We are currently looking to expand across the pan-European region in the next 24 months. Ultimately, we are looking at approximately 20-25 percent of global arable land. We have a lot to get done before we start looking beyond our current target markets.
What key strengths have allowed Denmark’s agriculture sector its level of success?
Denmark is a highly cultivated country with an elevated food production average per capita. It is supported by the two following verticals: arable production and livestock, with the latter having a high concentration of swine production—the famous Danish bacon. To measure and decarbonize the industry requires a range of different efforts involving everything from livestock feed to arable farming practices. There is a circular dimension between waste and how grains are produced, used and circled back that links into another big sector in Denmark, biofuel. Our focus is to switch from being greenhouse-gas positive to greenhouse-gas negative. Additionally, there is a symbiosis between the Danish government, different dimensions of talent acquisition and the capital ecosystem that works quite well. Top-shelf talent from the U.S. is moving to Denmark to live. The ability to attract these experts comes from having an exciting growth company with a solid mission combined with the attractiveness of living in the Nordics. Denmark in particular has grown a strong reputation of being a great place to live. The ability to attract and recruit the right talent as an international company in Denmark is a critical driver of success.
Denmark, together with the Netherlands, has historically had a leading position in driving innovation in agriculture due to the structure of our industry and strong cooperatives. For Denmark, being a small, open economy is ultimately what drives innovation. However, we must think big. We are proud we are not just helping farmers in western Denmark. In the first year we scaled to eight different countries. This is highly aligned with the Danish way of thinking and is a necessary mindset for green startups. Time is not necessarily on our side; fast scaling is a necessity.
What has the EU done to ensure member markets follow carbon-decreasing practices?
The EU has been a global leader in driving the sustainable agenda. To achieve our carbon neutrality goals, carbon removals will be necessary; nature-based solutions are the most cost-effective mitigation strategy. There is currently dormant potential that needs to be unlocked. Many of these green solutions can be found in agriculture, from storing carbon dioxide in the soil to lowering use of fuel and diesel. There are many possibilities, but all require economic incentives at the micro levels. The EU Carbon Farming Initiative, which is currently in development, is a testament to how important the role of agriculture will be in achieving climate targets across Denmark and all member states.
How are new digital technologies advancing agricultural and carbon-reducing practices?
New technologies are becoming swift enablers of efficiency and new possibilities, whether it is using big data to create smart agriculture systems and reduce fertilizer usage, using satellite imagery to verify the adoption of sustainable practices or using deep machine learning to figure out improved strategies for optimizing greenhouse-gas profiles of production and economic outcomes. These technologies are starting to be deployed by a wider ecosystem of technology providers in Denmark. A fueling element in this transition is our ability to partner with each other. Many technology providers are modularizing their technology platforms to interconnect with one another. Our system is a great example of this. We do not do everything ourselves, rather we work with a range of different technology partners to integrate a value proposition—in our case—for farmers.
What is your vision for Agreena and the global agriculture sector in the next decade?
My vision for Agreena is to give farmers the tools to become climate heroes through carbon certificates, finance solutions and data and planning tools. We want to build the rails for a green European economy. Whether it takes five or 10 years, we will look back at how agriculture is currently performed with disbelief; we will have a completely changed sector. There is both a need and an opportunity for a fundamental shift in how our food is produced. However, we need to build this tidal wave of change at a micro level with actual farmers to make it a voluntary effort. We still need to feed the planet, but we also need to start to value and reward farmers as environmental stewards to the point where we value the environmental benefits generated, whether it be lowered greenhouse gases, improved soil health or biodiversity.