The carbon market in agriculture is struggling to develop in France

A good number of start-ups rushed into the carbon credit sector, in particular to play the role of interface between farmers and companies. But that market is struggling to take off, mainly due to a lack of interest from farmers.

The former Minister of Agriculture Julien Denormandie estimated last February that the market for voluntary carbon offset could be “multiplied by 15 by 2030”. The potential is significant, but when it was expressed, there were still only 1,000 farmers involved in this approach and around sixty funders.

“Farmers see carbon credit something new, which for that reason can be scary, there is a relative skepticism, observes Thibaut Savoye, head of the start-up carbon producers. They also see it as a restriction, additional controls, and sometimes ecology is perceived as a bad word.”

“The Equivalent of a Thirteenth Month”

The carbon credit principle is the following: the farmer undertakes to improve your practices, and therefore obtains additional compensation from companies that intend to offset their emissions. “Financing, not remunerating”, corrects Étienne Variot, head of rice, a 20-person start-up whose ambition is “to support farmers in their ecological transition”. It consists of setting up intermediate coverings, lengthening rotations, inserting legumes, modifying fertilizers, etc. have a more resistant soil, with superior agronomic properties. It is a long process and the transition must be measured. That’s where these startups, Rize, my easy carbon Where soil capital for example. We must also trade these carbon savings to generate finance.

“Carbon credits are neither an Eldorado nor a mirror for larks”, says Étienne Variot. It is a transitional funding tool. Currently, it is remunerated around 30 to 35 euros per ton. This can represent several thousand euros over the course of a year for a farm of 200 to 300 hectares.

“It is estimated that a farmer stores three tons of CO2 equivalent per hectare and per year, which can represent an amount of around 90 euros per hectare per year”, evaluates Clément Legrand, vivo soil engineer at gaya start-up from Saint-Malo (Ille-et-Vilaine) that supports around 300 farmers.

“€100 or €150 per tonne in 5 years”, according to Thibault Savoye of Carbone Farmers

“It’s been a thirteenth month”, sums up Thomas Martal, co-founder of Store CO2. But 30 euros per tonne is not enough to attract farmers. “We can expect this to increase in the coming months and years”, believes Étienne Varlot. Thibaut Savoye has an amount of “€100 or €150 per ton over 5 years”.

sector bonus

To better reward farmers’ efforts, start-ups rely on the establishment of a “sectoral bonus” system for low-carbon production. They would thus complement carbon credits, which “can only be a partial financing of the agroecological transition”, judges Thibaut Savoye. In Hauts-de-France, carbon producers are in the process of implementing such a system with some agro-industrial players in the region (Bonduelle, McCain, Terreos, etc.).

“There is an entire economic model to be built with local authorities and sectors to finance virtuous practices”, continues Étienne Varlot. Rize, which he manages, works with well-established partners such as the Agora co-operative in Oise, the Marne chamber of agriculture, the Terre et cité association and the alternative trader Agri. This economic model to be built would make it possible, in particular, to remunerate farmers who have already done their ecological transition. Because the carbon credit only rewards the progress made, and the more virtuous, the harder it is to achieve it.

Thomas Martal hopes that, in 10 years, we will no longer talk about carbon credits, but about “environmental benefits”. The head of Rize applauds with both hands: “In addition to carbon storage, farmers must be rewarded for all ecosystem services provided: water quality, air quality, biodiversity, etc. However, a very delicate subject: should a penalty be applied to those who contribute to the degradation of the environment? Should agricultural emissions also be taken into account?

Funders fears of greenwashing

Meanwhile, all these young shoots are using many arguments to convince farmers to get involved in the movement: “You must not stop only in the profitability of your carbon project, otherwise you miss the point, argues the president of FarmLeap Anael Bibard. You have to see co-benefits such as organic matter points or farm attractiveness for recruiting or direct sales. »

If there are “more companies that want to get involved than farmers,” as Thomas Martal notes, there are obstacles on the financial side as well. Among them, many fear, for example, reactions in the form of green washing process.

Several NGOs, such as Greenpeace, France nature environnement or the Foundation for nature and man, criticize the low carbon seal implemented by the Ministry of Ecological Transition in 2019, lamenting that farmers are not obliged to reduce their own emissions or radically change their agricultural model.

To reassure, “the contract must be simple for the farmer and solid for the company”, suggests Chuck de Liedekerke, boss of Soil capital. “It is a market where there is a need for trust and transparency, and players like ours can lead in this matter”, abounds Étienne Varlot. A dozen start-ups, convinced that they have a place to give, joined in an association, climate agriculture alliance. In particular, it proposes “reinforcing confidence in the agricultural carbon market to avoid double counting of emission reductions and carbon capture from farmers participating in various offset schemes”.

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