SELLING carbon credits to major businesses could help English agriculture compensate for the loss of EU subsidies which have made the industry "lazy", Britain’s first "carbon farmer" has said.
Clive Bailye said farming in a way that kept carbon locked up in soil, and selling that carbon to companies that want to boost their environmental credentials, could help English agriculture become independent.
Mr Bailye, who farms several crops including oilseed rape and peas, recently sold credits worth up to £25,000 from 800 hectares of his arable farm in Staffordshire.
Farmers in England are facing the loss of thousands in direct subsidies each year, as the £3.5 billion EU scheme is overhauled in the next six years.
"I’ve never been a fan of production based subsidies. They’ve made UK agriculture lazy," he told The Sunday Telegraph. "Why do wealthy landowners need rewarding when [the] NHS needs funding? This could be a way for UK agriculture to stand on its own two feet."
Waitrose is among several supermarkets "investigating" the possibility of buying carbon credits from soil, a spokesman told The Telegraph, along with other major corporations.
Carbon credits closer to home as seen as more reliable
For years, airlines and other companies have claimed customers can offset their emissions by buying carbon credits, which are usually cheap and fund forestry or renewable energy products in developing countries. But there has been growing disquiet over the quality of such credits, with questions over the long-term savings and accountability of forestry projects, in particular, undermining their credibility.
Carbon credits closer to home are seen as more reliable. Those sold from Mr Bailye’s farm are certified by Dutch company Commoditrader and sold by Gentle Farming, set up by Thomas Gent, a 23-year-old fourth generation farmer from Lincolnshire. His is one of several companies looking to move into a market that could be worth £100 million a year from arable farming alone.
"What should happen is that subsidies are unnecessary or rendered unnecessary because the incentives are provided by the market," said Alejandro Trenor at Soil Capital, a Belgian company that is now in talks with dozens of British farmers.
The Climate Change Committee, which advises the Government, said "any land based offsetting scheme should provide genuine additional [greenhouse gas] removals and not [be] used to substitute for emissions reduction needed elsewhere in the economy."