Climate Farmers scale regenerative agriculture
“Regenerative agriculture can reduce input costs to almost zero, enhance resilience with a healthier ecosystem, and capture carbon.”
Climate Farmers is building the infrastructure needed to scale the transition to regenerative agricultural practices. We chatted with CEO Ivo Degn to learn more about their mission, and what they think it will take to sustainably and resiliently change the landscape of European agriculture.
IVO, CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR MISSION?
The push to transition to regenerative agriculture - the practices that improve how land is farmed to build resilience, make soil healthier, build biodiversity, capture carbon, and more - is growing very quickly. From large food corporations making transition commitments, to agricultural policy being written, that kind of shift requires infrastructure that will allow it to scale.
Our mission is to build the infrastructure that will scale regenerative agriculture, so the current agricultural system can transition to one that is resilient both economically and environmentally.
WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO TAKE ON THIS MISSION?
I grew up in agriculture, and agriculture has a way of pulling you back in. I’ve also worked in social impact all my life, and knew I wanted to work on climate. Turns out working in agriculture and climate can be one in the same. The current agricultural system is at the brink of collapse, with high input prices, unclear weather condition development, and unsafe markets. Practices are extractive, degrade soil, and create significant global emissions. For farmers, and for the climate, this is catastrophic.
Food security is the biggest topic of our time, and the first question I get on every panel we’re on with the conventional agriculture industry is, “Yeah, that’s nice, but we can’t feed the world with this.” My answer is, “How are you going to feed the world with the current system?” Regenerative agriculture can reduce input costs to almost zero, enhance resilience with a healthier ecosystem, and capture carbon. I was excited to work on something with such incredible impact potential, and to make it scale.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR CHALLENGES AND HOW YOU APPROACH THEM?
Making the transition to regenerative agriculture is going to be complicated. It requires looking at a situation in context, and acting accordingly. It’s a major challenge to ask farmers to adapt to new systems. But there’s a massive momentum for change, and we need to capture that moment and ensure it’s done right with knowledge, training, and financing.
Farmers can provide values for society - water availability, biodiversity, carbon capture. Climate Farmers created a model that when a farmer changes their practices in a way that creates that type of value, we as a society can finance that. We developed accounting systems and ways to quantify impact that pays farmers through carbon markets, insurance, and public payments, which creates a virtuous cycle.
Farmers also want to do the right thing for their land. But they or their peers may be stuck in a previous mindset. We provide examples of how a different system could look, and the largest community of vetted practitioners and experts to connect to. They can feel supported in that transition instead of isolated or even ridiculed because what they’re doing, like planting trees on their farm, looks different from what people are used to.
These changes on the ground also inform policy, so we launched a business alliance for regenerative agriculture - a group of people making incredible progress in policy and financing frameworks that many companies and bodies like the EU are beginning to rely on.
WHAT KIND OF IMPACT HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO MAKE?
We’re still early stage, and in the last 2 years we’ve built a community of over 500 EU farmers, the largest network of experts in Europe, and we’re among a handful of companies in European agriculture that have developed certified methods for creating carbon certificates.
A big part of the work of scaling regenerative agriculture is at the systems level. We’re part of the EU Mission board for soil health, and last year we organized the first regenerative agriculture conference that brought together contributors from across Europe, with the focus around farmers. By focusing on farmers, we know we can make significant strides in supporting them and in turn the shift toward regenerative agriculture.
WHAT MADE YOU JOIN STARTUPS FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT? WHAT VALUE DID YOU GET FROM PARTICIPATING?
Climate Farmers has been a part of 13 various accelerators and programs - something I do not recommend! But we’ve seen what a great program can provide. Google is one of those that has made a really big difference - and I don’t say that easily. We first participated in the Impact Challenge and then transitioned to Startups for Sustainable Development, and the real benefit has been the individualized mentoring. Being able to access experts for our specific questions in specific contexts has allowed our team to really be upskilled on everything from branding to strategy and definitely on tech like usage of satellite data.
It’s also been incredible to be invited by Google to speak at events, and help when we need to get access to a partner or organization. We spoke at the Beyond conference in Madrid, and at the GreenTech Festival in Berlin last year which was a great experience.
WHAT ARE YOU HOPING TO ACHIEVE IN THE COMING YEAR?
We’re focused on building a Europe-wide network of farmer sub-communities - small groups of farmers that can exchange information and advice about the specific challenges they’re facing. We’re bringing in experts and facilitators, building a model which has been very successful in the US but not yet attempted in Europe.
We’re working on industry advocacy toward ensuring farmers have a seat at the table when it comes to establishing regenerative agriculture policy. If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu - so we want to make sure their voices are heard. We have an incredible opportunity with the EU Commission’s proactivity in this space to make specific policy interventions, and to quantify positive impact from agriculture to reinforce that transition.
The regenerative agriculture transition requires holistic thinking across water, soil, ecosystem regeneration, carbon capture, and biodiversity. We’re really focused on building that infrastructure that will focus on farmers, leverage the momentum, and bring it to scale.
“Being able to access experts for our specific questions in specific contexts has allowed our team to really be upskilled on everything.”
Thank you Ivo and Climate Farmers for sharing with us their important story of impact and their experiences participating in the Startups for Sustainable Development program.
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