Svensk Kolinlagring - More carbon in soil, not the atmosphere

Swedish farms should store more carbon! That’s the premise on which Svensk Kolinlagring (or Swedish Carbon Storage) built its three-way platform among researchers, farmers, and companies.

Researchers make recommendations based on the specificities of each field, farmers implement the sustainable practices, and companies finance both operations as part of their carbon compensation programs – a win-win for all parties AND the planet.

Agriculturalists and siblings Lova, Vidar, and Gusten Brodin got the idea while cruising through the Swedish countryside. Strong winds were stirring up so many soil particles that visibility was impaired. Somebody should do something to bind that soil, they thought. The trio went on to establish Svensk Kolinlagring in 2020.

Keeping soil grounded

So, what does a dust storm have to do with carbon storage? Well, monoculture leaves soil bare a good chunk of the year. When it’s finally time to sow seeds, tractors till it to remove weeds and apply fertilizers. The practice reduces the earth’s ability to retain moisture. Dried out and loose, it becomes prone to blowing away and hostile to (micro-) organisms that make it fertile. And a depleted soil is terrible news for the climate too, as it loses its ability to store carbon.

Let’s throwback to biology classes. Plants take in carbon dioxide, which consists of carbon and oxygen. They then release the oxygen but keep the carbon for growth. Two-thirds of that carbon is stored in the soil, placing the black gold on the top step of the podium when it comes to carbon sinks on land. Since one hectare of healthy arable land can sequester about one ton of carbon dioxide or 300 kg of carbon every year, keeping agricultural soil grounded is a two-in-one solution. It helps limit global warming while boosting yields without resorting to harmful pesticides.

Investing in farms as carbon sinks

Farmers often have very tight margins. A change of practice can entail short-time financial risks. Risks very few can afford. That’s why Svensk Kolinlagring takes potential losses out of the equation. The platform offers financial incentives to facilitate the large-scale adoption of climate-smart and regenerative farming methods among growers sooner rather than later.

Its main task is to evaluate different approaches and guide each farmer effectively. Minimizing tillage, growing deep-rooted perennials, incorporating trees, planting cover crops to keep fields green year-round, and more than 40 other combinations aim to reduce both carbon losses and soil erosion.

The platform is currently running the second round of its pilot project, which counts eight academic partners, 12 businesses, and 41 farms spread over some 900+ hectares. A two-year contract binds farms to companies that commit to offset their CO2 emissions and buy carbon credits at 1 300 SEK (around 150 USD) per hectare. Most of the money (1 000 SEK) goes directly to the farmer. The rest finances soil samplings and analyses.

Lova, Vidar, Gusten, and their team have already developed a Monitoring, Reporting and Verification framework. Next on the agenda is to design a framework that addresses potential carbon leaks. Who will pay for them? How will they be priced? These questions answered, Svensk Kolinlagring hopes to be fully operational on the Swedish market by 2023. A global expansion is to follow, given the substantial international interest it has garnered so far.

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