It's good to have goals; they tend to focus a business. For the folks at the Agoro Carbon Alliance, there's plenty of focus going into 2022, with the company's stated goal to sign on 1 million acres of cropland for its carbon program.
"Our goal is to have this aggressive target on signups for our first 12 months," says Anastasia Pavlovic, managing director, U.S., Agoro Carbon Alliance. "We ended up launching in June, even though we've been working on this for a while and getting the pieces together."
Pavlovic says the organization is on track for that goal so far, but how is it engaging farmers with the program?
"For me, the goal has been building the foundation of the team, which is what is required to actually grow and support that amount of acreage. My last six months has been about growing our team in the States," she explains.
Taking a personal approach
To achieve an aggressive goal takes support, and that team Pavlovic has been building is on the ground across the country, ready to help farmers take on the challenge. She explains that if a farmer hears about Agoro Carbon through word of mouth, from marketing or perhaps editorial coverage, they eventually end up on the company website.
"If they fill out a lead form, it gets transferred directly to our agronomy teams, and [the farmer] will get a call immediately," Pavlovic says "It's important to me that there's a localized element, so that there's someone who can talk to you about your area."
She picks the example of southern Missouri, where, if a farmer in the region reaches out, a local representative is on hand to talk about agriculture in the region, and the opportunities to take part in the program.
The program offered is a 10-year commitment, and though farmers can leave, the idea is to meet the key needs for carbon capture that industry buyers demand. First is additionality, which is that practice a farmer adds to be part of the program — cover crops, reduced tillage, nitrogen management or other practices. Second is permanence, which is the tougher challenge that once you start a practice, you'll continue it for a specified time, providing value for the carbon credit.
Pavlovic explains that depending on the practices adopted, a farmer would initially receive from $2 to $20 per acre in payment. But, she emphasizes, this is only a start, and that these programs are evolving. Farmers that come on board with Agoro Carbon will benefit as the programs evolve.
"Farmers want answers, and the market is figuring that out. Farmers want honesty," she says. The emergence of so many different carbon programs from major players in the market means there's confusion, too.
Pavlovic says the "personal approach" Agoro Carbon is taking offers a different opportunity. "I think it's so important to just sit and explain: This is what's happening in the market. Here are the fundamentals before we even get to the Agoro Carbon piece."
She says many farmers like the fact that Agoro Carbon is solely focused on the ag carbon market. And farmers who sign on with the company know there's no tie to inputs or services. "This is our core business; if the farmer can't be successful doing this, we're not going to be successful," she says. "So from the very first days, it was critical for us to be input-agnostic, and not be connected to any strings attached."
Market in flux
The carbon market is evolving. As more players enter the market on both the buyer and seller sides, the relationships will change. Pavlovic also points to the potential for government involvement in these markets.
"I think the government will play a very critical part here in having more options to add around [carbon programs]," she notes.
The challenge for Agoro Carbon is that 10-year commitment, and she acknowledges that, but it's also key to what carbon investors want. "So that's what I look forward to in the next few years, but we strongly believe that over time, the buyer network we're talking with and the people who value these changes want that duration," she says.
And she wants farmers to at least reach out and ask the questions, and not disqualify themselves early. "So they hear rumors like 'If I already did something, I can't get paid' or 'My neighbor says I can't get more than X, so I'm not going to look into it,'" she says. "My message is to reach out and hear more — because there are a lot of unique things we can do, but it has to be customized at the farm level, especially in these early days."
The key to Agoro Carbon's approach, even with the 10-year commitment, is the ability to flex as the market changes, which is something Pavlovic emphasized during the conversation. Learn more about the program at agorocarbonalliance.com.