Ok, we know that isn't true. You can, and do, eat carbon because we and all of the food we eat are carbon-based life-forms. But there is a lot more to healthy food than carbon and there's a great deal more to healthy landscapes than carbon.
We need to get a whole lot of carbon out of the atmosphere into soils, trees, furniture and wherever else we can stuff it, but we have to make sure we don't create another problem somewhere else.
You get what you measure, but don't be surprised if people are ingenious in destructive ways in how they get there.Mark Rosenthal, in The Lean Thinker
At My Farm Shop, we've got a keen eye on helping our farmers produce great food and be well and financially viable now and into the future. We're not soil carbon trading experts at all, but we took a look under the hood of soil carbon trading to see if we thought it was going to be good for farmers and we don't think it's going to get the results humanity really needs.
There is a big risk for farmers in trading soil carbon because they are required to sign a 99 year contract to not change their practices in order to keep the added carbon in the soil. And while there's all sorts of insurance and hedging the farmer can do, the 99 year thing is a real kicker... it is inflexible and stays with the property. This means that if you sign a soil carbon deal, your property then has a 99 year liability on it until the contract period is up (two generations of farmers?).
Of course, there's all sorts of insurance and so forth, but a big liability like that is surely going to affect property prices and most farmers need to be able to sell their land at a decent price. The other difficulty is borrowing money from a bank to purchase a property with a 99 year liability on it....OMG, good luck!
It seems to us that the people who will make the most money from market trading of soil carbon are not the farmers. It will be the ones doing the soil testing, trading and insurance of soil carbon trades..... So if the farmers see the soil carbon trading market as a big risk and a poor return, it probably won't be very successful at encouraging farmers to increase soil carbon. We can see why city-based investors in soil carbon would be interested in it. The trouble is, it might not get us the outcomes we really want.
Perhaps what you measure is what you get. More likely, what you measure is all you'll get. What you don't (or can't) measure is lost.H. Thomas Johnson, Lean Dilemma: System Principles vs. Management Accounting Controls
We want and need to increase the storage of carbon in the soil and not only because we want to reverse climate change. Appropriately high carbon levels in soils means that the soil is healthy and water efficient with high nutrient levels. This is exactly the sort of soil you need to produce the best plants, for the healthiest animals that produce the best meat.
But there is a lot more to managing a landscape than high carbon levels in your soil, so if want we want is healthy soils, healthy food, healthy landscapes, biodiversity and healthy farmers, let's measure this, so we can manage to get what we want.
This is why the measurements that we use with our My Farm Shop producers are the ones that give us the information they need to manage their landscapes and animals to get the results we all want. The farmers get rewarded by us with good prices for their produce because it has so many more attributes than just protein and carbon. My Farm Shop customers get rewarded with healthy food to eat and a clear conscience because they are playing their role to make sure future generations get healthy landscapes and healthy farmers that can produce healthy food for them.