Measuring what matters: Quantifying Agriculture Capital’s US carbon footprint with AgTrends

By Abby Smith on August 20, 2020

Agriculture Capital is a vertically integrated, regeneratively focused investment management company with a commitment to sustainability and transparency. Through two real asset funds, the company invests in permanent crops, prioritizing regenerative practices, and has been at the forefront of quantifying value-creating impact metrics across a growing food and agricultural enterprise.

Halls Ferry Farm from Agriculture Capital’s 2018 impact report
Halls Ferry Farm from Agriculture Capital’s 2018 impact report
Halls Ferry Farm from Agriculture Capital’s 2018 impact report

Regenerative practices, such as those employed across Agriculture Capital’s portfolio, have been shown to increase soil carbon. But the challenge was in being able to measure those soil carbon benefits in a reliable way. Manual data collection and soil sampling methods were too time-consuming across the nearly 15,000 acres in their US holdings - Agriculture Capital needed an approach for quantifying their carbon impacts that could scale.

As Wood Turner, Senior Vice President at Agriculture Capital focused on integrating and operationalizing the firm's cross-platform sustainability strategies, said: “We know that farm soil can be a carbon sink, particularly on fields using regenerative practices. But we didn’t have an efficient and dynamic way to capture nuanced information about the extent to which our farms are sequestering carbon and can help counteract climate impacts.”

Leveraging technology for insights at scale

At Upstream Tech, our core mission is powering smarter conservation decision-making, using technology to efficiently provide field-level insights and impact assessments. We developed AgTrends to help agricultural producers, fund managers, and others efficiently monitor and evaluate conservation practices from the field-level all the way up to the portfolio level. AgTrends makes it possible to have all of an organization’s data in one place in a way that’s accessible for everyone on the team. From satellite data for field-level monitoring to impact reporting makes portfolio oversight efficient and simple.

Computer showing Upstream Tech's agricultural analysis
Computer showing Upstream Tech's agricultural analysis

We partnered with Turner and his team at Agriculture Capital, providing our AgTrends™ platform to them to:

  • Visualize and evaluate their portfolio of 14,681 acres of holdings across California and Oregon
  • Quantify carbon impacts using the COMET-Farm model
  • Provide streamlined impact reporting to share with investors and other stakeholders

To advance their commitment to transparency and ground their ecological values in quantitative insights, Agriculture Capital utilized AgTrends™ to understand the baseline carbon impact of their portfolio based on 2019 management practices. This innovative approach provides a streamlined way to quantify greenhouse gas emissions and sequestration outcomes with unprecedented efficiency, and lays the foundation for rapid carbon impact tracking over time.

To translate data on past and present management practices into total soil organic carbon and emissions impacts, our team at Upstream Tech worked closely with the team at Colorado State University that developed the COMET-Farm system, led by Mark Easter. COMET-Farm is the USDA’s official greenhouse gas quantification tool, and was able to support the setup and data interpretation for this project. The models underlying the COMET-Farm Tool are rigorous and trusted, yet difficult to run across many farm fields without significant time and effort. So to fill this gap, we developed the technical infrastructure to run these models rapidly at scale.

COMET-Farm model inputs and outputs, which included robust historic and current data on field-level management practices and local conditions.
COMET-Farm model inputs and outputs, which included robust historic and current data on field-level management practices and local conditions.
COMET-Farm model inputs and outputs, which included robust historic and current data on field-level management practices and local conditions.

An overview of impacts for Agriculture Capital’s US portfolio is shown below, showing that the farms evaluated are a net carbon sink.

Breakdown of US portfolio impacts including field-based emissions (purple) and carbon sequestration (green) sources, resulting in a net positive sequestration (blue). All values are shown in a carbon dioxide equivalent metric (CO2e) which allows for comparison of various greenhouse gases.
Breakdown of US portfolio impacts including field-based emissions (purple) and carbon sequestration (green) sources, resulting in a net positive sequestration (blue). All values are shown in a carbon dioxide equivalent metric (CO2e) which allows for comparison of various greenhouse gases.
Breakdown of US portfolio impacts including field-based emissions (purple) and carbon sequestration (green) sources, resulting in a net positive sequestration (blue). All values are shown in a carbon dioxide equivalent metric (CO2e) which allows for comparison of various greenhouse gases.

Upstream Tech provided these results through a final report to inform Agriculture Capital’s broader impact report, as well as through a web-based portfolio overview system, allowing Wood’s team to easily visualize and track carbon impacts at both the portfolio and field level.

"What would have taken us months to gather and analyze took weeks -- and our geographically distributed team was able to visualize our portfolio of holdings in a way that we hadn't been able to, which will enable better decision-making and data tracking in the future," said Turner.

Looking to the future

Through this project, AgTrends™ enabled Turner’s team to:

  • Efficiently set a baseline of carbon sequestration impacts based on current and past practices
  • Reduce the time spent evaluating and aggregating impacts
  • Conduct cost-effective impact reporting
  • Visualize and navigate holdings and data across their agricultural portfolio

The accelerating technological innovations that make this possible open up new possibilities for prioritizing conservation investments with greater transparency. As Wood reflects, “We know agriculture and climate change are linked. AgTrends enabled us to quantify carbon impacts across our US portfolio for the first time. This baseline will inform our future decisions about crop mixes and management practice priorities, and ultimately lays the foundation for us to participate in carbon markets.“

Empowering organizations to make smart conservation decisions on a changing planet is the core of Upstream Tech’s mission. We’re grateful to Agriculture Capital for the work they do to provide healthy food while protecting ecosystems and natural resources. To learn more about their great work, check out their 2019 Impact Report, linked here (also available in Spanish here).