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What Happened to My Carbon Farming Startup AGgen?

Updated: Dec 27, 2023


carbon farming startup AGgen

Introduction

I'm Chris Herbert, a social entrepreneur with a passion for sustainability. My journey began upon moving to Grey Bruce, a region where agriculture forms the backbone of the community. Here, I saw not just fields and farms but an opportunity to make a difference.


This realization led to the birth of AGgen, a venture aimed at pioneering carbon farming in Ontario, Canada. My experience, combined with insights from others in the field, recently featured in the article "Carbon Farming: Fad or Trend?" by Lois Harris, has provided me with a unique perspective on the challenges and potential of this emerging industry.


This blog post is a reflection of that journey, detailing the inception, evolution, and eventual shuttering of AGgen, and the invaluable lessons learned along the way.


The Genesis of AGgen

The story of AGgen, started in September 2021 and ended in May 2023..well sort off.


This journey encompassed attending events, making presentations, engaging and having conversations with hundreds of local farmers in Grey Bruce and Chatham Kent Ontario, plus building connections with those in agriculture, sustainability, carbon markets and technology in Canada, UK, Mexico, United States and Australia.


These interactions revealed a remarkable trend: a growing number of farmers were adopting regenerative practices, not just for ecological benefits but also for their economic viability. This was a crucial insight that formed the backbone of AGgen’s mission. We aimed to create a symbiotic relationship between farming practices and environmental stewardship.


The goal was to develop a model where ecological consciousness went hand in hand with economic success. These discussions laid the foundation for AGgen, shaping our vision to harmonize agriculture with environmental sustainability.


The Vision and Strategy of AGgen

At AGgen, our vision was ambitious and clear: to lead the agricultural industry in soil carbonization by removing, sequestering, and monetizing CO2. This strategy was not just about improving the ecological well-being of farmlands; it was equally about enhancing the profitability and productivity of farming operations.


Our approach was to develop comprehensive, farmer-first, whole-farm carbon projects, as outlined in the AGgen business plan. These projects were designed to encompass every aspect of a farm's ecosystem, from pastures to crops to woodlots. In other words every piece of land on the farm, ensuring that each acre contributed to the broader ecological and economic good of the farming family and the broader community.


Carbon Farming: Fad or Trend?

The October 2023 article, which hatched from a lunch discussion at Grey Bruce Farmers Week January 2023, "Carbon Farming: Fad or Trend?" in the Canadian Cattlemen magazine has brought to light the growing buzz around carbon markets. It underscored the burgeoning interest among producers in leveraging their lands for additional revenue through carbon sequestration.


My commentary in the article emphasized the need for producers to be actively involved in understanding the opportunities and costs associated with carbon. I highlighted the significance of carbon as a tradable commodity and the critical role of industry groups in representing farmers' interests.


This article not only showcased AGgen’s mission but also the broader implications of carbon farming for the agricultural community, marking a pivotal moment in our journey. More importantly, a local producer, Ken Schaus joined me in that interview. His views and other farmers matter the most.


Challenges and Market Realities

Navigating the carbon market was a complex endeavor. As detailed in the AGgen business plan and my presentation "Carbon Sequestration: What We Know, What We Don't Know & What's Next," we faced a landscape where policies like the carbon tax significantly impacted agricultural operations.


The evolving regulatory environment, including the development of soil organic carbon protocols, presented a challenging scenario. Additionally, the dichotomy of compliance and voluntary carbon markets introduced a layer of complexity. These markets were nuanced, with each segment following its own set of rules and dynamics.


The business plan and my presentations highlighted these challenges, shedding light on the realities of integrating innovative carbon farming practices into the established agricultural market.


Insights from my presentations, research and findings on carbon sequestration and carbon markets

The presentation I gave during Grey-Bruce Farmers’ Week and Next Level AG event in January and February 2023 respectively offered a deep dive into the carbon sequestration and carbon markets landscape.


I shared the knowns and unknowns in carbon farming, particularly the intricacies of soil quality and its capacity for carbon storage. Research gaps, as discussed, presented challenges in accurately measuring and validating carbon sequestration.


These insights were crucial in shaping AGgen’s approach, highlighting the need for rigorous data and verifiable practices in carbon farming. The presentation underscored the mixed reviews and opinions in the scientific community about the potential and longevity of carbon sequestration, emphasizing the importance of continuous research and development in this field.


The critical question remains unanswered: who's going to pay for all of this?


The Shuttering of AGgen and Lessons Learned

The decision to shutter AGgen was one of the most challenging moments of my professional journey. And, it's still having repercussions on my other ventures including Mi6.

  • Despite the promising start and the potential we saw in carbon farming, the market's readiness and the regulatory environment posed significant hurdles.

  • The complexities of integrating innovative carbon farming practices within traditional farming models, along with the challenges in developing viable carbon projects, ultimately led to this tough decision.

  • Reflecting on this experience, the key lessons I learned were about the importance of market timing, the need for supportive policy frameworks, and the critical role of stakeholder engagement in pioneering ventures like carbon farming.

These lessons are not just personal takeaways but valuable insights for anyone venturing into the realm of sustainable agriculture and environmental innovation.


But, there is a silver lining!

Despite the shuttering of AGgen, the lessons learned and my passion for sustainable practices didn’t end there. My journey in advocating for and implementing sustainable solutions continues, taking on new forms and collaborations.


One such promising venture is my involvement with the ImpAct-Climate Campus Living Labs at Canadore College, a project that aligns closely with my vision for a sustainable future.


ImpAct-Climate Campus Living Labs: A New Chapter in Sustainability

In addition to my previous endeavors, I am now involved, through Mi6, in an exciting project with Canadore College, known as the ImpAct-Climate Campus Living Labs.


Selected as one of ten living labs nationwide for the second consecutive year, this initiative began in May 2023 and is set to continue until March 2024. ​


The project focuses on the 650-acres of forested land at the College Drive Campus. The objectives are multifaceted:

  • Conducting a Comprehensive Forest Inventory: We are undertaking data collection and mapping to understand the forest's health, structure, and composition.

  • Measuring Carbon Sequestration: A boots-on-the-ground approach is being utilized to calculate carbon sequestration rates in the forest.

  • Integrating Learning and Community Engagement: The project aims to integrate findings into academic programs and foster community engagement.

  • Developing a Forest Management Plan: A key goal is to create a 10-year plan for forest management to obtain FSC certification, demonstrating a commitment to sustainable forest stewardship.

  • Raising Awareness: An essential component of the project is to develop a narrative and increase awareness through social media and community involvement​

Activities have included tree planting events, educational launches, and community engagement initiatives. For instance, new trees were planted across campus locations, and significant efforts were made to involve students, employees, and community members in understanding and contributing to the project​.


Photo Credits: Canadore College via LinkedIn


This project represents a new chapter in my journey towards sustainable practices. It embodies the principles of environmental stewardship, community involvement, and education, all crucial for the sustainable future we strive for.


It's a testament to the power of collaborative efforts in making tangible impacts on our environment and highlights the importance of practical, hands-on approaches to sustainability.


Future Outlook and Continued Commitment


Despite the shuttering of AGgen, my commitment to sustainability in various industries including agriculture, remains unwavering through an emerging practice area and market development program delivered through Mi6 formally launching in 2024. Stay tuned!


The experience has reinforced my belief in the importance of innovative agricultural practices and the need for a collaborative approach involving farmers, policymakers, and industry stakeholders.


Looking forward, I see a landscape ripe with opportunities for sustainable practices that benefit both our environment, the farming community and business sectors in general.


The lessons learned from AGgen have become the foundation upon which my future market development and outreach projects will be built, with a focus on advocating for and implementing sustainable practices that align with the evolving dynamics of agriculture and environmental stewardship.


Conclusion

The journey of AGgen, from its inception to its closure, has been a profound learning experience. It highlighted the complexities of marrying innovation with traditional practices, the nuances of market dynamics, and the significance of policy support in the realm of sustainable agriculture.


The story of AGgen is more than just about a startup; it's a chapter in the ongoing narrative of agricultural innovation and environmental responsibility.


As I continue my journey, it's my hope, that the insights and experiences from AGgen will guide my efforts in contributing to sustainable agricultural practices and shaping a future where the economics of the farm and ecological stewardship go hand in hand.


To everyone that supported what we were doing I’m eternally grateful for the time you invested and the belief you had in what we were doing. The journey continues!


About the Author

Chris Herbert spearheads Mi6 Agency, emphasizing small business growth and entrepreneurship. On the agency's blog, he offers practical marketing insights and solutions to unique challenges faced by businesses. Herbert advocates for sustainable and responsible growth. His "Rural Entrepreneur Podcast" extends this mission, providing essential advice and experiences for entrepreneurs. He adopts a comprehensive approach, focusing on building sustainable businesses, community engagement, and active participation in entrepreneurial ventures.

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