Earth's soils can be key in the fight against climate change. Farmers can be the engine. By keeping their land covered with plants as much as possible and tilling the soil minimally, greenhouse gases can be removed from the atmosphere. After all, plants take CO2 from the air and store it in the form of humus in the soil and wood for a long time. So the potential is huge. But if we want farmers to take advantage of it, we need to make sure they get attractive compensation. This collaboration aims to create solutions for that.
In Flanders alone, so-called "carbon farmers" could store up to 18.3 million tonnes of CO2 under their fields over a number of years. This is equivalent to 13% of the total emissions from the agricultural sector over the last 20 years. "In addition, this method of agricultural restoration improves soil quality, water balance and biodiversity. In the long run, this also benefits the harvest," adds Gert Engelen.
"Carbon farming is a win-win situation for farmers and society. By storing CO2 in their soils as humus, they provide a service. And in the long run, it improves soil quality, which in turn benefits the farmer. With our participation in this project, we also want to ensure that farmers also receive proper compensation for their efforts in reducing CO2 concentration from the atmosphere."
To help farmers in the transition to becoming carbon farmers, Lidl is launching a consortium with the Bodemkundige Dienst van België, Rikolto, Boerenbond and Boerennatuur Vlaanderen.
Together, they will guide 15 farmers over five years to make carbon storage an essential part of their operations. The Bodemkundige Dienst van België (BDB) and Boerennatuur Vlaanderen will provide direct guidance to the farmers. The BDB will also monitor their carbon footprint. Rikolto will help look for opportunities to scale up, communicate externally and share the results with its extensive network. As the initiator, Lidl has the final responsibility and the supermarket chain will support the project financially.
A first group of four farmers joined the project in 2022 through Lidl's support. They applied the first experimental practices in 2022 and 2023: working with green cover crops (legumes, sorghum, ...), planting woody edges, planting intercrops, using non-return tillage (instead of traditional ploughing).
"Lidl is committed to addressing its carbon footprint from 'farm to fork'. Research shows that most of the emissions associated with our products occur at the beginning of our chain, in the primary sector. We want to address this as a chain and help farmers make the transition, as the costs are lower in the short term, but the benefits will come later. What is unique about this collaboration is that the whole chain is represented with the Belgian Soil Science Service, Boerenbond, Boerennatuur Vlaanderen, Rikolto and Lidl. In this way, the knowledge we gather through this project will be widely disseminated and we will be able to encourage even more farmers to 'carbon farm'."