What Is Carbon Farming?

Published date02 May 2022
Law FirmWithers LLP
AuthorMr Bertie Hoskyns-Abrahall and Liz Hutton

Carbon farming is a general term for a variety of agricultural methods aimed at sequestering atmospheric carbon into soil, crop roots, wood and leaves. Its proponents consider the practices a bold new agricultural business model with potential to tackle climate change. Here, we discuss the nature of carbon farming along with an update on wider environmental schemes and their integration into UK government policy.

When plants photosynthesise, they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it, when they die, this carbon is either released back into the atmosphere or stored for long periods of time in the soil. Conventional agricultural practices result in the release of carbon, whilst carbon farming, in simple terms aims to take excess carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in the soil where it may aid the growth of plants with the goal of creating a net loss of carbon from the atmosphere.

The practice is often carried out by individual landowners who are given incentives to use and integrate carbon sequestering methods. Some examples of practices that can help are:

  • Returning leftover biomass to the soil as mulch after harvest As it decomposes, the residue fuels the carbon cycle in the soil;
  • Replacing continuous monocultures with higher diversity crop rotations and use of cover crops in off seasons to keep the soil enriched;
  • Replacing use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides with integrated nutrient and pest management techniques;
  • Afforestation and integrating trees and livestock with croplands.
  • Restoration of peatlands and wetlands

Carbon farming is said to have the additional benefits of enhancing crop production, restoration of degraded soils, purifying groundwater and reducing pollution. At scale, these practices have potential to assist with reducing carbon emissions and mitigating climate change. As such, carbon farming is high on the agenda in drawing up new legal environmental frameworks on a national and supra-national scale.


Carbon farming is not without its challenges or disadvantages. As well as the benefits to farmers and wider society, some practices are considered to have negative impacts such as trade-offs for soil health, biodiversity or animal welfare. Careful (and therefore potentially expensive) monitoring is required to ensure the correct safeguards are in place and to ensure the incentives favour actions with multiple benefits.

The challenge remains for government, how it is possible to make this form of...

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