Research to investigate high carbon capture cropping

A NEW research project aims to help UK farmers and growers achieve net zero and increase farm resilience through diversifying their arable and forage cropping systems. These crop choices could also help to support enhanced value chains for industries such as textiles and construction.

The Centre for High Carbon Capture Cropping (CHCx3) is a four-year, £5.9 million project, supported by a consortium of 22 industry and research partners and led by crop science organisation NIAB. It has been awarded funding by as part of Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme.

The research will focus on five cropping options: rotational cover crops, annual fibre crops (industrial hemp and flax) perennial forage cropping (including herbal leys), perennial cereal cropping, and perennial biomass crops (miscanthus, willow and poplar).

As well as evaluating their potential to enhance atmospheric carbon capture and sequestration both in the soil and crop-based products, the project will examine the effects of cultivation systems and agronomy on economic returns and other environmental outcomes.

Further work will optimise the production and use of renewable biomaterials for fibre, textiles, and construction and develop carbon insetting/offsetting platforms.

Stuart Knight, NIAB’s Director of Agronomy, said “The project will kick-start vital new collaborations between researchers, seed suppliers, growers and industries seeking to realise the full potential of crop-based products, establish new revenue opportunities within the carbon market, and give a major boost to our shared aim of achieving net zero.”

Hemp, which is part of the CHCx3 research, has enormous potential as a high carbon capture crop.

Ben Stevens from the Business of Cannabis website, reports that the research is important to the hemp industry because it will focus on carbon sequestration both in the crop’s biomass and in the soil. This could, he suggests, be the missing piece of the jigsaw that makes growing hemp for carbon credits financially viable as a primary source of income.

Stevens also reports that a growing number of schemes are emerging to offer carbon credits to industrial hemp farmers.

The British Hemp Alliance’s Founder Rebecca Shaman said “Five years ago [hemp] was considered the poor Cinderella of the cannabis industry and no one really talked to us. I would say in the next two or three years, when the data comes together, we’re going to see hemp be considered a really, really important crop for the future.”

Currently, one of the most established routes of generating carbon credits from hemp is to turn the biomass into “biochar” using a process called pyrolysis.

While the primary product of a cannabis crop may be to produce hemp seed oil, the rest of the plant biomass (where most of the carbon is sequestered) can be turned into biochar, which locks in carbon for around a thousand years. This means that a hemp farmer can sell carbon credits as well as oil and create a secondary revenue stream.

As the market currently stands, growing hemp for carbon credits is not financially viable as a primary source of income. But it’s hoped that the new research project will help to provide farmers with a robust and trusted mechanism to actively go to the voluntary market and derive additional value.

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