Cool Soil Initiative: Gold Standard for Producer-Driven, Low-Carbon Commodity Sourcing

A group of producer-driven people standing in a field of wheat.
A group of producer-driven people standing in a field of wheat.

By Ben Harris

Since 2017, the Cool Soil Initiative (CSI) has been the gold standard — and Gold Standard-aligned — platform for producer-driven technical support and low-carbon commodity sourcing in Australia’s grain sector, which, at $13 billion in farm-gate value (estimated by GrainGrowers, an industry association), accounts nearly 20% of the country’s annual agricultural GDP. Through comprehensive soil testing, peer-to-peer training, and emissions reporting, CSI has provided a turnkey solution for embedding climate-smart agriculture in New South Wales and Victoria. After successive years of program growth — farmer participation climbing from an initial 20 to 200, and corporate membership expanding from founding investors Mars Petcare and Kellanova to include PepsiCo ANZ, Manildra, and Allied Pinnacle, among others soon to be announced — as of December 2023 the Initiative has graduated into an unincorporated joint venture. To set the stage for the project’s continued expansion, SFL led an exhaustive analysis of the program’s measurement, monitoring, reporting and verification (MMRV) approach, covering key considerations such as data collection, GHG quantification, and baselining while ensuring consistency with global standards like the GHG Protocol Corporate Value Chain and Land Sector and Removals Guidance and the Science-Based Targets initiative’s Forest, Land and Agriculture Guidance. This audit and design process kicked off last summer with a stakeholder workshop led by the Food Lab’s Elizabeth Reaves in Wagga Wagga, which identified strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for Cool Soil “2.0” from a 360-degree perspective — beginning with farmer enrollment and ending with monitoring, learning and evaluation methods. SFL also engaged validation and verification body SustainCERT and environmental consultancy 3Keel to shed further light on the gaps and growth opportunities for the project in 2024 and beyond.

There is work still be done, though: SFL is exploring how to tap into gaining interest in farm-level carbon intensity scoring to bring further value-added marketing opportunities and integrity assurance for CSI growers and buyers. Stay tuned for more soon!

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