Could carbon farming be scaled into a genuine alternative to industrialized agriculture?
The three-year research project Digital solutions to foster climate-smart agricultural transition funded by the Academy of Finland was launched at the beginning of 2023. The goal of the project is to determine whether it is possible to develop carbon farming into a viable alternative to industrialized agriculture with the help of digital technology. The participants include researchers from Aalto University School of Business, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, the University of Helsinki and Häme University of Applied Sciences.
At Aalto, the research sub-project is led and coordinated by Associate Professor in Marketing Henri Weijo. The research group includes postdoctoral researcher Laura Rosenberg and Professor Emeritus Eric Arnould from the Department of Marketing and Assistant Professor Vikash Sinha from the Department of Accounting & Business Law. Aalto's sub-project focuses on both farmers' experiences of carbon farming and the understanding of different market stakeholders related to the potential of carbon farming.
Close look at daily life of carbon farmer with ethnography
Carbon farming refers to various farming techniques that aim at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and increasing the storage of carbon in soil. For some time now, a large-scale Carbon Action pilot project focusing on the impacts of carbon farming has been under way in Finland, and Weijo and his colleagues study the farmer who participate in this project. Anothermajor carbon farming project is underway in Australia, and it is also possible that the researchers will seek knowledge from there.
‘We intend to familiarise ourselves with the daily lives of carbon farmers and interview them and their stakeholders as closely as possible to their activities. Our main research method is ethnography, which is a qualitative research method where the researcher observes, interviews and documents the subjects in order to obtain a comprehensive picture of their perceptions, customs, habits, and experiences. The advantage of this method is flexibility. We can react to surprising situations and interests emerging in the field,’ says Weijo.
New opportunities for already technology-intensive agriculture
At least in the early stages, the researchers do not intend to exclude any digital technology from their research, but they also do not specifically highlight anything. There are so many possible technological solutions that it is even impossible to list them exhaustively, so the researchers want to keep an open mind.
‘Contrary to popular beliefs, agriculture is already amazingly technologically sophisticated. It was one of the first industries in the big data revolution. Today, it uses machine learning and data produced by satellites very widely,’ says Weijo.
‘However, there are many new opportunities. For example, following discussions at EU level, we can anticipate that there is a fairly high likelihood that landowners will be compensated in the future for carbon sequestration. This requires accurate, reliable and controlled measurement, and we are particularly interested in the development of these methods. In addition, carbon farming can bring great benefits in terms of halting biodiversity loss and improving soil quality.’
Classic topic in marketing research
Although the interest of marketing researchers in agriculture as a research subject may be surprising, the topic is classic in marketing research.
‘Scientific top publications in the field of marketing included a lot of agricultural research, especially in their early years. In addition, my colleague, Eric Arnould, has carried out a lot of research in agriculture, especially on organic farming, and some of his research is already classic in consumer culture research,’ Henri Weijo says.
‘I was interested in the media attention received by carbon farming and the potential of carbon farming in the fight against climate change. I wanted to understand how carbon farming could be scaled into a genuine alternative to industrialized agriculture. Scaling requires a broad understanding of the functioning of the market and the role of agriculture in general in Finland, and our research project aims to meet this need.’
The Digital solutions to foster climate-smart agricultural transition project is led by Jari Liski, Chief Scientist at the Finnish Meteorological Institute. Other sub-projects are led by Professor Jussi Heinonsalo and Associate Professor Hanna Tuomisto from the University of Helsinki and Leading Research Scientist Iivari Kunttu from Häme University of Applied Sciences.
The Academy of Finland news item on funding received: