Tom Mellor farms just over 500 acres of arable land, high above Bridlington on the Yorkshire coast. On rolling hills typical of the Yorkshire Wolds, soils here are well drained but thin and chalky and therefore prone to erosion and nutrient leaching. They do, however, grow excellent malting barley.

Tom has a keen interest in farming more sustainably. He has focused closely on improving his soil fertility and farm biodiversity, whilst reducing inputs where possible, but always with a close eye on maintaining or improving his overall efficiency. Much of his land is now down to a continuous spring malting barley rotation with over-wintered cover crops helping to structure the soil and increase soil organic matter.

The cover crop is a team of complementary plants that are sown post-harvest and can grow with falling temperatures and shortening days. Tom uses a mix that contains oil radish, winter oats, phacelia, vetch and berseem clover. The varied leaf architecture of these plants optimises the drawdown of carbon as CO2 from the atmosphere, with the resultant photosynthesis creating significant plant biomass. The leguminous plants within these mixes fix nitrogen within the soils and reduce farmers’ reliance on increasingly costly synthetic fertilisers.

Shortly after flowering, the cover crop is destroyed with the organic matter in these plants and then returned to the soil. The roots of the cover crop not only increase below-ground biomass, but they also exude sugars into the soil, super-charging soil biosystems, whilst capturing surplus nutrients and preventing the leaching of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (NP & K).

Reduced tillage, mostly direct drilling, and adding chopped straw at harvest safeguards the carbon in Tom’s soil. These practices have over time built soil fertility, resulting in the farm now using less nitrogen to achieve the same yield and quality.

Tom has been working closely with Future Food Solutions for the past six years, helping him capture data on how his soil has improved through the introduction of more sustainable farming practices. This data meant Tom was well-placed to capitalise on the value of the carbon he had locked away in his soils.

When Future Food Solutions created the Sustainable Futures CarbonBank in 2019, Tom became the first pilot farm in the UK to benefit from the independent verified soil carbon credits programme. Future Food Solutions analysed the soil to give a baseline of carbon whilst a series of rigorous tests determined exactly how many tonnes of carbon had been removed from the atmosphere and sequestrated in the soil.

In June, Toms’s application was approved and duly received carbon credits issued by the independent verification body BCarbon in Houston, Texas. These were then purchased by RELX, a global analytics company. Due to the integrity and robustness of the measurements-based programme, the Sustainable Futures CarbonBank was able to secure a worthwhile premium for these agriculture-related carbon credits. Tom has since received payment for the certified credits awarded to him, giving him a healthy new income stream that is complementary to his existing farming practices. Tom will continue to receive payments for the carbon sequestered on his farm in the future.

Tom Mellor said “I have really enjoyed the journey to becoming more sustainable and the carbon payment is a nice bonus. We have had a good year in 2022 with barley prices being high, but with continued high energy prices the future is more uncertain. Finding new income streams such as carbon credits is going to be vitally important to maintain our long-term profitability.