LIFE CarbonCounts

LIFE CarbonCounts

In the LIFE CarbonCounts project, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and ILVO are joining forces to facilitate a broader rollout of carbon farming in Flanders.

Why carbon farming?

Since industrialization, the amount of greenhouse gases (CO2 or carbon dioxide, N2O or nitrous oxide, CH4 or methane) in the atmosphere has risen sharply leading to a changing climate with higher temperatures and more extreme precipitation patterns (drought, flooding). To slow down and reverse this process, greenhouse gas emissions, including from the use of fossil fuels, must be drastically reduced.  CO2 can also be taken out of the air by storing it in the form of organic carbon in the soil or woody elements for a long period of time. This is part of what is also called carbon farming. Farmers can thus make a positive contribution to a climate-neutral society by offsetting unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions.

Global interest in carbon storage and achieving climate neutrality is causing a lot of movement around carbon farming. For example, farmers can be compensated for the organic carbon they store. A (Flemish) voluntary carbon market that trades in carbon certificates can not only encourage carbon storage but in this way also become part of a revenue model for farmers. This way a win-win situation is created for both farmers and the climate.

For farmers to be able to prove how much carbon is being stored, it is important that a calculation model is available. The LIFE CarbonCounts project aims to perfect such a calculation model and to connect it with already available data in order to limit the administrative burden for farmers.

Besides a revenue model for farmers, it is also important that these efforts can be taken into account in the greenhouse gas inventory. This inventory is used for international reporting and must show whether the set climate goals are being achieved in each EU member state.

At the same time, the project maps current developments on carbon farming and carbon certificates in Flanders. In interaction with a broad group of stakeholders through interviews and workshops, a roadmap for carbon farming in Flanders is being drawn up as a basis for a broad rollout.

What is carbon farming?

Carbon farming is a method of agriculture that increases organic carbon storage on the farm. By storing carbon on agricultural parcels, CO2 is captured from the atmosphere, allowing agriculture to contribute to the fight against climate change. Carbon can be stored in soil and woody landscape elements, as described further below.

To sequester additional carbon in the soil, several techniques can be applied. Examples include adapting the crop rotation with crops that leave more biomass after harvest in the form of crop residues and/or many roots, the use of stable organic manure such as farmyard manure or compost, undersowing (e.g. grass with maize) or early sowing of green cover crops. It is important to continue applying these techniques to counteract a decline in carbon stocks due to the natural breakdown of carbon in the soil.

Storing carbon in the soil, also has numerous other benefits. Increased organic carbon content has a positive effect on soil quality, increasing microbial biodiversity and improved plant growth. Soils with higher organic carbon content show improved resistance to erosion and extreme weather conditions, among other things. As a result, agricultural yields will be more stable and less affected by drought and extreme precipitation.

Carbon farming has its place in the new ‘pre-eco schemes’ (pre-ecoregelingen), which run (already) in 2022. Farmers will receive support to introduce additional effective-organic carbon into the soil through the cultivation plan via the pre-eco scheme: ‘Increasing effective organic carbon content of arable land through cultivation plan and new eco schemes’. This will be followed by the ‘eco-schemes’ (eco-regelingen) starting from January 2023.

In addition to increasing soil carbon stocks, carbon can be stored in woody landscape elements on a parcel. This can be done through the placement of hedges, hedgerows, woody borders or trees on a parcel. Farmers can also go for the option to convert farming systems into agroforestry, in which trees are combined with crops and/or livestock. More info on agroforestry systems can be found at Information on conditions and how to apply for a planting subsidy for agroforestry systems can be found at ‘Planting subsidy for agroforestry systems’.

Like increased soil carbon stocks, planting (or maintaining) woody structures also has additional positive effects, such as stopping of runoff water and sediment, creating shade for livestock during hot days and increasing biodiversity on a parcel.

Project LIFE CarbonCounts

The project has two main objectives. On the one hand, it focuses on the development of a roadmap for carbon farming in Flanders and an action platform in close consultation with a broad stakeholder group. On the other hand, a geodata platform will be developed to map carbon storage by parcel.

Roadmap and action platform

The roadmap is mainly based on a system analysis: here we map out the main bottlenecks, opportunities and needs to broadly roll out carbon farming initiatives through the (Flemish) carbon market. To this end, ILVO enters into extensive dialogue with a wide range of stakeholders, such as farmers, agricultural organizations, policy actors, researchers, advisors, NGOs, companies, certification bodies, etc. via in-depth interviews and interactive workshops. Current projects and initiatives in Flanders are also analyzed and mapped. In addition, inspiration is drawn from the systems in our neighboring countries.

After the system analysis, we then proceed to develop a roadmap. In doing so, we name possible tracks to solve the identified bottlenecks, exploiting opportunities, and filling the needs in the carbon farming story.

To further support and concretize this roadmap, we are also developing a long-term action platform. Through this action platform, further agreements will be made regarding the roles and functions of various actors to get started with the roadmap.

Geodata platform

Within LIFE CarbonCounts, a geodata platform will be designed that can calculate and simulate the carbon storage on a parcel and do so as much as possible using already available data that will be automatically connected to the calculation model. The geodata platform will be made available as an application to the farmer within the ‘Bodempaspoort’ (soil passport), an online application that provides information about the user's parcels. The geodata platform uses data taken from the Bodempaspoort of the parcel, such as texture class (taken from map layers of The Database of the Subsoil in Flanders (DOV)) or crop rotations (taken from the Geospatial Aid Application (GSAA)), and simulates the carbon content on the parcel based on this data.

The carbon simulation will be based on a Roth-C model, which is a mathematical model specially developed to model carbon storage in soils. The starting point is a version that has already been optimized for Flemish parcels in previous projects and applications for farmers such as the Demetertool (UGent and VLM) and the Koolstofsimulator (Department of Environment, UGent and Bodemkundige Dienst van Vlaanderen vzw). The new aspect here lies in the automatic link with input data from the Bodempaspoort to increase the ease of use for farmers. To make this possible, we are working closely with VLM and Department of Environment.

The developed calculation model will be made open-source so that the same calculations can also be used by other projects (e.g. Klimrek) and players (e.g. private players). In this way, the developed calculation model can serve as a standard carbon calculation model for carbon storage on agricultural parcels in Flanders.

In addition to simulating the carbon content in the soil, the geodata platform will simulate carbon stored in the woody landscape elements on the parcel. The data for these calculations include aerial photographs on which, with the help of artificial intelligence (AI),  woody elements in the parcels can be detected (orthodetection).


This project is partially funded by the EU-LIFE program (Grant Agreement LIFE20 PRE/BE/019) and the Flemish Climate Fund.

Duration and project partners

The project runs from 1/09/2021 to 28/02/2023.

The project partners are ILVO and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

ILVO project page: Research project Stimulating carbon farming in Flanders by building a geodata platform


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