Eric Smith on why regenerative agriculture is a neglected climate opportunity for the Grantham Foundation

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Imagine having complete freedom along with a large portfolio to focus on the neglected climate change opportunities in the world. What are the things you would choose to focus on and what are the things you would leave out? A dive deep into these questions and the reasons behind it with our special guest, Eric Smith, the head of the Neglected Climate Opportunities at the Grantham Foundation.

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Eric shares his insights on why he chose to invest in agroforestry, virtual fencing, biochar, microbes, and remote sensing, as well as his thoughts on what is missing in the regeneration debate and what he would love to invest in.

Focus on Profitability of Farmers 

Eric’s background in the Peace Corps led him to his journey into soil and planting his roots into the Grantham Foundation. The foundation’s fundamental belief is that a focus on the profitability of farm landowners and land managers, though not automatically, will improve practices and thus restore biodiversity, water, carbon, and etc. Agroforestry will have to play a big part in that.

“Over reliance on any one solution is going to cause a lot of headaches down the road. We have to do everything. That’s our approach to these climate solutions. We are taking a scattershot approach and try to move as many solutions on their development pathway as possible. Our investment thesis is built around technologies and business models that enable producer profitability and doing that through new or improved systems. So in many cases, for us, carbon or greenhouse gas mitigation is the by-product of the business model.” – Eric Smith

Flexibility is the Key to Funding

The Grantham Foundation is definitely a unique set of players when it comes to the funding world. The foundation’s mandate and time horizon are different: they are long-term in patient capital. One of the more unique aspects about the foundation is that they play across the capital spectrum. 
This spectrum ranges from true philanthropic grants to organizations, the bread and butter work focus of the executive director and co-founder, Jeremy Grantham. 

“We play across the capital spectrum. We weigh in on both our grants and our investment strategy. This helps us become mission aligned across the organization. Which, in turn, allows us a lot of flexibility in terms of applying the appropriate capital structure to these opportunities, to help move them along their development path.” – Eric Smith

The Fascination with Biochar 

Eric’s first introduction into the foundation was through a compelling consulting project on a gasification technology that would produce biochar from animal manure. He found excitement knowing that soil amendment was not just wood carbon based, but had elements of recovered nutrients from manure.
One of the roadblocks for the biotech industry has been the range of production technologies and outcomes in biochar and transportation, as well as, long-term value in soil.

“We have access to fertilizer and synthetic chemicals that have been dumped in all of our lands. Our soil has become much more civic. Now we have to add literally tons and tons of bass or alkaline material to our soils, primarily in the form of lime to help restore the pH balance of the soil. So adding biochar is one of the ways to confront that acidity. Basically the biochar will be acting as a lime replacement that goes directly in the field. We already have a business model and it’s going to be a lot cheaper and more efficient.”  – Eric Smith

Lack of Focus for Landscape Size Regeneration

As a society, there is a fundamental neglection of the impact of trees, carbon cycle, and the evapotranspiration effect of trees in the microclimates. Agroforestry is also very exciting because it preserves microclimates and prevents rapid change of a landscape on a macro level.
The foundation is working with seed companies and produces in order to quickly understand the changing climate conditions and how to adapt by evolving seeds and varietals. 

“The goal from what we’re doing with the Nature Conservancy is modeling on a corn belt, state, and county level on what those greenhouse gas fluxes are from the system. Then providing via TNC avenues for managing and manipulating those fluxes in meaningful ways. Most of America at any state or local county level, most of their greenhouse gas footprint is going to be the agriculture system. So as they begin to manage and look for ways to reduce that footprint, They need that information. So we’re systematically providing that landscape level greenhouse gas data to hopefully the globe. But right now it’s mostly in the USA. ” -Eric Smith

Other Important Points Discussed

Koen and Eric discussed these points in this episode

  • What Eric would do if he could wave a magic wand and change one thing in the agriculture industry from a sustainability point of view
  • What Eric thinks smart investors, who want to invest in regenerative agriculture and food, look out for 

To know more about Eric Smith and why he chose to focus on the neglected climate change opportunities in the world, download and listen to this episode. 

Bio:

Eric Smith is an Investment Officer for the Grantham Environmental Trust where he co-manages Neglected Climate Opportunities. He leads investments in businesses and technology in agriculture and oceans that can sequester or mitigate greenhouse gas emissions at scale. Eric was previously a venture fellow with SJF Ventures and worked for BlackRock on climate finance, in addition to providing advisory and audit services to forest based carbon projects.
He is a graduate of the dual degree program at Duke University, having received his MBA and Master of Forestry, and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Costa Rica.

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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.

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