Neal Spackman, founder of Regenerative Resources Co, joins us to talk about transforming millions of acres of degraded landscapes into productive ecologies, using seawater to raise fish, using the wastewater to restore mangroves and growing saltwater species which in turn produce most of the feed for the shrimps.
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The rule in good real estate investments is to buy low where nobody sees value and then create value. Our guest of today argues the opportunity in regenerative agriculture lies in buying extremely degraded coastal lands, in places where there is no life, no photosynthesis, and no soil. He has grown many trees without outside irrigation in the Saudi Arabian desert.
USE SEAWATER TO GROW SHRIMPS AND WASTEWATER TO GROW PART OF THE SHRIMP FEED
A typical onshore aquaculture system throws its wastewater into the ocean creating dead zones. At the same time, that’s the source of water in the aquaculture system. So, they’re introducing disease vectors and greater risks by using polluted water as their source as well as causing massive environmental problems and importing all of their feed, which is 60% of the operating cost.
‘We use the wastewater from the aquaculture to grow mangrove agroforestry. And then off of that mangrove agroforestry, we have a proprietary feed for the aquaculture, so that creates serious comparative advantages. Whether you’re talking about resilience, whether you’re talking about risk and disease vectors, whether you’re talking about the cost of inputs.’ – Neal Spackman
‘If you can imagine shrimps don’t eat soybeans in the wild. There’s no corn floating around in the mangroves, where shrimps have their nursery. I can’t prove it, but just like cows are supposed to eat grass, shrimps aren’t supposed to eat soybeans and corn and wheat paste. I have faith that our feed will outperform what’s conventional right now.’ – Neal Spackman
WHY RESTORING MANGROVES IS SO CRUCIAL
Mangroves are a protected species almost everywhere because we’ve lost half of the world’s mangroves in the last generation.
‘It is the biological engine for the rest of the whole thing because that is where our source of phosphorus and nitrogen comes from, as well as the micronutrients that are in the ocean water. But it is seawater agriculture, I need to re-emphasize that, we are using no fresh water in our whole system. We don’t need it. And that is the revolutionary thing with our system.’ – Neal Spackman
CHANGE THE ECONOMIC SITUATION IF YOU WANT MANGROVES TO STAY
People are cutting down mangroves because they have to make a living. And they will continue to do so unless they are provided with an alternate living. That’s what the seawater system builds. Regenerative seawater agriculture [RSA] builds a circular regenerative economy in coastal areas.
‘There’s a project we’re working on in partnership with a handful of fishing villages in Mexico. And their catches have decreased by 90% in the last decade, so they’re used to catching 100 fish, they’re now catching 10, and they are facing a total collapse of their communities. And we’re and this is a pattern happening everywhere. coastal fisheries are being degraded globally.’ – Neal Spackman
‘You can’t catch fish anymore. What are you going to do? You’re either going to poach illegal species, right? I have talked with families that are hunting sea turtles because a sea turtle will feed your family for a week. And they feel tremendously guilty about it. They don’t want to do it. But that’s how they’re feeding their family. You poach illegal species, or you start cutting the mangroves down.’ – Neal Spackman
THE OPPORTUNITIES OF BLUE CARBON CREDITS
Iif you don’t establish an alternate economy, you’re not going to have permanence. Their blue carbon will be of higher quality than the standard because they can address that permanence question better than a standard reforestation or restoration project.
‘It’s looking good because that, I mean, we’ve watched prices quadrupled in the last three years. Blue carbon was $8 to $10 in 2019, it’s now above 50. High-quality blue carbon is over $50 a ton right now. So, that bodes well for us because not only are we producing blue carbon in the RSA, but RSA in my opinion, is the linchpin to successful blue carbon projects globally.’ – Neal Spackman
‘We’re gonna set up our own solar system. In the future, there’s potential for wave energy as well on these systems. But on our first project, it’s going to be solar, which brings our carbon expenditures way down. And the kinds of buildings we do will largely be low carbon footprint buildings. So it’s not just going to be cement structures with lots of corrugated steel so that the desire to be able to market our blue carbon comes net of the entire development.’ – Neal Spackman
‘It’ll be easy to sell. Developing it is tricky, right? That’s why supplies are where the bottleneck is because it’s very tricky to develop. In the RSA system is just a matter of building the system and doing the science so we can get good estimates on the carbon. We know it’s going to sequester carbon.”- Neal Spackman
THE ISSUES OF BLUE CARBON CREDITS
When talking about high-quality carbon credits, the three main considerations are additionality, permanence and leakage. And there’s a lot of scepticism in the nature base world about the permanence of forest credits.
‘It doesn’t make any sense to grow trees unless you address why people are cutting down trees in the first place. I think this is tacitly understood by a lot of people but largely undeveloped or unaddressed in the majority of carbon projects, where permanence in a forestry project comes from sustainable economies.’ – Neal Spackman
‘Most blue carbon projects take three to five years to set up. Which is why there’s so little supply of blue carbon in the world, because it’s extremely difficult to get it to a point that it’s de-risked enough for an investor to actually feel confident going in.’ – Neal Spackman
THE INFLUENCE THESE PROJECTS AT SCALE COULD HAVE ON WEATHER PATTERNS
The impact of Neal’s system isn’t yet measurable. However, they have a set of collaborations to put that into practice on their first farm. He tells us about a past project in Eritrea where they cooled the local climate by two degrees Celsius.
‘On the water cycle, we know our system will increase freshwater resources, both in terms of rainfall creation, and in terms of intercepting flash floods and restoring shallow aquifers.’ – Neal Spackman
OTHER POINTS DISCUSSED
Koen and Neal also talked about:
- Measurement projects
- Mangrove restoration project
- What Neal would do if he had $1b dollar under management
- Jonathan Lundgren on why all agriculture scientists should become farmers first
- Jonathan Lundgren – Regenerative agriculture much more profitable than extractive ag?!
- Sean Kidney on the $100 trillion bond market everyone in regen ag should know about
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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.