How does Nori get Supply?
Nori is now headed into the fourth week of the Techstars Sustainability Accelerator in partnership with The Nature Conservancy. Even though it’s early in this fourteen-week program, I can already tell that going through it will make a big difference in accelerating our progress, improving our processes, refining our strategy, and opening important doors that will help us scale the business. The program is great for so many reasons — from teaching us ways to better understand our customers, reporting weekly on objectives and key results to seasoned entrepreneurs and fellow travelers, and connecting us to amazing mentors and coaches.
This article is the first of a series I’ll write during the program for anyone who wants a peek into the thinking that informs our go-to-market supply strategy and to better understand the different people and entities we work with to make the marketplace possible. Nori has designed a scalable way to pay for and get paid to remove CO2 from the atmosphere through the creation of Nori Carbon Removal Tonnes(NRTs). Like any two-sided marketplace, we need to build up supply and demand for NRTs. This article is only about the former.
To get started, we have just one methodology, which is for farmers in US croplands. Although the US farmer is our ultimate “Supplier” there are seven different types of people or entities that we engage to get supply in our marketplace.
Nothing new happens in agriculture without bringing the right parties to the table. We define key stakeholders as groups who develop, implement, and enforce policies that impact farmers. They are interested in Nori’s approach because they want farmers to have access to new revenue streams for increasing soil health practices. From the beginning, Nori aligned with COMET-Farm, a US Department of Agriculture/National Resources Conservation Service tool, which ensures that the system Nori uses for quantifying carbon removals not only uses soil health indicators defined by the USDA but improves based on a transparent process and best management practices from technical assistance providers.
Nori also works with groups like The Nature Conservancy, American Farmland Trust, the Soil Carbon Initiative, the US Farmer and Rancher Alliance, The Land Institute, universities like Arizona State University and Colorado State University, as participants or observers of the Peer Review Committee for Nori’s first Croplands Methodology. These stakeholders might also be connected — directly or indirectly — to the projects on the Nori platform, and realize additional value from the learnings brought about by participating in the Nori Pilot to report out to the broader community.
The next group Nori engages to get NRT supply is brands. The brands most interested in working with us are those who would like to see carbon removal in their US supply chain, preferably have a footprint in the Midwest, and have identified farmers willing to join a pilot and farming at least 1,000 but ideally 5,000 acres and up.
The brands see Nori as a scalable way to reward farmers to adopt practices that improve soil health. This creates an option for new sustainability initiatives and marketing that directly connect to their work. We find representatives of the brands at conferences, through introductions, working with their sustainability consultants, or by creating content for inbound marketing (podcasts, articles, videos, webinars, news media). Brands want to see credibility, a straightforward system to verify carbon removals, and ensure that the NRT will count (hence the interaction with Key Stakeholders). In some cases, the brands might be buyers of the NRTs. In all cases, they have verified carbon removal in their supply chain.
Ag Supply Chain
Another persona is the companies, or networks, in the agriculture supply chain who work with the brands. Ag supply chains include the farmer (a separate persona), processor, distributor, consumer packaged goods, and retailer. The ag supply chain is interested in what Nori is doing because increasing soil organic carbon is a proxy for improving soil health. Soil health means having better topsoils, more drought- and flood-resistant fields, better water quality, and lower input costs. Also, tracking soil health through Nori can provide a new revenue source for the ag supply chain directly through the sale of NRTs and indirectly through price premiums for verified soil health.
Data managers are the first group to use the actual Nori software to contribute to generating supply. They are a subset of agronomists or technical service providers who have direct relationships with farmers in adopting farm management plans. They are an entity who directly help Suppliers collect, organize, store, and report the data that they need to submit to Nori to register their projects and receive NRTs. In most cases, data managers are already helping farmers transition from conventional to regenerative practices. Although each Data Manager might have different goals, they are all important in getting the necessary data into the Nori app. Nori is working with Data Managers at groups like The Nature Conservancy, Mad Agriculture, Continuum Ag, and technical assistance providers at the NRCS.
Sometimes, Data Managers will be working with a commercial Data Platform. Data Platforms are software that Suppliers might use to collect, organize, and store data that could make it easier for them to participate in the Nori marketplace. They are used today by farmers to make agronomic decisions. This group is particularly valuable to scaling our business because these software platforms collect much of the data required to register a project and connect to Nori. These platforms are capable of providing us access to hundreds of millions of acres under production.
One of the first platforms we’re working with is Granular. We recently recorded a podcast with Dr. Emma Fuller, a lead data scientist at Granular, about the pilot we have underway. As Nori scales, we’re eager to add additional platforms.
The Verifiers are a key group in generating supply. Verifiers are individuals qualified to attest to the reasonableness, reliability, and replicability of evidence provided by NRT Suppliers. Without independent verification, Nori cannot register projects or generate NRTs. Once a Supplier has created an account, they will need to register a project. This will require the verification of data that they submit by a Verifier they select. Verifiers will have their account on the app and will have access to private data for each of the projects.
Most important are the actual Suppliers. These are the entities who are doing the work to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or have an ownership interest in the carbon that they wish to sell.
The Suppliers break into two groups. The first type is the target customer for Nori and is a farmer who has adopted new practices (no-till, cover crops, integrated livestock, soil amendments, new crop rotations, etc.) after 2010 and is already drawing down carbon. These farmers, in exchange for participating in the Nori Pilot, are being rewarded with NRTs for up to the past 5 years. This is where Nori will derive the initial NRT inventory. This group benefits from having a new source of revenue for providing an environmental service.
The second type of Supplier has not yet adopted new practices to remove carbon. They will not be able to sell NRTs until after the carbon has been removed by adopting these new practices. They benefit from a new expected revenue stream, the potential to sell their crops at a premium on account of having verfied data, and by adopting a method of farming that after 5–7 years will be more profitable even without potential carbon payments.
We meet Suppliers through referrals from the above groups, but the most lasting ones are in-person connections. We go to field days, farmer conferences, and when invited, sit down at the farmhouse kitchen table. Every farm is different. They each have their own goals. When improving soil health is a goal, we’re there to help monetize the increase in soil organic carbon. As noted above, our ideal Supplier is farming upwards of 1,000 acres in the US and has adopted new practices to remove carbon since 2010.
Still with me? Great. Time to fill up on coffee before diving into the graphic below.
The blue boxes are personas described above. The dotted lines indicate that there is an indirect connection to another group or activity, and the plain lines denote a direct activity between personas making one of the numbered stages possible. We start qualifying them by finding out their potential in the attributes in the red boxes. There are four key moments to track in the NRT supply journey:
- The Supplier creates an account. Either the Supplier found out about Nori independently or from a Key Stakeholder, Brand, someone in the Ag Supply Chain, a Data Manager, or Data Platform has referred the Supplier to Nori.
- When the Supplier fully enrolls, they can get a free projection (based on data they input) of how many NRTs they might be able to generate. This stage refines the boxes in red and often involves a back-and-forth between the Supplier, Data Manager, and when relevant, a Data Platform.
- Once the Primary Contact has filled in all the required data in their account and can see how many NRTs they might be able to generate, they pay a Verifier, and the project becomes registered.
- Registered projects which are drawing down carbon must verify the data entered into the account at least every three years. When verification occurs, Nori issues new NRTs to the supplier. Only at this stage can we convert “potential” NRTs to “actual”. At this point, the Supplier has a digital asset that they can sell.
Future posts will delve into what we’re learning from customers and objectives we have to grow supply, but hopefully, this is enough to whet your appetite.