Carbon Farming Newsletter December 2011 / January 2012

Monday, January 09, 2012

A Soil Carbon Christmas (Meth News)

While you are enjoying the beginning of the New Year, spare a thought for those of us working on the only ‘farmer-friendly’ Soil Carbon Methodology which has just come back from the Domestic Offset Integrity Committee with a list of questions to be answered before it is posted on the web for public comment. To give farmers a safe way to earn and trade soil carbon offsets, we need to provide a ‘methodology’ which sets out the ‘rules’ or protocols for measuring and sequestering carbon in soil. The methodology must comply with a list of Integrity Principles, such as Additionality (abatement must be genuinely new) and Permanence (abatement must be effectively ‘permanent’). We hope to make 2012 “The Year Of The Carbon Farmer” by celebrating the first sale of soil carbon offsets under the Carbon Farming Initiative. Here’s to a Happy New Year!


Escaping from the 100 Year Rule

Notice anything in the 3 charts below? The behaviour of carbon markets on three continents shows that if you wait long enough the market falls into your lap, offering a way to cash out of the 100 Year commitment.

EU ETS Spot price comparison

The EU ETS market officially started trading in 2007, however, there was little or no trading before the commencement of Kyoto (1 Jan 2008).  Once trading stated in earnest the price for an EUA launched at just above €20.  It reached a high of €28.59 on the 1st of July 2008 ($58NZ), and then dropped over a 9 month period to below €10.  The price then rallied to around €15 and remained constant  until around July 2011. It has subsequently  dropped €7.16 as at 5 December 2011.

The Carbon Farming Group in New Zealand has been tracking the weekly spot price of carbon since June 2010, from both Westpac and OMF and have graphed them below. Recently the price was sitting around $8 per NZU.

NZU price since June 2010

“The price of spot NZUs remained reasonably steady at the $18 to $20 mark for around a year until June 2011, when it started dropping and hasn’t really stopped. There are several reasons why this is the case, but it mainly has to do with hot air units for sale offshore, and the dumping of carbon credit reserves by European industrial companies to boost cashflow,” reports Clayton Wallwork.
“It is useful to compare recent events in New Zealand with the experience in Europe. In 2008, when it first started trading the EU ETS followed a similar pattern as the NZETS, as can be seen in the graph below.”

The same pattern can be seen in the Chicago Climate Exchange. Sooner or later, new carbon markets collapse. And here is the opportunity for Australian farmers with the Carbon Farming Initiative. The Act allows a grower to withdraw from a contract by ‘relinquishing’ Australian Carbon Credit Units – which means handing back the same number of ACCUs they had been awarded for their measured offsetting. 

CCX 2005-2009

One of the attendees at our one-day workshop “An Introduction to Carbon Farming and Trading” in Bungendore said he would relinquish his units when the market hit the floor – which all markets do at some time. The trick is to know when the ‘rule’ is not going to apply.

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FarmReady Runs Out 30 June 2012

FarmReady – the program that reimburses farmers 65% of the course fee for eligible training courses – is coming to an end on 30 June, 2012. This means the only Government-funded training for farmers wishing to learn about the Carbon Farming Initiative will be delivered by LandCare.
Carbon Farmers of Australia is registered as a FarmReady-approved program deliverer for “An Introduction to Carbon Farming & Trading” (available in half-day, one-day and two-day advanced formats).

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Durban Talks All Good For Agriculture

The decision to put off any serious action on Climate Change until 2020 would be farcical were it not a great opportunity for Agriculture to come into its own. The “breakthrough’ at Durban – the agreement by all nations attending (except Canada) to make an agreement by 2015 to do something by 2020 – leaves a void and people are asking how can we fill it. “Whilst pledging to make progress in a number of areas, governments acknowledged the urgent concern that the current sum of pledges to cut emissions both from developed and developing countries is not high enough to keep the global average temperature rise below two degrees Celsius,” said Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation and President of the Durban UN Climate Change Conference. 

Soil carbon sequestration is attracting attention as a potential solution whose time has come. And it was in the right place – Africa – at the right time, when the World Bank launched its Climate Smart Agriculture. Author Fred Pearse was at the launch on Agriculture Day in Durban: “The offer from the world of carbon finance to poor farmers in Africa and elsewhere is this: Let us use your soils to capture carbon from the atmosphere, and we will, in return, make those soils more productive and less vulnerable to the climate.  This is a big deal. Nurturing the organic matter in soils on the world’s farms has as much potential to absorb carbon dioxide emissions from industrialized countries as the much better-known plans to fund forest conservation, such as REDD. Rattan Lal of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center at Ohio State University suggests soils worldwide could capture as much as a billion tons of carbon a year — more than a tenth of man-made emissions.” Solving the food crisis and the climate crisis is a double-edged sword, say those who fear that peasant farmers will be forced off their land when agriculture becomes more lucrative. “Soil carbon offsets will promote a spate of African land grabs and put farmers under the control of fickle carbon markets,” said Teresa Anderson of the UK-based Gaia Foundation, an NGO that promotes indigenous farming. The standard objections are recited in any discussion of soil carbon. In Fred Pearse’s report he mentions the cost of measurement and the fact that commercial crops in which large agribusinesses specialize have a much greater potential to take up carbon than smallholder subsistence crops.

Data presented in 2010 at the FAO in Rome by Rama Reddy of the World Bank’s carbon finance unit show that the carbon-capture potential for a hectare of smallholder maize in Kenya is around half a ton of carbon dioxide per year, whereas the potential for commercial biofuels is between 2.5 and 5 tons, and for a sugar cane plantation up to 8 tons per hectare. Australia offers large acreage, commercial crops and well-educated farmers... But problems aside, Fred Pearse concludes: “Any credible solution to climate change will probably involve finding ways to get the landscape to absorb more carbon, whether in trees or soils, probably financed from carbon markets.”

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Grazing Systems don’t work? Better tell the Farmer of the Year

Someone should tell the judges of all the ‘farmer of the year’ awards that Science disagrees with their choices: it has proved many times that grazing management is no better than continuous or set stocking. Nearly every time a grazier has won or been runner up in annual awards since 2007 they have nominated cell or rotational grazing management as a centerpiece of their farm plan. Yet science has been unable to confirm that they are making a difference to the health of their pastures, their animals and their landscapes.

A $1 million, four-year study funded by the MLA and CSIRO and conducted by Queensland’s Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation has found that different grazing systems delivered nearly indistinguishable results.

The study found no statistically significant differences between the systems with the choice of system relatively unimportant for land health and productivity.

At the same time the NSW DPI compared set stocking with 20 and four paddock rotational grazing systems, and found differences between the systems were minimal and not as large as those determined by the landscape. This is a largely ‘so what’ result, yet the intent is clearly to take the shine off land management.

Despite the constant stream of studies that ‘prove’ grazing systems are ineffectual, the practitioners of grazing management fill the top spots in the annual awards.
  • Norm Smith, NSW Farmer of the Year for 2011 pioneered planned grazing management on Glenwood, near Wellington. Norm has encouraged greater diversity of desirable species with rotational grazing enabling short graze periods and long rest periods.
  • 2011 Runners up, Liz and John Manchee, Narrabri, have increased rotational and cell grazing techniques and have concentrated on smaller paddock sizes. 
  • Runner up in 2009 Andrew and Megan Mosely, Cobar NSW take a holistic farm business management approach to ensure the business balances social, environmental and economic outcomes.. They believe that increasing soil carbon is the key to overcoming this challenge and prospering in dry times. 
  • The 2008 winners, Nigel & Kate Kerin, Yeoval, own and manage a cell grazing operation at Yeoval in the state’s Central West with his wife Kate, holistically managing the operations enterprises including sheep, wool, cattle trading and pasture cropping.
  • The 2007 Young Farmer of the Year joint winners were both devotees of grazing management: Stuart Blake manages a mixed livestock and cropping enterprise near Walcha. Sheep and cattle are rotationally grazed, promoting continual groundcover that also helps make the most of available water.
  • Joint winners in 2007 Ben and Liarne Mannix manage an 18,000 hectare property Gumbooka north east of Bourke in the western division. They use the principles of Grazing for Profit and Holistic Resource Management in their farm management.
  • Queensland’s Jack Banks took out the title of 2011 Wool Producer of the Year as part of the Australian Farmer of the Year Awards. Jack implemented a rotation grazing strategy which has resulted in improvements to ground cover.
Apart from awards judging panels, Catchment Management Authorities have handed out millions to farmers for ‘wire and water’ projects across Australia under Caring For Our Country funding, despite “the extensive evidence base that indicates stocking rate management, and not grazing system, is the major driver of pasture and animal productivity.” (Trevor Hall, - Investigating Intensive Grazing Systems in Northern Australia, MLA Project code: B.NBP.0353 a)
Why is it so? The gap between farmer experience and scientific experimental results has been acknowledged by scientists. Professor Ben Norton (formerly of Curtin amd Utah State Universities) told a WA Department of Food and Agriculture workshop in 2002, that the majority of published research studies of rotational grazing find that continuous grazing is better than or comparable to rotational grazing in terms of either animal or plant production. Yet “hundreds of graziers on three continents claim that their livestock production has increased by half or doubled or even tripled following the implementation of rotational grazing…” In the McClymont Lecture in 1998 he said: Science, based on 'hundreds of studies' concluded that planned grazing is not cost effective. (Norton, BE., "The application of grazing management to increase sustainable livestock production," Animal Production In Australia, Vol. 22 1998).

Professor Norton concluded that the root cause of the discrepancy between on-farm reality and the artificial ‘pots and plots’ approach which means that there is a methodology problem. The decision to simulate a grazing management situation by using 15ha to test 5 separate grazing systems was typical. All sheep in the trials were confined in small areas which forced them to graze evenly. In the real world, continuous stocking would lead to ‘patch’ grazing, where animals avoid the less palatable species and over graze the more palatable, leading to bare earth and colonization by weeds. Naturally the researchers concluded that there was no effect on herbiage mass from rotational grazing. Therefore, they concluded 'recipes' (exotic grazing management systems) don't work. This study’s findings were unreliable. 

The Queensland study of grazing systems also has a flawed methodology: The study failed to observe the basics of scientific method in several ways:
  • There were too many variables operating to allow the systems studied to demonstrate their capacities. The properties selected were not representative of any one of the 3 categories of grazing system, but were required to operate at least 2 of the systems at the same time.  Instead of clearly defining each category, the properties were graded on a continuum ranging from intensively grazed (cell) to extensively grazed (continuous).
  • Animal production data was made meaningless as “livestock were often grazed across different systems within a year”.
  • There were too few properties studied to provide enough data to make  the results reliable. Only a total of 9 growers were involved across north and south Queensland.
  • There was not enough variety in the management style of the growers. Even the continuous grazing practitioners used rest (spelling) and stocked according to the capacity of the landscape.
  • Despite the ambiguity of the study, several definitive statements were made based on the findings:
  • “There was little or no impact of grazing system on pasture attributes or soil surface condition.” 
  • “Diet quality was generally lower in the more intensive systems, especially during the growing season.” 
  • “There was no consistent difference in grazing days per ha due to grazing system.”
  • “The intensity of the grazing system had no consistent effect on soil surface condition, pastures or carrying capacity when compared to less intensive systems on the same property.” 
The science community has a track record of finding difficulty with farmer-driven innovation. The same resistance from science was encountered by the no-till movement, according to Bill Crabtree, who was scientific officer with the West Australian No-Till Farmers Association and the leading light of the no-till movement. “The adoption was farmer driven. Much of the scientific data being presented during the time of explosive change, during the early 1990s, was negative towards no-tillage.” He says that there are too few progressive researchers: “While no-till has been rapidly adopted by farmers, many researchers are still negative about no-tillage. This has restricted the amount of useful research that has been done.”

The purpose of the study was stated as ‘to assist beef producers make decisions about the most suitable grazing systems for their properties by providing accurate and impartial information.’ The danger is that growers will act upon the results of this flawed study.

The more intense the system, the more invested in fencing and water. "After they saw the study results, one property said they were looking at pulling up every second fence to minimise the labour needed for stock movements," Mr Hall told The Land.
An important part of the scientific method is the “Does it make sense?” test. If the results of trials defy expectations, it is advised that they be subject to scrutiny. In this case, the results confounded initial expectations, lead researcher Trevor Hall said. "We'd thought there would be massive changes, and that's what we'd be quantifying.”
It is hard to conclude that this $1m MLA/CSIRO study proved anything.

What did the readers think?

On "strip grazing", I've gained increased carrying capacity. I setup our cattle to strip graze perennial pastures and or annual fodder crops year-round. Prior to this method, when using set stock rate practices the carrying capacity was up to 3.33 acres/head. While using strip grazing the carrying capacity was up to 1.11 acres/head. However, strip grazing requires more effort, with those results, I'm happy to put in the effort. 
- Posted by Intensive Cattle Grazier

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Are you CFI-ready?

1-Day CFI Course: New Dates Announced
  • BENDIGO 27/2/2012; 
  • WARRAGUL 1/3/2012; 
  • TARANG 5/3/2012; 
  • WAGGA WAGGA 13/3/2012
To register, call (02) 6374 0329, email Louisa Kiely or register online. 

Course Contents:
  • What Is Carbon Farming?
  • Why is it so important for the future of your community?
  • What is the Carbon Farming Initiative? What does it mean for you?
  • How will it change the way you farm?
  • What activities are covered?
  • What new opportunities for additional farm-based revenue are likely?
  • Farm emissions: what are they; how can they be reduced?
  • Decision-making tools for Carbon Farmers. 
  • Soil Carbon – What is it? How does it benefit agriculture?  
  • Soil health, nutrition, production, and water efficiency…
  • Planning tools and options to maximising carbon soil sequestration. 
  • Growing Soil Carbon: the role of the farmer, their animals, their plants, and the microbial communities
  • Opportunities and risk management.
  • Safe, ethical soil carbon trading.
By Carbon Farmers of Australia
  • Campaigned since 2005 for farmers’ rights to sell farm carbon credits.
  • Conducted the first study tour of the USA soil carbon industry in 2006
  • Secured first order for Australian soil carbon from Chicago Climate Exchange 2006.
  • Made first sales of Australian soil carbon credits in March 2007
  • Organised the first “Soil Science Summits” between scientists and farmers 2007.
  • Staged the world’s first Carbon Farming Conference, Mudgee 2007.
  • Launched the first formal training program on soil carbon 2008.
  • Helped secure $26 million in funds for research to soil carbon for trade 2009.
  • Invited to FAO rangelands and conservation farming events USA 2008/9.
  • Consulted by both Government and Opposition about farmer take up rates, 2010
  • Invited to give evidence as expert witness to Senate Inquiry 2011.
  • Methodology Proponents under the Carbon Farming Initiative 2011.
To register, call (02) 6374 0329, email Louisa Kiely or register online.  



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Climate-Smart Agriculture

“We need agriculture that can contribute to sequestering green house gas emissions and capturing carbon in the soil, agriculture that can move from being part of the problem - agriculture currently emits about 14 percent of global green house emissions and indirectly another 17 percent - to be part of the solution,” says Andrew Steer, Special Envoy for Climate Change at the World Bank. He calls it Climate-Smart Agriculture. 

It is “agriculture that will strengthen food security, adaptation and mitigation where farmers use proven conservation agriculture techniques together with innovative technologies such as drought and flood tolerant crops, improved early warning systems and risk insurance, We need climate –smart agriculture, which can provide a triple win for farmers by creating higher yields and increasing climate resilience, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and storing carbon in plants and the soil.” Last month, leading scientists from 38 countries agreed. Gathering in the Dutch town of Wageningen, to share research findings on this phenomenon, they were united in calling on the negotiators in Durban to recognize and support the potential that Climate-Smart Agriculture offers. In September, the Government of South Africa hosted a meeting of African Agricultural Ministers who noted the crucial opportunity of a "triple win" for African farmers, and called for support from the international community to incorporate Climate-Smart Agriculture into existing regional and national agriculture plans.

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“Get out of the way” - World Bank 

“Farmers need policies that remove obstacles to implementing climate-smart agriculture, and create synergies with alternative technologies and pracĀ­tices.” Among the millions of words being uttered at COP 17 this week, these are the most potent. They come from the World Bank. The Bank believes it is time that the 194 nations attending the Durban meeting got serious about Agriculture – the life and death issue: ‘The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) places a high priority on agriculture. Article 2 of the treaty states that the “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations... should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient... to ensure that food production is not threatened... ” It is thus surprising that a detailed treatment of agriculture has yet to enter any of the Agreements. The negotiatĀ­ing text proposing an agriculture work program under the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) was already available for COP 15 in Copenhagen but has yet to be adopted. ‘Addressing agriculture is critical to achieving global climate change goals, both in terms of adaptation and mitigation. Agriculture will be significantly impacted by climate change, and is crucial for global food security, rural development and poverty alleviation. It can also contribute significantly to meeting mitigation targets.

 Food security, adaptation and mitigation can and should be dealt with in an integrated manner — thus the need to incorporate agriculture in future climate change agreements. ‘Key deliverables for COP 17 include: 
  • An agriculture work program under SBSTA that covers both adaptation and mitigation. It should be informed by science to enhance the role of agriculture in achieving synergies between adaptation, mitigation and food security
  • Text that makes crops and pasture eligible under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol ‘Placing agriculture in a global agreement would help provide a policy framework for fully incorporating agriculture into adaptation and mitigation strategies. Further work on numerous technical issues (e.g. monitoring methods, identification of new technologies and approaches) and institutional issues (e.g. how to make sure benefits reach poor farmers) would be stimulated by such an agreement.’

Climb down from your camel!

“If you want to barter with us, get down off that camel! This quotation – from the Cluetrain Manifesto – urges organizations that want to engage fully with their stakeholders to meet them on their turf. Scientists who are genuinely commited to collaborative science should get down off their camels.

The crisis of soil security has a simple solution: a shift in the behaviour of soil managers. This requires there to be a desire in farmers to change the way they farm. This simple solution has high barriers to implementation. They are economic and social and political. These barriers are not insurmountable, but they can only be overcome by making radical changes to the way farmers are engaged.

A desire for sustainable practices arises from personal values that are enshrined in culture and thrive, survive or crash-dive in a social context. The average farmer desires to protect the landscape out of an innate sense of respect for Nature. However there are many perceived risks facing a farmer wishing to act on these desires:
  • The need to maintain production for economic returns;
  • The lack of knowledge of alternatives;
  • The opinions of neighbours and others in the district;
  • The media controversy over ‘natural’ practices;
  • The “Green” connotations surrounding the alternatives; and
  • The opinions of family members.
The concept of a network of progressive farmers acting as a research base and a demonstration platform has been floated. It is intended that, unlike the conventional top-down approach to conducting research about agricultural practices, a more collaborative spirit would produce more cohesive and better informed methodologies.

The history of scientific enquiry into alternative land management practices – such as grazing management, pasture cropping, no-till cropping – is littered with cases where the experimental design failed to approximate on-farm reality. 
The sources of success with sustainable farm management are not easy to identify or understand. The farmer is managing a complex bio-economic system that is subject to rapid change and uncertainty and relies upon the farmer’s skills, knowledge, intuition and passion for the task. It cannot to broken down to a series of disconnected roles and responsibilities and subjected to laboratory experiment.

Rather, a sustainable farm could be conceived of as being a cultural artefact. The phenomenon of the successful sustainable farmer could best be studied by using an anthropological approach, focussing on the values underpinning the shift and how the shift was made in the social context. 

The landscape can be described in an interpretive manner, with a range of biodiversity and soil health indicators (in the absence of data) to support the profile of the case study of success.

Each farm is unique and each farmer is unique, and by describing how they solve common problems, the communication value of the study would be a valuable means of giving those on the threshold the ‘permission’ they seek to make the shift.

According to the Bell Curve of Diffusion of Innovation Model, there are only two segments to be engaged in this process: the leading farmers are Innovators (2.5%), the vanguard, and the Early Adopters (12.5%), the first wave of followers. The members of these segments, and the third, the Early Mature (35%), are differentiated by their risk tolerance. Innovators have high tolerance, Early Adopters  have lower tolerance but see being left behind as a countervailing risk. The Early Mature have even lower tolerance to risk than both Innovators and Early Adopters, but follow when it appears ‘everybody’s doing it’. 

The first segment gives the second, much larger segment the permission they seek to take the risk as the second would give the third. This is where the network concept could operate. 

Engagement Strategies: Collaboration must be more than consultation with stakeholders. It must be closer to a relationship between colleagues from different specialties. In order for collaboration to be genuine, there must be mutual respect for the disciplines each party must observe in order to practice their profession.
It is recommended that a cross-training approach be adopted whereby the scientists involved attend an Holistic Resource Management course and the farmers attend a course in Practical Agricultural Science 101.
This would demonstrate commitment and at the same time heighten the engagement of both sides and lead to better project designs. It would give farmers more realistic expectations of science and more ownership of the results. It would set the bar for future engagement between scientists and practitioners.

By adopting a more holistic approach to studying the dynamic of successful sustainable farming through a two-way transfer of skills and knowledge, both parties in the collaboration can contribute to the solution to soil security to their fullest extent.

“Go back!” CSIRO’s Canute tells No-Till Tsunami - How Science greets farmer-driven innovation: The Case of No-Till

When King Canute commanded the waves of the ocean to retreat, he was trying to show his followers that he couldn’t command Mother Nature. Since Day 1, official science has tried to turn back the tide of no-till, and it is still at it. Despite no-till plateauing at 90% adoption in many districts, the CSIRO is advising farmers to get out the mouldboard and do some deep plowing. CSIRO farming systems agronomist John Kirkegaard told the recent World Congress on Conservation Agriculture in Brisbane that farmers shouldn’t be afraid of flirting with traditional cultivation.

He accused the no-till movement of adopting a rigid, purist approach to cultivation. “While everybody is striving to uphold the principles of no-till farming, at times it might make good sense to do some cultivation or to remove some stubble,” he said. “People might do a strategic cultivation to get lime into the soil,” he said.

Not so, says Bill Crabtree who has done more research on no-till than anyone else in 25 years, most notably as the Scientific Officer of the West Australian No-Till Farmers Association “Lime does not need tillage to move it to depth,” he reported in the GRDC-funded WAN3 and WAN6 Projects.  (WAN3 - Scientific Officer Project or "No-till Systems Scientific Officer" for "The development and extension of no-till farming systems in WA" October 2002)

Bill, a scientist himself, reports encountering hostility from the science community in the early days of the no-till revolution: “The adoption was farmer driven. Much of the scientific data being presented during the time of explosive change, during the early 1990s, was negative towards no-tillage.” He says that there are too few progressive researchers: “While no-till has been rapidly adopted by farmers, many researchers are still negative about no-tillage. This has restricted the amount of useful research that has been done. Many researchers are very quick to say
‘we told you so’ when problems emerge. It would be great if they said ‘let’s push on and refine the system to cope with the new challenges’. One thing is for sure, the farmers are not keen to go back!”

It appears that farmer-led innovation is immediately suspect to those who see their role as providing farmers with new technologies and techniques: “In the early 1990’s there was enormous farmer enthusiasm for the adoption of no-tillage… Some senior staff from the Western Australian Department of Agriculture (WADA) were not positive about this farmer enthusiasm and their rapid adoption of no-tillage. Farmers were frustrated by what they believed to be, a lack of objective WADA data that reflected their positive whole-farm benefits from their adoption of no-tillage.”
There was a lot to be enthusiastic about with no-till: “It has lifted whole farm yields, improved time of sowing, reduced evaporation, stopped soil erosion, lifted soil carbon levels, improved soil biological fertility (by not burning the soil with tillage), reduced farm energy inputs, and perhaps most importantly it has turned many of our soils into sponges with good soil structure. Making the soil biologically soft has helped us to maximise water use efficiency where water is scarce, and sometimes when intense rainfall occurs the water has been able to get to a depth where it is available for ‘drought proofing’…

“Yet, interestingly there was much resistance to this technology initially despite sound scientific data. It was a brave and exciting time to go against the convention on an idea that was obviously so right for so many reasons. They say, ‘change is first denied, then vehemently opposed before being accepted as self-evident’,” he said in his acceptance speech when receiving the prestigious McKell Medal in 2010 from the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council. He is credited with being the main force behind no-till’s rapid expansion in Australia and the USA.

Dr Kirkegaard is an ideological warrior in the battle to suppress farmer-led innovation. He is one of the authors of the “farmers can’t afford to tie up the nutrients required to sequester carbon in soils” doctrine which uses a theoretical formula to ‘prove’ that a farmer cannot increase carbon levels and production without heavy application of inputs. (The Hidden Cost of Humus, GroundCover, September 2009). 

But Bill Crabtree reported to the same Conservation Agriculture conference in Brisbane that biologically-active soils under no-till were being fertilized from a mystery source which raises questions over the established wisdom of how nitrogen replenishment works. Mr Crabtree said no-till farmers who had been unable to include legumes in their rotations were finding that soil nitrogen levels were not depleting as fast as expected.

“I have found that people who have kept all their stubble and not grown a legume in the system have more nitrogen in their soil than what we would expect them to have,” he said. “Some people will say they are getting the nitrogen out of the straw, but if the organic carbon is not going down across 10 years and you are harvesting 75 units of nitrogen (in the grain) every year and you are only putting on 25 units (in fertiliser) every year, then it has to be coming from somewhere.”

Mr Crabtree challenged scientists and researchers to investigate why nitrogen levels were holding up under legume-free, cereal cropping regimes. “Some scientists will think it is not possible to have a non-legume rotation and be fixing nitrogen,” he said. Mr Crabtree suggested there might be other factors at play in fixing nitrogen in addition to the known sources of lightning and rhizobial bacteria. 

“We know lightning can give you one or two kilograms of nitrogen. In the air we breathe there is 78 per cent nitrogen with bonds that are unbreakable except by lightning. The lightning will crack that open and that is why you get a little bit of nitrogen,” he said. “Or it can be broken open by rhizobia in legume crops like peas, chickpeas and lupins that fix nitrogen from the air.

“The group of rhizobia bacteria aren’t the only ones that can do it. There are others that live in the soil that can do it.” Free-living bacteria and algae – and even stubble-eating termites – might be part of the nitrogen story.

“But the science community needs to work out why farmers are seeing what they are seeing. If we don’t there will be very good no-till farmers who get frustrated with the establishment who are disagreeing with them and they will go to ‘muck and mystery’ fertiliser companies and buy products that rarely add value to a farmer’s bottom line.”

Despite his reliance on ‘anecdotal’ evidence sourced from farmers, Mr Crabtree denies it to the farmer-driven innovation in the biofertiliser industry. Both Crabtree and Kirkegaard could be prisoners of their own paradigms, suspicious of bioferts as the next wave of farmer-driven innovation crashes on the rocks of othodoxy.
“There is a continuing need for farmers to take control of their own agronomic destiny. Researchers tend not to be leaders, but followers, and the lag phase is often very frustrating – especially when you are on the edge.”

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Termites for Nitrogen?

“Termites have bacteria in their stomachs that fix nitrogen,” says no-till consultant Bill Crabtree. “A CSIRO study found that having termites in a crop gave yield benefits by keeping open pores in the soil, reducing compaction and nutrient cycling. In the Geraldton area a guy who has been no-tilling for about 20 years sprayed out the termites in the field. By taking the termites out he found quite significant yield reductions happened a couple of years later.”

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Crikey, it’s all good for soil carbon

Crikey 23 November, 2011 Graziers are often perfect candidates for carbon soil sequestration projects, because grazing lends itself to carbon, says Michael Kiely, from Carbon Farmers of Australia, a not-for-profit company encouraging farmers to enter carbon markets. CFA is pushing for its own soil sequestration method to be approved, which employs the use of buffer pools for storage.

Kiely also noted that farmers shouldn’t put all their eggs in one methodology basket. “The focus on sequestration is misleading because there are several levels of offsets that can be accessed at the same time from the same set of practices,” explained Kiely.

He added that methane emissions reductions from animals, reduction in nitroxide emissions from changing fertiliser practices, environmental plants and strategic plantings could all be implemented at the same time by farmers. “The whole portfolio put together in a method that exposes farmers to an acceptable level of risk is the ideal operation of the Carbon Farming Initiative,” said Kiely.

Although, he did suggest the potential carbon farmers exercise caution: “We recommend a beginner should not commit to changing their whole operation in one whole swoop, just put 200 hectares aside.
“The other thing that motivates carbon farmers is a love of the land, to treat it well and give it the best chance to perform,” added Kiely. “One of the great rewards of the carbon farming is seeing the land respond with joy to the rest, resuscitation and regeneration.”

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Property Values under the Carbon Farming Initiative

The Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) is an incentive program that rewards landholders for adopting certain land management practices that reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions or store carbon in trees and soil.

The CFI represents an additional revenue stream for farmers, depending on the condition of the landscape and practices conducted in previous years.

The suitability of the property for Carbon Farming can be estimated by a Carbon Farming Audit which scores the holding on 10 dimensions:
1. Soil structure
2. Soil health
3. Erosion
4. Ground Cover
5. Hydrology
6. Tree cover
7. Size
8. Potential Usage (grazing, cropping)
9. Average Rainfall
10. Fertiliser History

These dimensions can be used as indicators of soil carbon levels and potentials, opportunity for environmental and other plantings, and fertiliser management opportunities.

A Carbon Farming Opportunity Report can add an extra dimension to the value proposition of a property. This is especially so with degraded properties. For instance, the more degraded the soil, the lower the carbon levels, the more new carbon can be ‘sequestered’ or drawn down from the atmosphere by plants and stored in the soil.

Similarly, the higher the fertiliser applications, the more nutrients being tied up in the soil, the less is available to plants, the more fertiliser needs to be applied to maintain effectiveness. But replacing chemical fertilisers with other nutrient sources allows the landholder to claim carbon credits for reducing emissions caused by fertiliser.

Again, an estimation of stock carrying capacity plus average stocking rates can indicate potential for carbon credits arising from methane reductions.

NB. No warranties can be given that any price will be achieved.

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Wanted: Experienced Carbon Farmers

The Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) is intended to reward farmers who can make sustainable increases in carbon levels in soil.

The CFI’s Integrity Standard known as “Additionality” dictates that only future sequestration will be rewarded. Existing stores will not.

Therefore farmers whose soils are already rich with carbon will be penalised for doing the right thing while those who punished the land until recently will be rewarded. A perverse outcome.

  • Investors see opportunities in the CFI for returns from agriculture in the emerging scenario of climate change and food security.
  • To realise the opportunity they need access to expertise in carbon farming, in particular, knowledge of soil carbon dynamics.
  • This creates an opportunity for experienced carbon farmers to participate in the rewards flowing from the CFI.
Consultancy: To meet anticipated demand for this expertise, Carbon Farmers of Australia is establishing a consultancy service with the following benefits for carbon farmers and investors:
  • Advising the client on CFI opportunity and methodology requirements
  • Matching client with consultant(s)
  • Providing a framework for delivering the consultancy service
  • Managing the consultancy relationship (where necessary)
Consultant’s Responsibilities: The Carbon Farmer would be required to perform the following tasks:
  • Advise the Client on Property selection.
  • Draw up a Carbon Farming Plan for the Property.
  • Help set Benchmarks for the Plan.
  • Help select a Manager for the Property.
  • Direct the Manager in implementation of the Plan.
  • Mentor the Manager.
  • Report on progress against Benchmarks in the Plan.
This consultancy creates an opportunity for both Carbon Farmer and the Investor to benefit from the power of soil carbon increases to regenerate the landscape and play an important part in the global effort to soften the blow of Climate Change. 

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State of the Voluntary Carbon Markets 2011

For five years, Forest Trends’ Ecosystem Marketplace and Bloomberg New Energy Finance have published the State of the Voluntary Carbon Markets Reports to shed light on trading volumes, credit prices, project types, locations, and the motivations of buyers in this market.

‘In 2010, suppliers reported a total volume of 131.2 MtCO2-e transacted in the global voluntary carbon markets. Compared to the 98 MtCO2-e transacted in 2009, volumes grew by 34% to exceed historic “over-the-counter” (OTC) and overall transaction volumes. The OTC market last year transacted 127.9 MtCO2-e, or 97% of global market share. Transactions collapsed on the CCX, which, due to the US Senate’s failure to secure a climate bill, ceased trading at the end of 2010.

‘In 2010, almost 75% of all OTC volumes were transacted by carbon-conscious buyers who directly or through resellers offset emissions – some of them for the first time.  The buyers’ market that emerged in 2009 also became business-as-usual last year, requiring suppliers to meet savvy buyers on their playing field. “Three years ago we talked to companies who said, ‘Climate change? Tell me about that,’” remarked Freddy Sharpe, CEO of Australia-based Climate Friendly. “Now they come to us with a pre-measured footprint and specific requirements for this many tonnes of VERs from this project at this location and this price. Buyers are much more informed and aware than they were even a year ago.” 

Click here for more information.

Kyoto extended: China, India & USA get on board

 “The Durban summit marked the start of a new era, when all nations - from the richest to the poorest, the profligate as well as the thrifty - finally committed to curbs on their greenhouse gas emissions. The participants agreed that by 2015 they would finalise binding targets that will, for the first time, cover the majority of the world's emissions,” says New Scientist.

The latest Conference of the Parties (COP) in Durban agreed to work towards an agreement that legally binds all 194 nations – including China and India – instead of just the ‘rich’ countries. It was both “hard won and significant,” says ABCTV’s in-house economist Alan Kohler. There were 194 countries represented in Durban. This is good news for Australian farmers because it brings the linking of the Carbon Farming Initiative to global markets that much closer.

Why has it taken so long for the nations to agree to agree, even if they basically agreed to put off action until 2020? Twenty years ago the nations of the world made a very bad deal. “The basic problem is that 20 years ago the world was a very different place,” says Kohler. “Tiananmen Square had just happened and China was 10 years away from joining the World Trade Organisation. It was clearly a poor, developing country, as was India.” The original 1992 treaty excluded China from the “economies in transition” included in Annex 1 (mainly countries emerging from the USSR).

The bad deal? It was agreed that developing countries did not have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions unless they were paid to do so by Annex 2 countries. (Annex 2 is a sub-set of Annex 1, made up of what were the 23 richest countries, including the recently impoverished states Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Iceland.)

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol was the legally binding agreement between the 41 Annex 1 countries to reduce emissions by 6-8 per cent of 1990 levels between the years 2008 and 2012. President Clinton signed but Congress refused to ratify.
Negotiations staggered on from COP to COP. And the world changed: China “became the greatest manufacturing exporter the world has ever known. Within 10 years it had more or less bankrupted the United States and Europe by maintaining an undervalued currency and helping to keep their interest rates down,” says Kohler. “The result is that China is now rich and Europe and the US are poor. Some European nations are destitute and should definitely not be in Annex 2, and probably not even Annex 1.”

China is now the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter (23% of emissions in 2008 – USA 18%, Europe 14%). The breakthrough at Durban is that the next climate change treaty will bind all nations, not just the ‘developed’ and the ‘rich’. But the deal includes a new fund, called the Green Climate Fund: $US100 billion to be paid out by the developed to the developing countries. Meanwhile the Kyoto Protocol has been extended to 2020. “But at least a ‘road map’ was agreed,” says Kohler.

It leaves Australia out front with the EU, NZ and several states of America. And there is every likelihood even a 2015 deadline will be difficult to meet, because the ‘rich’ countries will be much poorer and the developing countries – including China, Brazil and India – much richer. “As time goes on, the idea that Europe, America and Japan can, or should, pay the others $US100 billion a year to help them deal with climate change will seem more and more preposterous,” says Alan Kohler.

What stung the former refuseniks to change their attitude to signing a binding agreement? Canada.

Canada out, rest of the world in

UNFCCC executive director Christiana Figueres said the timing of Canada's move, a day after a deal to extend the protocol was clinched at a U.N. summit in South Africa, was surprising. "Whether or not Canada is a party to the Kyoto Protocol, it has a legal obligation under the (U.N. framework on climate change) convention to reduce its emissions, and a moral obligation to itself and future generations to lead in the global effort," Figueres said. Canada, a major energy producer which critics say is becoming a climate renegade, has long complained Kyoto is unworkable because it excludes so many significant emitters.

Canada’s parting gift

Canada, a major energy producer, walked out on the Kyoto Protocol during the Durban meeting, but it made a big contribution to the landmark agreement as it went. It has long complained Kyoto is unworkable because it excludes major emitters (India and China). No country complained louder about the Canadian withdrawal than China – the biggest benefactor of funds from ‘rich’ countries for low emissions projects. Did the Chinese see Canada’s decision to take its hockey stick home the first indication that they could be killing the goose who lays the golden eggs?

Cap and Trade now in Canada

The province of Quebec has announced the launch of a carbon emissions cap-and-trade system in 2012, days after Canada became the only country to ratify and then withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol.                 From January, emitters in Quebec will be able to buy and sell greenhouse gas emission allowances on a local market during an initial trial run that could eventually lead to a continental cap and trade system. The following year caps will be imposed on 75 big industrial polluters in the province. In 2015, fuel distributors and importers who exceed the annual threshold will also be subject to capping. The Western Climate Initiative -- a collaboration of US states and Canadian provinces to curb emissions - includes California, Quebec, and the Canadian provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Manitoba have committed to a cap-and-trade system. The second step in Quebec's program is to reach agreements with those four partners to link their cap and trade systems together.

Cap and Trade in India

‘Perform Achieve and Trade' (PAT), the flagship programme of the Indian Government’s National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency (NMEEE), is intended to stimulate energy efficiency investments that would enable industries to save at the minimum 5 per cent of their energy cost, estimated at 9.8 million tonnes of oil equivalent. The PAT scheme and NMEEE are an integral part of the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) which was released by the Prime Minister in June 2008. NAPCC outlined eight national missions for multi-pronged, long-term, and integrated strategies for achieving the key goals of sustainable development while balancing the concerns of climate change. The PAT energy efficiency targets will provide the industry an Energy Saving Certificate (ESCerts) which it can sell to another industry having mandatory target but unable to meet it. ESCerts so purchased would be deemed to be in fulfilment of compliance requirement for the underachiever and avoid the penalty for non-compliance under the Act. In almost every industrial sector, state-of-the-art energy-efficient plants coexist with less energy-efficient plants. The diversity of energy use is large with the least efficient plants in several sectors using two to six times more energy to manufacture a unit of the product than that used by the most efficient plant. Mindful of this diversity and the fact that mandating one target in a sector will inevitably result in closure of inefficient plants, the PAT scheme will mandate differential targets by clubbing together units in bands within each sector.  The flexibility of the PAT scheme to allow an obligated entity to purchase ESCerts for compliance will enable an economically efficient path for achieving the overall target set for the scheme. The first commitment period for PAT is likely to commence in 2012 and will run for three years. ESCerts' fungibility with the Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) that are being traded in the power exchanges is also being considered. The PAT mechanism could help save the industry about 10 million tonnes of oil equivalents in fuel savings, equivalent to over 5,600 MW of avoided capacity addition.
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