Commitment from farmers 'significant' or too much?

Saturday, July 14, 2012
The Government understands that it is asking a lot of farmers wanting to take part in the Carbon Farming Initiative. The commitment asked of farmers is significant, to ensure that credits generated by the scheme meet the strictest global standards, according to parliamentary secretary for climate change, Mark Dreyfus. "Australia comes to this with a very high reputation for scientific integrity, for regulatory integrity. We're expecting that Australian carbon credits will be in world demand for those reasons.” he said. Australian farmers will benefit from having to meet high standards to earn carbon credits. To earn credits for native revegetation projects, for example, that land must be locked up for 100 years.
But will the enthusiastic buyers find any growers willing to take the risk of signing a contract that lasts longer than their lifetime? Will the rules that make CFI Carbon Credits so attractive to buyers have the reverse effect on sellers?Could it be that locking up land is overkill, especially in the environmental plantings methodology?
  1. The methodology requires a planting density that reaches only 20% ‘crown cover’ at maturity, leaving 80% of the project area grassy vegetation that will need grazing to avoid baring of the soil due to desertification (rank and dead grasses stifle fresh grasses emerging).
  2. The carbon in the understory is not factored into the sequestration equation anyway.
  3. Occasional grazing can reduce fire loads.
  4. The methodology itself makes allowances for occasional grazing from 3 years after establishment.
Carbon Faming is not about locking productive land up. It is about making the land more productive by integrating trees and shrubs into the farm design. A change in practice is more attractive to a farmer if it has a production benefit.
But Mark Dreyfus says there is some good news: farmers will not face financial penalties if the credits they've earned are destroyed by a bushfire or drought. Now you're talking.

Australian Government shifts on Additionality?

Friday, July 13, 2012
The Australian Government is determined to avoid penalising landholders who have been managing their land well. The Savanna Burning Methodology allows landholders to choose a date to set the Baseline so they won't be excluded. Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change Mark Dreyfus told ABC Radio's PM program on 3 July: "land managers can get credit for all their good work in the future, without being penalised for any good work they've done in the past." This means that landholders will be able to earn carbon credits in future for land management practices they adopted before the start date of a recognised project.  

The precedent has been set that "good work" should be recognised: "As part of this methodology a baseline, which is set with reference to averaging annual emissions over the 10 years up to the project, and if they've already been doing recent pollution reduction burning, then that will be taken into account and the average will be set from the period immediately before the recent pollution reduction burning that they've been doing." The Methodology allows landholders to go back up to 6 years to start the 10-year average emissions estimation to set the Baseline. 

The Methodology for Savanna Burning puts it this way:
"A project’s baseline will be the estimated average annual CH4 and N2O emissions from the project area in the 10 years immediately preceding project commencement. Where strategic fire management has been implemented within the project area for a period of at least one year but no more than six years immediately prior to project commencement, the baseline emissions can be estimated as the 10 years preceding this period of fire management."

It remains to be seen if this provision can be used in a non-savanna methodology.

Real regulations needed for a Global solution

Thursday, July 12, 2012
In a piece reported by Econews today, China is laying the groundwork for their Carbon Market. Wow, this blows a complete hole in the 'rest of the world is doing nothing' argument! China is the rest of the world! Well, practically anyway! 

If you go to the article you will see some very similar words to the ones being used for our market: “The GHG emission reductions shall come from specific projects and be real, measurable, and additional.”

This is the language used to give buyers confidence they are getting what they are paying for! Given that we are ALL doing this to achieve overall reductions in GHG, so we have a planet to hand over to our grandkids, it is important that the world does maintain very strict rules and regulations. It's a pain when you are trying to make these 'methodologies' embedded in the Carbon Farming Initiative Process work, but necessary. 

For instance, I was talking to a Canadian aggregator yesterday. He aggregates (brings together) pools of soil carbon credits. And sells them - he's about to put a multi million dollar deal together. However, he says the Canadian Government has NOT insisted on the highest integrity in soil carbon, and as a result he believes the floor will drop out of that market. He welcomes Australia's approach.

He will be our International Speaker at this years Carbon Farming Conference and Expo, so you will be able to hear all about it.

Don't call it Carbon Farming

Thursday, July 12, 2012
They destocked Henbury Station and they’ve locked all 500,000ha of it up, and called it carbon farming.  It is the most high-profile example of ‘carbon farming’ but it sends all the wrong messages. Call it “Conservation” or a National Park, but it is not farming. 

It is simplistic and wrong to say that locking country up will protect it from degradation. The relationship between animals and vegetation is symbiotic when managed for balance. Grazing animals need plants for food. Plants need animals to graze them to prevent loss of groundcover and desertification which occurs when grasses die and oxidise. Plants need animals to disturb the soils around them and incorporate their carbon-rich dung and nitrogen-rich urine into it. Grazing can reduce fuel loads, reducing the severity of wildfires. And grazing is the only way that we can produce food in the rangelands. But not just any old grazing. 

Balance must be achieved by exposing the plants to grazing only to the point where the plant can easily recover. The roots of the plant need the leaves to be trimmed because they die back and then they return downwards. In each direction - coming and going - the soil microbes are excited by the food that the roots give them. Decomposing roots are partyfood for bacteria, etc. Roots returning by pushing down through the soil release delicious nectar that is also partyfood. The more partyfood we can offer soil microbes, the more they will manufacture the soil carbon which builds fertility, soil stability, water efficiency, biodiversity, and resilience. Destocking is a tactical tool, but it is not a strategy. It is not the presence of animals that is the problem; it is the recovery time allowed to the plant to deploy its leaves for maximum growth and maximum extraction of carbon from the atmosphere through the unique action of photosynthesis.

Soil Carbon baseline ALERT

Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Farmers involved in Action On The Ground projects which have soil carbon measurement as a key objective should ask their scientific adviser about the baseline measurement methodology you will be using. The requirement that the farm-scale or paddock-scale measurement method used for Action On The Ground be consistent with that used in the SCaRP is confusing. “SCaRP was not set up to baseline carbon contents on paddocks or farms”, Dr Jeff Baldock wrote in a paper published late last year. 

 So where does that leave you? Ask your scientific adviser the following questions: 
  1. Do we have a soil carbon baseline methodology that meets the Department's requirements? 
  2. Do we know if the baseline measurements that we take for this project will be useful for measuring carbon sequestered that we can put towards gaining offsets should they become available? 
  3. Will our involvement in this project disqualify us from earning soil carbon offsets in future because of the Additionality Integrity Standard? What can we do to avoid this outcome?

Global Warming good for soil carbon traders

Tuesday, July 10, 2012
GOOD NEWS for farmers who choose to trade soil carbon offsets: Global Warming will increase soil carbon sequestration rates for decades ahead, according to a recent research results summarized by the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change ( As the CO2 levels in the atmosphere increase, most plants increase photosynthetic rates to produce greater amounts of biomass. This leads to greater inputs of carbon to the soil from roots, root exudates and dead above-ground plant material. It’s not just about more biomass, either. CO2 enrichment typically reduces decomposition rates of dead plant materials present in soils. This phenomenon often leads to greater soil carbon sequestration. 

Scientists have concluded that, in spite of predicted increases in temperature, this stimulation of the below-ground carbon sequestration could exert a negative feed-back on the current rise of the atmospheric CO2 concentration. Finally, with more carbon in soils, soil structure and fertility should be improved, providing a positive feedback that further enhances plant growth and soil carbon sequestration.

Now you can afford to increase soil carbon

Sunday, July 08, 2012
One of the biggest puzzles about soil carbon has been solved. In 2008, 5 scientists published a short paper called "The Hidden Cost of Carbon Sequestration"*. Many people thought it shot a big hole in any prospect of Soil Carbon trading. Effectively, it made the claim that a farmer could not afford to increase carbon levels in their soils because humus ties up nitrogen and other nutrients needed by plants to grow. The farmer would have to buy extra fertiliser to replace that stolen by the humus and it would cost more to do that than soil carbon trading would pay. 

The lead author told me that, based on his paper's argument, the increases in soil C achieved by leading carbon farmers were doubtful. "

I am aware of Colin Seis's remarkable achievements, and I have wondered 
how he has succeeded in increasing soil organic matter in the topsoil by
 2%. If that increase is largely humus, then it is likely to contain, in 
organically bound form, about 2 tonne/ha of N, 400 kg/ha of P and 300
kg/ha of S. I puzzle about where such large amounts could have come


John Passioura". 

Well, now science has solved the puzzle. Free-living nitrogen-fixing bacteria are supplying 75% of the N a 2t/ha cereal wheat paddock in the Mallee uses, according to the Victorian DPI. A 12-year trial found bacteria are delivering 35kg/ha each year. In an intensive cropping regime the organic carbon level rose from 0.80% to 1% between 1997 and 2011. Cropping is usually a carbon-exporting activity. The CSIRO's Dr Margaret Roper has published a review of literature that estimates that the theoretical potential of the contribution of these bacteria is up to 150kgN/ha. 

The DPI's Ron Sonogan reported the Mallee trials: "Assuming a 0.2% increase in OC each year, this may well have added another 120kg/ha of nitrogen to the system over 14 years." The widespread shift to no-till and stubble-retention over the last 20 years has increased the carbon inputs which are a key driver for bacterial N2 fixation. Estimates of fixation were set more than 20 years ago and are therefore in need of up-dating, say the scientists. Australian Farm Journal reported the findings earlier this year, proving that the nutrients incorporated in humus don't have to come out of a bag. 

 *GRDC Groundcover Magazine Issue 76, p.19 (2008)

Carbon increases create miracle soils: GRDC

Saturday, July 07, 2012
They call them “suppressive” soils because they suppress disease in crops. Scientists are racing to find out why. But they know 2 things: 
  1. Soil microbes are responsible for them. 
  2. Soil carbon increases are the key. 
And  “There are soils right across the country where the incidence or severity of disease is suppressed, even in the presence of the pathogen that causes it, a host plant and a favourable environment,”  says Associate Professor Pauline Mele, LaTrobe University and principal research scientist, Department of Primary Industries Victoria (DPI).
“These disease-suppressive soils have been found to develop under management practices that supply higher levels of carbon inputs for more than five consecutive years. The carbon from plant roots and crop residues is biologically available and provides an important food source for soil biota, ” says CSIRO’s Dr Gupta Vadakattu in GRDC’s GroundCover 96 Soil Biology Supplement.

Disease suppression is the result of increased species density among microbial communities in soils associated with increased carbon levels. We know that, when soil carbon levels are rising, biodiversity increases and this has the effect of increasing resilience (or disease resistance). “We know the effect is due to the presence of a diverse range of ‘good’ micro-organisms,” says Professor Mele.

Three facts Dr Mele mentioned provide further evidence that soil carbon is a key influence:
  1. Balance in the microbial  community is critical: “upsetting the balance or sterilising the soil can cause the disease to strike with a vengeance”.
  2. It is not soil type specific; it could therefore be a soil health agent – such as carbon – that is at work: “ we believe every soil has the potential to be suppressive”
  3. It is a feature of soil heavily influenced by a farmer’s management practices: “it’s just a matter of working out what management techniques will encourage it.”
The fact that a microbial community is a natural system and such systems exhibit ‘emergent properties’ as they become more complex. It is not one variable at work. However, reductionist science tends to look for the single factor. However the Professor says, “At this stage, though, we’re still trying to identify exactly what organisms, or combination of organisms, are doing the work.”

“HIGH rainfall zone (HRZ) grain growers stand to increase yields and save significant amounts of money on chemicals, if the secrets of suppressive soils can be unlocked,” reports The Land. Growers lose an estimated $250 million each year from root lesion nematodes alone. “Soil biology is tipped to be the ‘next big thing’ in terms of productivity gains and a five-year research program is currently being funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) to address some of the knowledge gaps.” Having poured scorn on soil biology as “snake oil” and ‘witches brew’ for so long, the GRDC’s epiphany is welcome.

“The soil biological resource under our feet is seen as something of the ‘last frontier’ for the grains industry… We know it’s about competition for resources. If we create a habitat that favours one type of soil microbe, say through repeated use of the same management practice such as addition of fertiliser or sowing the same plant types, the community may end up with fewer types of biota present; thereby reducing the resilience of the system,” says Professor Mele.
The writing is on the wall for chemical companies. “Using biological suppression to reduce crop losses, without chemicals or with minimum chemical input, could improve the profitability of growers worldwide,” says the Professor.                                      
More information about the Soil Biology Initiative II is available at Research partners include the Victorian Department of Primary Industries (DPI Vic), Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestries (DAFF), Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA), and CSIRO.  

Removing animals from the land to make way for trees. Carbon Farming gone mad?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Again, the suggestion that to 'carbon farm' we may need to destock land. Somehow, I just don't find it exciting to think that we take grass eating animals out of a time honoured biological system which is dependant on well managed grass eating animals to survive and ensure we have food to eat and avoid desertification. Yes, I can see the temptation - Many large areas are moving towards degradation. It seems simple - take the destructive animals off, solve the issue! 

The problem is, its NOT the animals. Its the management! All farmers who have discovered the benefits of time controlled, or managed grazing - (and there are many, including almost all of those who now win awards in a grazing environment), have discovered the win/win which is available for allowing your pasture to rest, simply by changing the management of your animals. Just so happens that we can also take CO2 out of the air and store it in the soils while we do this!

The Carbon Farming Initiative itself says it aims to put trees in 'marginal land' only. Destocking entire farms surely does not come into this category! Don't forget, under the rules of the CFI - putting in trees is a LONG TERM decision - take care if you think one day you may like to put the animals back on - for instance when your pasture has benefited from the rest it so badly needs. 

Don't get me wrong - Trees are very important, and we intend to put some onto our place using the CFI rules. But not to destock to do so. 

Luckily, as reported a few days ago, one of the great entrepreneurs of the grazing system approach already has done the work for getting what he is calling 'intensive grazing' onto the Positive List. This is incredibly important as we move towards a viable, profitable soil carbon sequestration methodology under the CFI rules. 

This will enable farmers to be paid for storing carbon in the soils , using their animals as the tools they really are. We already have submitted a soil carbon methodology to the CFI process, and we are moving through the system of acceptance as well. It is slow work, being the first. 

So, graziers, take heart - there are a couple of groups working to ensure that your hard work on your flocks and herds will not be lost to a suggestion that you 

Soil carbon sequestration is considered amongst the 'hardest' of the sequestration efforts to measure, monitor etc. However, it was hard to get over the Blue Mountains in the early days, it was hard to get a man on the moon, and its been hard to do a million other things. HARD is not a reason to stop! 

Good media coverage last week - Augers well for future

Monday, June 25, 2012
Last week we were interviewed by 2 sets of journos as they try to gather info on what farmers are doing and 
thinking about with all the new 'carbon era' noise around. This piece aired on PM last Thursday or Friday. We also got a run in the Sustainability Report - click here to read the full article.

Farmers are wondering: Should they, shouldn't they - AND, while the soil carbon sequestration meth seems to take forever, we have only ONE method which broadacre farmers can take part in. The Tree Planting meth. 

So, we've decided to put about 20ha. of a tree planting methodology onto our place - basically to see if we can figure out how hard/easy it is for the ordinary bloke to take part. This is the STATED aim of the CFI - we are meant to be able to take the meth 'off the shelf' and do it on farm. So, lets see. 

I know I can call someone who knows about planting trees, but how do I keep the most of the money in the regions? What local skills will I be able to use? Who holds the know-how to navigate the approval process? Will I need a degree to understand it? Can you do it without $1/2 million from the biodiversity fund round one? 

Most of this carbon market knowledge resides in the cities - which is why we are mounting our NEW Carbon Market Summit. We are bringing all that knowledge about HOW this works - legally, in the accounting sense, for councils and NRM agencies to come and learn - If this is going to happen, lets make the regions strong, let our accountants, lawyers, councils and others be the BEST informed they can be! Lets own the bl.....dy thing! (please note, this is ADDITIONAL to our annual Carbon Farming Conference and Expo - now in its sixth year) 

Rest assured however, we are still the champions of the soil! After all, we owe our existence to the interaction between the sun,  the rain and the soil! And the soil is the one we can 'manage'. It is still exciting for me to realise that farmers have control over the largest carbon sink over which we have control in the world . Rise up, Sir Farmer! 

If anyone else would like to add land into our tree methodology 'project', I'm happy to turn it into a bigger project - not sure how you do that if its over more than one area and one state, but I am sure we can figure it out! I'm talking with a company which does have experience in tree carbon so I won't be going it alone. If you don't have any land, but want to be part of a 'team of discovery' also happy to have you on board. I have a feeling there will be heaps of work to do! 

 And we'll learn all about HOW the heck this works.