Is 100 Years of Healthy Soils too much?

Friday, April 06, 2012
So what’s the big deal about being paid to stop flogging the land for 100 years? It has taken us only 234 years to lose half of the top soil that we rely upon to feed ourselves. We are still losing it at 5 times the rate of replacement. How hard can it be to stop hammering the source of your children’s and grandchildren’s food?
Why is 100 years of doing the right thing for soils such a scary thought? There is not a single soil scientist who doesn’t agree that increasing soil carbon is a good thing for the farm, the landscape and the nation. Soil carbon sequestration is not a silver bullet. It’s a no-brainer.
It stops erosion. It buffers against drought. It restores fertility. It builds biodiversity. And it fights Climate Change. The carbon that the soil needs is taken out of the Atmosphere where it is doing damage. Farmers command the only technology that can convert Greenhouse Gas into soil and food: photosynthesis. It’s easy to capture CO2 because we do it all the time for a living, growing grass and grain, bushes and trees. But don''t some people tell us our soils are slow to put on carbon? Yes, but highly skilled carbon farmers have shown that they can sequester carbon 10 times faster than non-farmers. The farmers practice every day.
But don’t the experts say that we lose carbon as fast as we take it in? Yes, they do say that, but we know that carbon can be trapped safely in soil humus for 1,000 years or more. And humus can make up 80% of carbon in the soil.
But isn’t it risky? Don’t they ask you to give the carbon credits back if you lose soil carbon because of drought or fire? No, they don’t. You just have to build it up again, by doing what you did to get it in the first place: treating the soil with respect. (You have the option to 'relinquish' the units you earned.)
There are some people who don’t want farmers to be paid to do this. They want them to do it for free. The Carbon Farming Initiative is the first opportunity for farmers to be paid the true cost of agricultural production instead of being expected to work to protect the environment on behalf of the community for nothing. Simply putting a dollar figure on soil speaks volumes.
To start A Century of Healthy Soils, we need to make it easy for farmers to get involved. Right now, with the CFI legislation the way it is, it’s like trying to bring down the road toll by fitting cars with square wheels. It works. You’ll also solve the traffic problem. There won’t be any.
There are ways to achieve Permanence without scaring the farmers: insurance, buffering or carbon pooling. Spreading the risk is reducing the risk. Our “Soil Carbon Methodology” uses buffering and pooling – a type of self insurance. It removes the danger without risking the result.
Instead of scaring farmers off by making the risks seem worse than they truly are, we should be recruiting them with a vision of how good life can be when your soils are rich with carbon.
So next time you hear someone reciting a long list of negatives about the prospects of being paid to increase soil carbon, ask them: “Is 100 Years of Healthy Soils too much?”

*Carbon Farmers of Australia is a not-for-profit company.
* MIchael Kiely is a Director of Healthy Soils Australia.

The material in this blog is made available for general information only and on the understanding that Carbon Farmers of Australia is not providing advice. Readers should familiarise themselves with the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) and obtain professional advice suitable to their particular circumstances. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy, correctness and reliability of this publication, Carbon Farmers of Australia and all persons acting for Carbon Farmers of Australia preparing this publication accept no liability for the accuracy of or inferences from the material contained in this publication, and expressly disclaim liability for any person’s loss arising directly or indirectly from the use of, inferences drawn, deductions made, or acts done in reliance on this publication.

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A new DOIC

Monday, April 02, 2012
The permanent Domestic Offsets Integrity Committee (DOIC) has been appointed to replace the interim DOIC which was appointed in 2011 when the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) legislation passed into law. The DOIC is an independent expert committee charged with "supporting the environmental integrity of carbon offsets generated under the Carbon Farming Initiative." The new DOIC includes the following:
  • Professor Timothy Reeves (Chair): Professor Reeves is an international consultant with expertise in the development and extension of sustainable agricultural productions systems and crop-livestock integration. He is a Professorial Fellow at the Melbourne School of Land and Environment, a director of The Future Farm Industries Cooperative Research Centre, was a Senior Expert for the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and was formerly the Director-General of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre.
  • Dr Tony Press: Dr Press has led one of Australia’s leading climate science bodies, the Australian Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre as CEO since 2009 and has been Chair of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens Board for many years. He was previously a senior executive on the Environmental Forest Taskforce in the Department of the Environment and Heritage and was the Director of the Cooperative Research Centre for the Sustainable Development of Australia’s Tropical Savannas.
  • Professor Lynette Abbott: Professor Abbott is the Vice Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Science and Professor in the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Western Australia. Professor Abbott is an internationally well known and respected scientist who has published widely in soil, agricultural and botanical research journals. Professor Abbott’s principle area of scientific expertise is within the agricultural sector with broad expertise in soil biology, including retention/protection of soil carbon.
  • Ms Rebecca Burdon: Ms Burdon is the principal economist at the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Ms Burdon has extensive international experience assessing the economic impact of existing and proposed regulatory interventions using statistical and econometric analysis and modelling. Prior to working with ACMA Ms Burdon assisted the NSW government with the development of the Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme, specifically with the rules governing the creation of NSW Greenhouse Gas Abatement Certificates from demand side abatement activities.
  • Dr Brian Keating (CSIRO representative): Dr Keating is Director of the National Research Flagship on Sustainable Agriculture focusing on productivity, greenhouse gas abatement and sustainability challenges in Australian agriculture, forestry and land-use systems. Brian has 35 years experience in agricultural and natural resource management R&D with leadership roles including the Chief of the CSIRO Division of Sustainable Ecosystems (2004-2008) and a past Board member of Sugar, Rainforest Ecology and Management and Tropical Savannas CRCs. Brian has authored over 200 scientific papers covering diverse topics including soil and water management, plant nutrition, soil carbon and nitrogen cycling, crop physiology, farming systems analysis and design, bioenergy, simulation modelling, climatic risk management and food security. He is a continuing member of the Editorial Board of the international journal, Agricultural Systems.
  • Ms Shayleen Thompson (Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency representative): Ms Thompson is the Head of the Land Division in the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. She has worked on international and domestic climate change policy and programs since 1995. The Land Division was established in July 2010 to provide a coherent and coordinated approach to climate change mitigation.
The DOIC's role is to assess methodology proposals for use under the scheme and advise the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, who makes a decision whether to approve methodology proposals. The Committee also provides advice to the Minister on regulations specifying eligible activities under the Carbon Farming Initiative that are not common practice, known as the 'positive list'. The Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency may also seek the Committee's technical and scientific advice on other offset matters.

No-till farmers doubled soil carbon levels

Monday, March 19, 2012
Farmer Ray Harrington was a founder of the West Australian No Till Farmers Association. WANTFA celebrates 10 years this month."The soils on our farms have become more fertile and we've doubled our organic carbon levels on pretty mongrel soils."

No-till farmers report that the technique has doubled their soil organic matter - that is a 100% increase. Yet research repeatedly fails to detect a statistical difference in soil carbon sequestration between no-till and conventional cultivation. Both scientists and farmers should be concerned about this issue because - as the no-till adoption rates prove - farmers are always willing to forge ahead alone. Friction between the parties over this can lead to poor allocation of resources, ie. research funds 

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Our 'vested interest'

Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Recently more than one or two people have accused us of having a vested interest in the outcome of the Carbon Farming Initiative. Well they're right! Here you see our vested interests. Our grandchildren -the ones who will feel the full brunt of Climate CHange when we won't be there to protect them. We do have an ulterior motive. We're not just doing this for farmers. We're doing it for these kids - Brody, Portia and Xavier. Now that we are getting towards the pointy end of the process of winning for farmers the right to grow and be rewarded for growing their soil carbon levels, it would be strange if those who have been against our campaign all along should not stir the possum at this late stage. 

These are the facts: Carbon Farmers of Australia is a not-for-profit company. We have launched many services for farmers interested in soil carbon credits in the past 6 years to drive the campaign forward and because no one else did: the Carbon Farming Conference, the Carbon Cocky Awards (with the Central West CMA), the Carbon Farming Handbook, the 1-day Carbon Farming Workshop, the blog, the Newsletter, the Carbon Farming & Trading Association. With our colleagues in the Bridge Consortium, we have donated hundreds of person-hours working on a soil carbon methodology for which we cannot claim any intellectual property and therefore no return apart from seeing the market open. 

We are launching a Regional Carbon Market Summit to make sure as much of the wealth created by the CFI stays in the regions. We are launching a representation, advocacy and aggregation service to give farmers the option of dealing with a known quantity in the new market and because there isn't much knowledge about trading in the traditional channels because few have paid attention and taken the time to learn this new language and farmers need information NOW. And finally we have launched a service for companies wanting to go carbon neutral voluntarily, to create a market for farm offsets. 

Anyone who thinks working for 6 years for nothing in order to make a business in a market that there was no guarantee of ever emerging is a smart move must have rocks in their heads. Vested interest, indeed.

We all have a vested interest in the success of the soil carbon offsets market. Soil Carbon is widely acknowledged as the only chance we've got to hold Global Warming around the 2°C level beyond which the scientists recite doomsday scenarios. Remember that famous phrase from our first Conference: "We're all in this together." Not to get rich. What's the use of money if you've got no hope for the future?

Destocking vs managing stock differently

Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Temporary destocking for deep regeneration before careful reintroduction sounds like a sound strategy and well worth funding by a temporary stewardship provision. Unfortunately this Government does not believe in the European practice of paying farmers not to grow produce. Witness what happened to the RM Williams Company's attempt to get carbon credits by locking up Henbury Station. There may be some money for it available in the $1bn Biodiversity Fund introduced under The Carbon Farming Initiative. There may be some money available for research under the Action On The Ground program run by DAFF. David Pollock might even be able to use grazing management intensively on a small area of Wooleen to generate revenue while saving the rest... Evan Pensini of Cheela Plains Station in the Pilbara has been trying to perfect the formula for capturing carbon in the rangelands for more than 10 years. Across a small section of his 133,000 hectare property west of Paraburdoo, he manages a mob of cattle by cell grazing. He says the paddocks are closely monitored to ensure ground cover is restored. "We've basically tripled our carrying capacity since we've been implementing the system and we've had some extremely dry years in amongst it as well, but the whole object of is the point that you're only grazing when you've got that food on offer."

Answers from David and Frances

Monday, March 12, 2012
Under the impression that David Pollock had destocked his station Wooleen permanently, we put a series of questions to him after his story appeared on Australian Story. WHile he and partner Frances have not turned the property into a 'national park with no income', their radical destocking strategy has forced a lot of graziers to consider their own stiuation. As David says, most could not afford to do it. Here are their answers to our questions:

Would the tourism enterprise keep the property afloat without stewardship payments?

The short answer No. Perhaps with more investment and some staff the tourism would be able to. But at the current level it can’t, and we unfortunately can't afford the investment it needs to go to the next level. Tourism has allowed us to pay majority of the bills over the last 4 years but it hasn't been able to pay interest and so our overdraft increases each year. As a condition of our pastoral lease we need to maintain all infrastructure on the property and so the tourism income is running two businesses.

What contribution does the regeneration strategy chosen make to providing food or fibre?

It makes a huge contribution. It means that we will be able to produce food and fibre into the future. You’re a farmer, you would know that sometimes you push a paddock too far, and it needs time to recover. We have a whole station like that! just because you have a paddock with no stock doesn’t mean that it’s a write off into the future. In fact it means the opposite, that you will be able to produce a better quality product, and if you manage it well and have a good understanding of how to manage it, it will produce more. Currently in our area, we have a degraded resource, and no clear idea of how to manage it to its environmental, economic and social capacity.

Was a regeneration strategy using grazing management to restore the landscape considered?

It was considered and is being used on most properties, more or less. It is a very long and difficult road to achieve recovery and most of the stations that are trying to get through with stock in this area are at best sustaining an bad situation. In essence, all grazing management should also be a regeneration strategy, the problem is that the landscape is too degraded at this time to handle any grazing, and Im not just talking about cows, as to have one windmill on could result in 2000 kangaroos in an area, enough to make sure it doesn’t recover. Added to this argument is the necessity of added infrastructure to obtain the control needed for grazing based regeneration. Wooleen has over 200kms of (reasonable) fence, which is hard enough to look after itself, let alone the fences needed for a good rotational grazing system. I’m not saying it’s not possible, but it will take much longer to see results, be just as expensive, and mean a much greater susceptibility to making a wrong judgement in a landscape whose maximum potential is not known.

Have the opportunities presented by the Carbon Farming Initiative been considered?

At this stage, what opportunities? I probably know as much as most pastoralists about CFI, being selected to represent them at a recent meeting of government agencies and industry to identify and address knowledge gaps that may stop uptake of CF. At present there are no avenues to uptake CF, and no means of measuring carbon at a rangeland scale. There are lots of Gaps though! Were working on it.

Have the carbon levels in the soil been monitored?

No. Not by me.

Is the model valid for use by a large number of graziers in any district or can there be only one as a demonstration property.

To my mind the best thing about destocking is its simple, it will work everywhere(Maybe with variations), and if they were paid to, everyone could do it. In fact if a few stations did it together it would be much more effective.

Questions for David Pollock and Frances Jones

Saturday, March 10, 2012
ABCTV ‘s Australian Story on the 5th of March was about a farmer who destocked his rangeland grazing property in outback Western Australia. It was a love story about a girl from the city who came out for a few weeks and stayed forever, falling in love with the farmer and the farm.

Questions not answered by the program – that would have made sense of the story had they been answered – were the following:
  1. Would the tourism enterprise keep the property afloat without stewardship payments?
  2. What contribution does the regeneration strategy chosen make to providing food or fibre?
  3. Was a regeneration strategy using grazing management to restore the landscape considered?
  4. Have the opportunities presented by the Carbon Farming Initiative been considered?
  5. Have the carbon levels in the soil been monitored?
  6. Is the model valid for use by a large number of graziers in any district or can there be only one as a demonstration property.
Is there a danger that David and Frances's story could encourage city-based people to believe that all farms should be run like theirs - that supermarkets provide food, not farms?

We loved their innovations, like the water spreading wire tubes. Brilliant.

Carbon Farmers on the road

Friday, March 09, 2012
Carbon Farmers of Australia's Michael and Louisa Kiely are 'on the road' conducting the 1-Day Workshop 'An Introduction to Carbon Farming & Trading' in NSW, VIC, SA and WA in the time available while the FarmReady program winds down. The rising numbers of attendees reveals the demand for information is high, especially on the trade side of the equation. 

Click here to view the current list of upcoming sessions. If you would like the Workshop brought to your district, call (02) 6374 0329 or email

This is the gauntlet we are running

Wednesday, March 07, 2012
The process of developing a methodology involves several stages of review and adjustment of the submission as it moves toward being approval.. The first review is to ensure that all essential elements have been addressed. The second review is to ensure that the submission complies with the legislation. The first two reviews are conducted by the Department. The third review is conducted by the expert panel (the Domestic Offsets Integrity Committee - the DOIC) which has the power to recommend that the Minister give approval. The final stage involves exposure for 40 days for public comment. At each stage, the methodology proponent can be asked to make changes to their submission. In this process, we have been told, the Department and the DOIC will work with the proponent to find a way to approve the methodology that observes the stringent Integrity Standards. Our soil carbon methodology is at the second stage. We hope that those assessing methodologies realise that they are working to make a successful market. A market needs willing buyers and willing sellers. The conditions imposed upon sellers in the name of giving buyers confidence should not be so difficult that none will come forward. Should that happen we will have failed and the 'once in a generation opportunity to recapitalise our soils' (in Tony Abbott's words) will be lost.

Soil Carbon Methodology - Comin' Round The Mountain

Tuesday, March 06, 2012
Members of the Bridge Consortium met with "the Department" (DCCEE) to get a response to our soil carbon methodology submission. We were told to expect a long time to pass before we get an outcome. We were told we should not raise unrealistic expectations. We were told that we are running ahead of the Department in such areas as the protocols for measurement. (Eg., We have to wait for the D. to produce these since it was agreed that the measurement protocols developed for the Soil Carbon Research Project are not suitable for baselining.) So instead of Martin Luther King's 'burning urgency of now', we're singing 'she'll be comin' round the mountian when she comes'