Australian farmers stand to gain new income streams from a range of carbon offsets, after a long campaign by the Carbon Coalition. The Government’s Carbon Farming legislation could see farmers paid for managing soils, vegetation, fertiliser, pasture and manure. We need an industry association now because:
- Lobbying is critical now to make sure the law protects carbon farmers.
- We need resources to continue to push for the opportunities in carbon credits.
- Farmers need a truly independent source of advice – by farmers, for farmers.
- Lobbying for members’ access to carbon markets through a range of offsets, including soil carbon, methane, nitrogen emissions and others. Infomation on contracts, risks and likely returns.
- Education and training to maximise the business opportunities and assist in risk management in trading.
- Quarterly magazine – The Carbon Farmer – The Journal of Natural Farming.
- Regular newsletter – Carbon Farming News – to alert members to opportunities.
- Ethical trading services – Soil Carbon Baselining, Aggregation, Sub-Aggregation of Small Holdings and Brokerage, with fees invested in Association services.
Please contact us for information on how to join.
Some people dislike the notion of trading offsets as a way to reward farmers for environmental services. They give the following reasons:
- 1. Farmers should be doing the right thing anyway (ie. provide environmental services for free).
- 2. “Someone will make a lot of money out of it…” (ie. traders on-selling the units).
- 3. “It’s all bullsh--!” (ie. anything with the word ‘carbon’ in it is too hard to understand and is therefore a rort).
One thing most people agree on is that our soils are degrading and farmland is badly in need of restoration. Our food production capacity is declining. If you think about it, there is no way we will get the maximum number of farmers to make the necessary changes to their management of soils without a system of incentive that is acceptable to the greatest number and is likely to last long enough to get the job done.
The system that offers this is trade in offsets.
- 1. Farmers have demonstrated little enthusiasm for ‘doing the right thing anyway’ on the grounds that no other sector of the community is asked to work for free and, besides, they already do a lot for free.
- 2. The majority of farmers have not engaged in taxpayer-funded land management incentive programs in more than two decades in which billions of dollars were invested by governments in restoration programs.
- 3. Tax and spend programs last only until the next election cycle as politicial priorities change.
- 4. Farmers are comfortable growing and selling commodities. That’s what they do. They happily deal with middle men and there are windfall profit opportunities from futures trading.
So the answer to the question, “Is Trade the best option?” is Yes. If you seriously want to see our agricultural soils restored and enriched, out waterways cleaned, and landscape regenerated – as soon as possible across the largest percentage of the 60% of the nation’s landmass used for agriculture.
The Methodology – developed by the Bridge Consortium (Carbon Farmers of Australia, Offset Generation Services and Object Consulting) – operates entirely within the CFI Legislation and is designed to circumvent the oft-quoted ‘uncertainties’ of soil carbon by using buffer pools and menus. For instance, Additionality is addressed by offering a program for renewal of vegetation in line with the Positive List and requiring participants to choose two or more additional practices or products from a long menu.
The variety of combinations satisfies the ‘common practice test’ in most cases. The Measurement challenge is answered by reducing the uncertainty around direct sampling using a 90% certainty interval and by extending the Government’s own 5% ‘risk of reversal’ buffer into a Project Buffer which requires the participant to “bank” a tonne of CO2 for each tonne they trade during the first 5 year period. Thereafter both carbon buyer and grower are protected by the collective Program Buffer Pool that aggregates risk management and balances impacts across climate zones. This reduces the grower’s exposure while increasing buyer protection.
Relinquishment provisions follow the CFI Legislation with the additional benefit that a Program Buffer Manager may accept a relinquishment responsibility entirely on behalf of a grower. This allows the added security of protection for all concerned coming from a balanced pool of projects rather than from a single farmer or piece of land only. Buffering and averaging of measured values over time are also included to solve the Permanence issue. An elegant solution.
Could soil carbon sequestration absorb the world’s fossil fuel emissions? They have the capacity, according to soil scientist Margaret Torn from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). co-author Schmidt, M. et al., Persistence of soil organic matter as an ecosystem property, in: Nature , 6 October, 2011.
“The fluxes between soil carbon in the form of organic matter and carbon in the atmosphere as CO2 are very large. A small change in carbon cycling can have a huge affect on atmospheric CO2 concentrations, and therefore a huge feedback to climate change. As an example, a ten percent change in the soil carbon flux to the atmosphere would roughly double the net CO2 input. And if soils released only 0.3 percent of their carbon stores, it would equal year 2010 fossil fuel emissions.” Is the reverse true? If we were able to increase the soil’s store of carbon by 0.3% that we could absorb the world’s entire fossil fuel emissions?
Many people are interested in the role of the Aggregator in the Australian farm offsets market. The role is strategic because Aggregators form the interface between supply and demand. There is no doubt that the role is important, despite the fact that the Legislation does not mention it, placing the responsibility for the supply side management on the shoulders of the “Project Proponent”, ie. the Grower. Most Growers can’t assemble enough tonnage to deal cost effectively with the market direct. But even a corporate landholder with sufficient land too deal direct will need specialist advice. The average landholder will have to deal through an aggregation service. Organisations with memberships have access to potential growers/suppliers and bureaucracies which can supply the necessary arms and legs.
Banks may see synergies, especially since the legislation defines the offset unit as a financial product and therefore those giving advice or dealing in them must have a Financial Services Certification. To give advice tat maximises the Growers opportunity, the aggregator must understand how to draw up a Carbon Farm Plan that integrates practices and boosts emissions reductions and amounts stored in soils.
There are five options facing Growers:
1. Deal Direct with a big polluter.
2. Engage an aggregator as an agent.
3. Sell the rights to your units to an aggregator or agent.
4. Join an aggregation as a member.
5. Sell direct to the farm gate market.
Aggregators will need to have sound knowledge of the five pieces of legislation that established the Carbon Farming Initiative. They will need a sophisticated data management system, an education function, an outreach program, and connections with local services such as measurement and auditing. At the same time, they will need to engineer costs out of their services to keep middleman costs down and prices competitive.
Aggregator Briefing: An Introduction to Carbon Farming – A One Day Workshop. Delivered by Carbon Farmers of Australia. FarmReady Approved. Call 02 6374 0329
These notes of the presentations at the recent Carbon Farming Conference were compiled by Gerry Gillespe from the Sustainability Programs Division, Office of Environment and Heritage, NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet
The Carbon Puzzle – Reassembling land and livelihoods – Courtney White – USA
The former environmental activist abandoned confrontation with ranchers to forge a new community model for creating healthy ‘working landscapes’ by building bridges between ranchers, conservationists, public land managers, scientists and others. In 1997, with two farmers, he co-founded the Quivira Coalition in New Mexico which uses education and collaboration to promote progressive public and private land stewardship. More recently he has been focussed on ‘carbon ranching’ and the new agrarian movement (healthy soil, healthy food, healthy people) in the USA. Mr. White is visiting Australia to meet ‘carbon farmers’ and healthy soils activists. Australia is the first country in the world to legislate a carbon offset scheme for farming projects, at a national level. From the Quivira Coalition, Mr White described his journey from a hater of farmers to a person who understood both what farmers face in their day to day work and the complexity of the food production system ands the storage of soil carbon.The Science of Carbon In the Landscape - Dr Peter Cosier -The Wentworth Group
Dr Cosier’s presentation was a mixture of mixture of landscape, price and benefits. It dealt with many of the issues facing the Carbon Farming Initiative and how these might be measured in a Carbon Market future. He spoke of the enormity of Australia’s land mass at 7.5 million square kilometres and the potential contribution of Caring for Country grants with a total budget of $400 million and what they might achieve.
He discussed the enormous economic opportunity which could be developed if science could back up the carbon market. He mentioned the work of Peter Grace at QUT in Brisbane. Dr Cosier also mentioned the potential complications to the carbon market if the farmers wanted to change back to old practices after storing and selling carbon. He was concerned for what might happen if a new technology could be developed which could simply generate ‘carbon on a roof’.
Soil Security group – United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney – Andrea Koch
Ms Koch spoke of the development of a new Soil Security group at the University of NSW which included Dr Alex McBratney and Professor John Crawford. The University had recently put a group together to link with others around the world to consider this issue in more detail and would provide opportunity for more consultation in the future.
Let’s Get Down to Business – Shayleen Thompson – First Assistant Secretary – Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency
Shayleen was very optimistic about the ability to develop a methodology which could measure and quantify soil carbon for the world Carbon Market. There is strong support through the land sector with $1.7 billion being contributed toward agriculture, carbon and biodiversity. She felt the new market could provide an additional source of income for farmers, business and others through offsets. The new market would contribute toward Australia’s Kyoto target with eligible sequestration activities in reafforestation, revegetation, rangelands restoration, soil carbon and native forest protection.
Also of interest are emissions reduction is fertiliser reduction, effective manure treatment and other areas.
She spoke of the CFI principles and design and accurate accounting through approved methodologies which were internally consistent.
In terms of permanence of the carbon she spoke of obligations, buffers and hand-back clauses. The avoidance of leakage and additionality plus – this concerned the worry that would mean enormous plantations of pine trees overpowering the landscape.
She next described how to get involved and encouraged participation in:
• Activities on positive listing and new methodologies
• The submission of project applications
• Auditing and trading
• Termination or transfer of projects
On the subject of soil carbon she discussed the potential political issues, the challenges of abatement estimation, the need to measure real carbon above what she described as ‘carbon noise’ – the coming and going of natural carbon change.
She describe how the methodology lodged by the Bridge Consortium, one of the first, had begun its journey through the process of assessment. In her opinion Carbon Farming is the leading area in this field.
There are possibilities in an ‘averaging approach’ which needed flexibility in time and space and the ability to get credits by building carbon and showing the loss.
Five methodologies have so far been put forward for consideration.
If accepted they will come into effect in 2012.
In terms of permanence this is a ‘risk of reversal’ so a minimum buffer of 5% is required.
Because soil carbon practices can do a lot of other things they are interested in ‘averaging’.
Trading starts in early December – the web site is: www.cleanenergyfuture.gov.au
The aim is 100 mega tonnes by 2020.
Agriculture and What can be Traded - Ben Stuart Director of Trading – Carbon Xchange
Anticipates a strong demand in the early stages.
No one questions that soil carbon sequestration works – it is a question of measurement.
All states now have legislation to separate land ownership from carbon ownership
Role of the Broker – Freddy Sharpe CEO Climate Friendly
Half of all the eligible land is owned by indigenous people
He wants to start with a very large project – perhaps in the Kimberly with 1 million hectares or more
There is a need to identify the project and apply the methodology
Microbial diversity – 5 to 10 trillion to the gram - Jeremy Bradley
Jeremy is a northern NSW farmer who has developed compost teat processes for agricultural application – following the work of Elaine Ingham – his expertise is in the area of introducing biological liquids into standard farming equipment used in horticultural and pasture systems.
Who is there to help? – Ian Rogan Central West Catchment Management Authority
His research work has been with 48 farmers over 450,000 hectares. Ian came from a farming background in the Grafton area of NSW.
Do Soil stimulants work? - Stuart McAlpine WA and Rob Martin NSW
Stuart spoke of the need to redefine our terminology from sustainability to resilience and spoke of the change which had come about on his property through the use of liquid biological products. He now enjoyed farming and was moving forward with the storage of carbon and improvement of his soil quality.
Rob, from Holbrook in NSW had taken over a very beaten and degraded farm some 10 years ago. He now says he finally has some money in the bank and has ‘very valuable woolly little sheep running all over his property” and is finally making a profit by changing to biological liquid products.
When he changed over to biological processes the agronomist in charge of his farmers group rang him one night and asked him not to come to any more meetings because he was disturbing the group with his stories.
Farming with Invisible force – Alanna Moore
Alanna commenced her presentation by talking of the dangers of radiation. Especially that from wind farms. She spoke of one farmer whose cows had died and had their organs microwaved internally by the radiation from the wind turbines. She also said that the farmer could put a wire into the ground and attached to a light bulb and it would light from the energy put into the soil from wind farms.
Alanna offered no contact details for the farmer quoted. Additional information is apparently available on her web site. www.geomantica.com
She practices the art of dowsing which many farmers and drillers have used for centuries to locate water and other facilities on their properties.
An update on Solar Opportunities – Iain McGregor- Solar Choice
Soar Power is nearing price parity – A similar story appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald of August 18, 2011, which noted that solar power had been edging toward grid parity which meant that after this it would become cheaper that fossil-fuel generated electricity.
The structure of financing solar purchases had changed in recent years where leasing and rental were now viable options for farmers and householders. Under such structures – not unlike vehicle leasing the farmers has first option of buy the panels and ancillary equipment outright at the end of the lease.
This generated a lot of interest among farmers in the audience.
Your Carbon Farm enterprise – Putting it all together
David Clayfield, Tim Woods, Michael Yeo – Carbon Farmers
David Clayfield shifted to biological farming after a conversation with his vet following a prolonged period of sick animals where vet was constantly claiming deficiencies in his animals. He said to the vet that he didn’t think the animals could be drug deficient.
He described the importance of getting his Brix levels in all plant material on his property above 12 to prevent attack by pests. His neighbours at first cautious now are fully supportive, with one saying “I don’t know what you are doing but keep doing it”. He has found that biology in humus binds up calcium among many other things and despite what people say, highly biological soils often result in 2x2 = 6.
Tim Woods – Mt Anama – Wellington – the land has to come before the stock and despite his affection for his animals – you can always replace the stock – He tries to keep 3 to 6 months of grass in reserve, and puts copper into the stock diet to control internal bugs. He has planted 40,000 old man saltbush as stock fodder. He went to Ag college in the 1980s and says he is “over it”. He found he was having a constant fight with nature – now he aims to get all the chemicals out.
He now relies heavily on native Wallaby Grass – he has installed 10 kw of solar to be ‘carbon thingo’.
Michael Yeo - He uses extensive plantain of native digit grass which has now taken him through many seasons – he in now intercropping with oats and barley – his soil pH was 4.5 with exceptionally high levels of aluminium. He was not intending to be a carbon farmer – he simply wanted his farm to be easier and cheaper to operate. The result was less chemicals, more profit and less work.
Driving Down the Transaction costs for Carbon Framing
Peter Richardson – Chief Asset Officer – Object Consulting
Object Consulting had completed much of the design work and formulae on the methodology mentioned yesterday by Shayleen Thompson.
You need to keep in mind as farmers that what you are selling is the data – you always keep the carbon. Therefore the data needs to be very accurate.
You need to have a recipe for a project.
The alternatives are Model versus Management
The methodology as describe allows for a 25 % buffer.
Object Consulting invited members of the audience to visit their stand in the exhibition area to view the submitted methodology in practice.
Government Policy Impact On Farm - Senator Matt Thistlewhaite
The Senator from Sydney said he used to work with the AWU in central western NSW many years ago.
He was very familiar with the elements of the Carbon Farming Initiative including:
• Development of a new team of farm extension officers
• Native bushland storage for carbon generation
• Launching of a $960 million biodiversity fund
He also responded to questions on the depth of carbon and the past history of carbon payments, the issue of retrospectivity in terms of farmers who already had good soil carbon levels and the need to lobby to ensure that it happens, land management and purchase and support for Landcare and existing CMA’s as the delivery mechanism for soil carbon onto farms.
The Senator used a quote from Mark Twain to highlight the mixed response to the CFI “I don’t mind reform – It’s change I don’t like”
To which a questioning farmer responded with another Mar Twain Quote: “A mine is a hole in the ground with a liar standing beside it”.
The Senators staff committed to keep questioners informed on a number of subjects.
Starting a carbon Farm Plan – John Friend Soil and Salinity NSW Dept of Primary Industry
Unfortunately I missed the majority of John’s presentation due to urgent telephone message – However I did note that he stated the agriculture was responsible for 85% of all NO2 production.
This provides and excellent opportunity for biological farming systems.
Lowering the cost of Measurement – Dr Chris Waring ANSTO
Chris spoke of the work of the CSIRO and Geoff Baldock in the soil carbon arena and the cost of soil carbon measurement and the potential to reduce this cost.
His project uses reflectance spectrometry through neutron analysis which takes 30 minutes per assessment potentially reducing to 10 minutes. He spoke of the work of Julian Cribb and his book The Future of Food
He also noted that in scientific terms extraordinary claims will require extraordinary evidence.
Soil Security – The Future of Carbon Farming – Professor John Crawford – Uni of Sydney – Institute for Sustainable Solutions
John spoke of food security and its basis in soil security and the risks to farming and health issues for the population. Science needs to catch up to the innovators.
He noted the opportunities for farmers in the carbon market, his group has been working with dieticians and food processors in managing risk not necessarily finding solutions.
Science needs to be working in parallel with doing things – the refinement should support the doing of the work.
John sowed a video of soil pores as viewed thorough an X ray CT scan.
We are near peak soil with current systems – we need to get more out of the soil while using less.
They are establishing a global network led by Australia
Those who think something can’t be done should get out of the way of those who are doing it – Terry McKosker Principal RCS
Terry spoke of the decomposition process and the carbon building process.
He made the point that we don’t need a CFI to sell carbon – this will happen as a matter of course but we need to use its standards and its methodologies.
Over the past five years the National Carbon Farming Conference has seen a distinct shift from trees for the sequestration of carbon on farmland to the use of operational farming soils as a principal focus for carbon storage.
At the recent National Carbon Conference in Dubbo the success stories of farmers reducing their chemical use, making their own composts and shifting to biological products was the prominent story throughout the event.
It has been recognised that soils can be successfully utilised for carbon build up while still remaining fully productive. Indeed in most instances productivity has increased. This work is supported by the work of Anthony Ringrose-Voase CSIRO (2001).
This of course has also meant a dramatic reduction in chemical fertiliser use on these farms and the concurrent reduction in NO2 production.
The enthusiasm of Ms Shayleen Thompson, First Assistant Secretary, Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, for the development of a successful methodology for the measurement of soil carbon by either her own agency or an external body could mean that the Soil Carbon market may become a reality under the CFI in the very near future.
An international team of scientists have put a big question mark over important elements of the conventional paradigm of soil carbon. They cast doubt on the popular view that temperature increases automatically mean higher rates of Carbon escaping from soil. They cast doubt on the resistance of lignin and biochar to decomposition. They cast doubt on biochar’s capacity to increase soil carbon. And they recommend that scientists study soils at 3m because there is a lot going on down there. For many years, scientists thought that organic matter persists in soil because some of it forms very complex molecular structures that were too difficult for organisms to break down. An international team of 14 researchers headed by Michael Schmidt, a professor of soil science and biogeography at the University of Zurich, has now revealed that recent advances, from imaging the molecules in soils to experiments that track decomposition of specific compounds, show this view to be mistaken. For example, the major forms of organic matter in soils are in the forms of simple biomolecules, rather than large macromolecules. The team contends that the average time carbon resides in soil is a property of factors like physical isolation, recycling, or protection of molecules by minerals or physical structures like aggregates, or even unfavorable local temperature or moisture conditions, can all play a role in reducing the probability that a given molecule will decompose.
Current models used to predict how global soil carbon will respond to climate change use simple factors like temperature dependence that indicate acceleration of decomposition in a warmer world. The decomposition-warming feedback predicts large soil carbon losses and an amplification of global warming, but in fact the authors argue this approach is too simplistic. “ The degradation speed isn't determined by the molecular structure of the dead plant debris, but by the soil environment in which the degradation takes place,” says Schmidt. For instance, the physical isolation of the molecules, whether the molecules in the soil are protected by mineral or physical structures and soil moisture influence the degradation rate of soil organic matter. Furthermore, the researchers are able to show that, contrary to the scientific consensus, there is no humic matter in the soil and this should therefore not be used for models.
The new results cast a critical light on bioengineering experiments with plants containing high amounts of lignin or plant charcoal (biochar), with which more carbon is supposed to be stored in the soil in the long run. “Compounds such as lignin, which we thought were stable, may only last five years in soil, while proteins, which we thought were decomposable, may last more than one thousand years,” says co-author soil scientist Margaret Torn from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). Paper: Michael W. I. Schmidt, Margaret S. Torn, Samuel Abiven, Thorsten Dittmar, Georg Guggenberger, Ivan A. Janssens, Markus Kleber, Ingrid Kögel-Knabner, Johannes Lehmann, David A. C. Manning, Paolo Nannipieri, Daniel P. Rasse, Steve Weiner & Susan E. Trumbore: Persistence of soil organic matter as an ecosystem property, in: Nature , 6 October, 2011, DOI: 10.1038/nature10386
The reason why we have racked up private debts of more than $500k campaigning for the last 6 years “to see the day soil carbon is traded safely and farmers paid fairly for what they sequester’’ is simply this: the prospect of a financial return from carbon farming will be enough to capture the attention of the great majority of farmers - who currently are not available to the sustainability message - for long enough for them to consider land management practice change. If they decide against it at least they have given it a fair hearing (and prepared themselves for the inevitable conversion somewhere down the line). We are promoters of trade for three reasons; 1. we believe only rapid and widespread soil sequestration has the capacity to stall global warming long enough for the global community to transition to a low carbon energy system; 2. we have a soils crisis that must be addressed for food security reasons; and 3. the profit motive is more influential and widespread in its application and rapid in its effect in changing behaviour than education and encouragement, ie. business as usual.
We live by the principle that, if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you always got. The single-minded focus on soil carbon as a key performance indicator simplifies the communications and behaviour change tasks because the co-benefits inevitably follow on attempts to raise soil carbon levels (co-benefits include improved soil structure, ground cover, water efficiency, nutrient availability, buffering against drought, and biodiversity above and below the ground). Once the average farmer gets over their negativity about soil carbon and trading (the result of the relentless misinformation campaign by those who fear being made redundant by the privatisation of soil health management when the opposite will be the effect) CMAs and Landcare groups will have their work cut out for them handling the rate of enquiries. As for middlemen, every commodity market has them, they are essential, and farmers can select which program they go with. Ie. it will be competitive. As for merchant bankers making money, that can only occur if the units are on-traded by the buyer. Farmers can choose to sell only to buyers who will 'retire' them, thereby removing them from circulation. If merchant bankers are making money, it is a sign that the market is flourishing and farm landscapes are being restored at a rapid rate.
It will not be a gold rush, as some predict. It will take at least 5 years to develop and bed down the processes required to protect the farmers' interests. That is where Carbon Farmers of Australia fits in: Advocacy, Representation, and Ethical Aggregation.
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- Getting to know the Voluntary Market.
- Quite a good, balanced view on what is happening.
- Voluntary Markets Power On!
- The Carbon Market for farmers is doomed, right?
- CSIRO wins funds for lowering the cost of soil C measurement!
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