Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Voluntary market for soils first step

The best way to get a message to a farmer is on a cheque. The best way to turn even the most conservative into a Carbon Farmer is to have their neighbour boast about their ‘soil carbon cheque’.
But paying farmers a pittance for soil carbon sequestered is not going to convince many to change their land practices so that they capture and store carbon.
Australia urgently needs the greatest number of farmers to adopt Carbon Farming practices to turn our vast landmass into a carbon sink. A low-value Chicago Climate Exchange system is a good start, but don’t expect to attract more than a few farmers who will risk changing their farming style and giving outsiders rights over their soil for a few dollars an acre.
A lot is known about the way farmers take up new ways. In 1943, Bryce Ryan and Neil C. Cross from Iowa State College plotted farmers adoption of a new hybrid corn seed. The bell curve they observed has since become known as the classic adoption curve for new products and services. (Figure 1)
It took 10 years for the average Iowa corn farmer to consider trying the new strain of corn. Our task is to turn that gentle curving hill into a towering peak, with maximum take up. (See figure 2) The way to make that peak happen is to make them an offer they can refuse.

In 4 years of operation, the Chicago Climate Exchange has 3.5million acres under contract in 26 states. (Nebraska has 45 million acres of farmland alone.) The amounts paid per acre range from $1 to $7 because soil carbon sequestered isn’t measured, it is estimated and verified by reference to visual indicators, like groundcover or crop residue left in the fields.
However, in a direct measurement scheme, a 1% increase in soil carbon can represent 154 tonnes CO2e sequestered. If CO2e is at $25 a tonne of world exchanges, this 1% increase is worth more than $3500 per hectare. You can see why we think we will get faster uptake with the full measurement system. The price of CO2e has been floating around $40 lately.
Another issue farmers face is offsetting their emissions from animals and fertilisers. A CCX-style system does not give them sufficient tonnages to pay their gas bill.
The Carbon Coalition welcomes the voluntary market, its trading arm Carbon Farmers of Australia made the first sales in Australia in 2007 to prove those who said soil carbon would never be traded were wrong. But we see it as a step towards the ultimate goal of our Mission: To see soil carbon traded and farmers paid for what they grow. Paid enough to make the changes necessary.

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