Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hooray for NFF’s David Crombie

The National Farmers' Federation has taken up the cause of farmers who will bear the costs of their emissions but are being refused their soil carbon credits to meet the bill. "We already know that the current Kyoto pact fails to adequately account for the 'life cycle' of agricultural emissions. While farming's emissions are counted, the provisions to acknowledge our sequestration are completely insufficient... As such, we need to recognise sequestration – through soils, crops and trees – due to our on-farm systems," says NFF President David Crombie.

Mr Crombie also calls for a change to the Kyoto rules, "de-linking" natural causes of emissions, such as droughts and bushfires. This was one of the reasons given in the Government's recent Green Paper for leaving Agriculture out of the Emissions Trading Scheme. Calling for changes to Kyoto was previously considered an outlandish demand when the Carbon Coalition made similar demands.
"This linkage (under Article 3.4 of the Kyoto Protocol) is unrealistic and would see Australia bear disproportionate risks, to the extent that Australia would not sign-up to that particular clause," says Mr Crombie.

Murray Darling mistakes still being made

One of the biggest displays at the Mudgee Small Farm Field Days had “Murray Darling Basin” plastered all over it.
But hidden there at the end of the words, in orange, was the word "Assistance". It was a Centrelink display – helping farmers leave the land because the river system is dying. It was a powerful symbol of our ability and willingness as a nation to care for our country.
Over the years, practical, reasonable men in suits made practical, reasonable decisions about the Murray Darling River system that have destroyed it. Now the men in suits (and the occasional power-dressed woman) make practical, reasonable, unemotional decisions about Climate Change. “Put it off… Wait… Don’t act now…”
The people in suits are saying: “Agriculture is better off out of the Emissions Trading Scheme. Let’s wait until they sort out the issues.”
We have known about on-farm emissions and soil carbon since the early 1990s. Why, more than a decade later, are we saying “we need more data?”
‘We can’t measure emissions accurately.” That we are paralysed by our inability to fit into a neat accounting system designed by the UN should scare anyone who vaguely believes that Governments can protect us.
The longer soil carbon is ignored and sidelined, the faster the natural resource base slips away. The decisions being made about it are not scientific decisions; they are political decisions. If they truly believed in the problem and in the solution, it would take an act of political will (leadership) to activate the solution.
If soil carbon measurement was an Olympic event, we’d be world champions.

Ghosts of old dogs haunt Green Paper ("Old soils" argument dug up again)

“Australia does not have the same sequestration potential as other countries.” (Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Green paper July 2008)

This statement is part of a set of three statements that usually appear together in the speeches and papers of skeptics. The second and third statements in the trilogy are: “Because they are old and degraded.” And: “They cannot sequester significant amounts of carbon.” (See below: How soils became ‘too old and buggered’)

Stating the first of the three is sufficient to bring up the other two because they have been linked so often by important people representing important organizations. In politics it is called ‘dog whistling’. Or ‘using code’.

The trilogy, taken together, have been put to sleep long ago, so it was surprising to see them get a run in the recent Green Paper.

Senior soil scientist puts old ‘age of soils’ dog down

Professor Alex McBratney of the University of Sydney has no time for the 'too old' story about our soils:

As a scientist to answer your question I would like to compare soils of similar texture under similar climates across the world, particularly in N. Hemisphere where land surfaces are supposedly younger than the southern Gondwana continents.

The equilibrium soil organic carbon content is a function of texture (clay soils tend to have higher carbon contents than sandy ones), climate (rainfall and temperature) and plant production. (The current soil carbon models do not consider the “age” of the soil.)

Most arable soils in Australia now have half the carbon content than when they were first brought into cultivation. This is because cropping removes much of the carbon that would otherwise be dropped on the soil surface under a natural vegetation system. This tells me immediately that these soils are capable of sequestering carbon (no matter how old they are.) We simply need to return more carbon to the soil, e.g., by putting a leguminous green manure crop in the rotation etc. (We’ve been mining the soil carbon – so it’s now time to put it back..)

Personally, I think the old soil argument is somewhat spurious.

Dr McBratney is Pro-Dean, Professor of Soil Science, Faculty of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources, The University of Sydney. He was the first person to win the Webster Medal, which he did in 2006, for the application of mathematics and statistics to soil science.

How our soils became 'too old'

“Australian soils are too old and degraded to sequester significanct amounts of carbon.”

This statement was established at a 2000 workshop sponsored by the CRC on Greenhouse Accounting on sequestration. The report concluded that: “Australian climate, soils and agricultural management histories are significantly different to those of developed countries in the northern hemisphere. These differences generally result in considerably less potential for increase in soil carbon stocks associated with changing crop or pasture management practices in Australia compared with northern temperate regions.” .(1)

This conclusion was distilled in an official policy framework document as: “Typically Australian soils have a poor capacity to store large quantities of carbon." (2)

Even the Australian Farm Institute fell in behind the idea: "The bulk of Australian farms may not operate as carbon sinks, due to the age of the soils." (3) (The Institute corrected its position in the landmark report “The New Challenge for Australian Agriculture: How do you muster a paddock of carbon?”: “There are, however, potential opportunities that may arise for the farm sector to provide greenhouse offsets, which may generate income to counteract the anticipated additional costs.”)

The most definitive version of the myth was announced by the Grains Council: “Given the age and degraded nature of Australian cropping soils and the ‘natural’ low levels of organic carbon, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that there is a real possibility that organic carbon levels can be increased by cropping or farming practices at anything other than slow rates, reaching an equilibrium point well below that of northern hemisphere soils.” (4)

The Grains Council took to the airwaves in an energetic campaign to bury Australian soils: “Our soils are very old, very fragile, very thin, very weathered. Often we are running soils with 1% or less carbon.” (5)

NB. No research scientist made such statements.
NB. No scientific evidence has been given to support such statements.


• Sydney University Professor Alex McBratney – on hearing of this comment – said: “It’s misleading to say that because Australia has old soils there isn’t potential for enhanced sequestration of carbon in our soils.” - Alex. McBratney is Pro-Dean, Professor of Soil Science, Faculty of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources, The University of Sydney

• Soils Officer with the Lachlan Catchment Management Authority Ian Packer said: " The people who make these remarks don't get around enough to know what's going on."

• Dr K Yin Chan, Principal Research Scientist (Soils), NSW Department of Primary Industries, believes we can recover the 25 tonnes per Ha of soil carbon lost since 1770. He calls it the "Soil C Sequestration Potential". (6)

• Generalisations about Australians soils are dangerous. Alpine soils can contain around 10% soil carbon, and desert soils around 0.5%. Soils tested for soils workshops with farmers at Mudgee and Rylstone have between 0.9% and 7% Carbon and averaging 2.2% at Mudgee and 2.7% at Rylstone. (7)


1. Keenan, R., Bugg, A.L., Ainslie, H. (eds) (2000) Management Options for Carbon Sequestration in Forest, Agricultural and Rangeland Ecosystems. Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Accounting, p. 1
2. Australian Greenhouse Office, Developing a Strategic Framework for Greenhouse and Agriculture. An Issues Paper, 2002
3. Keogh, M 2007, The New Challenge for Australian Agriculture: How do you muster a paddock of carbon?, discussion paper, Australian Farm Institute, Surry Hills, Australia.
4. “Carbon in Australian Cropping Soils: A background paper prepared by Alan Umbers For the Grains Council of Australia.” July 10th 2007
5. Alan Umbers, Grains Council, ABC Radio Country Hour, 11 July, 2007
6. Presentation at DPI farmers’ gathering at Junee Reef, 21 June, 2007.
7. Private conversation, Soils Coordinator, Central West Catchment Management Authority, July 2006

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Holistic Management International Australia joins Soil Carbon Alliance

Holistic Management International Australia has joined the Soil Carbon Alliance.

"We share the urgency felt by the foundation members about the need for rapid and widespread take up of '"Carbon Farming" to mobilise the million of hectares controlled by farmers and graziers," says HMIA's Judi Earl. "We have agreed to help push the soil carbon solution to climate change over the final hurdles that stand between us and the potential benefits of a soil carbon trading scheme.

"Holistic Management International Australia has long supported the soil carbon movement. Our aims are the same: better decisions, better farm outcomes, restored farm landscapes, healthy farm family businesses, and stronger rural communities. Holistic Management is the foundation stone of many Carbon Farming enterprises and is the technique chosen by landholders looking to simultaneously reduce the cost of inputs and and boost production.

"The convenors of the Carbon Coalition are both HM trained and operate their grazing enterprise according to the principles of HM as espoused by Allan Savory. He has long called for urgent action on the degradation of the natural resource base, linking it to the collapse of great civilisations."

Carbon Coalition Response to Green Paper

The Green Paper ‘puzzled’ the supporters of Soil Carbon Trading by introducing novel arguments against its inclusion. Wheresas all the discussion during the consultation period focussed on the standard objections, ie. ‘difficult to measure’, hard to hold, additionality, etc., the Green Paper introduced the arguments of the danger of large emissions from drought (bare earth) and bush fire. And there was a passing reference to “changing land management” (ie. farmers reneging on their agreements).

A fully-‘carbonised’ landscape has groundcover and so is cooler. This was demonstrated by a field experiment which tested the temperature at 1cm below the surface in a series of plots near Bibby Springs area over the 2002/03 summer. Bibby Springs is between Badgingarra and Cervantes in WA, approximately 20 km from the coast. Tim Wiley, who conducted the research, says: "The results show that ground cover keeps the soil cooler in summer. Actively growing perennials moderate the microclimate even further. The bare soil got was up to 30 C warmer than the Kikuyu plots (i.e. maximum of 33 C compared to 63 C). These differences in soil temperature have significant implications for soil biology and health. The bare sand had 555 hours when the temperature was above 40 C."

A “Carbon farmer” is less likely to bare the soil because they know how important topsoil is. Such a landscape is also more perennialised, and so retains more water in the upper profiles. Emissions from fire are less likely to be as damaging as in conventional systems.

A CSIRO team concluded that Carbon beneath pasture is safer from fire than that tied up in forests: "Sequestering carbon in soil organic matter has the attraction of being more secure from catastrophic loss, such as from wildfire, than is C in above ground tree biomass." (Roger M. Gifford, Damian J. Barrett and Andrew Ash, Pasture improvement for potential additional C-sinks for inclusion under the Kyoto Protocol, Biosphere Working Group of the CSIRO Climate Change Research Program
30 April, 1998)

And finally, growers who reneg on carbon contracts pay a penalty. Carbon farmers have been taught first hand by Nature how to behave.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Were you and I ambushed on Green Paper?

When Kevin Rudd announced that he was sending Minister for Agriculture Tony Burke to study Carbon Farming back in March, there was consternation in another Department: The Department of Climate Change. Someone in there badly wants to stop soil carbon being deployed against Climate Change.. At no stage during our conversations with Tony Burke and others in the lead up to the Green Paper was the issue of the danger of huge emissions from bushfire and drought-ravaged soils canvassed as an argument. Nor was "change in land management" (ie. farmers ignoring their contractual liabilities and returning to conventional practices) featured in the debate. Instead the focus was on "Measurement", "Additionality", and "Permanence". That was the front-of-house talk.
But when the Green paper was delivered, the facts in focus were different - a new set of 'difficulties and risks' for soils:
"...natural events such as drought and fire result in the release of greenhouse gas emissions... The risks of substantial emissions due to such events were judged to outweigh any potential emissions reduction benefits from counting Article 3.4 activities [grazing and cropland carbon farming] towards Australia’s Kyoto Protocol commitments."

The Green Paper was the logical third Act in a perfectly executed hit by the Bureaucracy on a proposal popular politically but hated in the ranks of administrators. Shaken by the PM's announcement, the officials sent out the message through their networks (other bureacracies, others such as Mick Keogh of the Farm Institute, etc.) that they hold the trump card(s). They let the speculation run, entangling Tony Burke in the measureability swamp, then, towards the end, released a series of "consultation papers" that are curiously worded: At the front of each is the statement: "The aim is to promote discussion and submissions at not sought at this time." Yet at the end of each document there appears these words: "Stakeholders are invited to comment on the merits of each of the three approaches:..."

The three papers each shared the title:"EMISSIONS TRADING STAKEHOLDER CONSULTATION
COVERAGE AND SCOPE FOR OFFSETS". There is evidence that they were rushed to publication. They were clumsily worded, and in one case the authors clearly ran out of ideas for consultation questions:"Do stakeholders consider that the above factors are the correct framework for thinking about the issue of the mode of participation in the scheme?"
The trap was set by the release, quietly, in June 2008, one month before the Green Paper, of the document that provided the Department with the deadly Yellow Line on the chart: the innocuously named "National Greenhouse Gas Inventory 2006, Department of Climate Change". It snapped shut, and shut soils out of consideration.

But that would be too obvious. No bureaucrat is ever caught with a smoking gun.To prove that the issues raised at the last minute to pull the PM and Minister Burke into line had been part of the discourse, references to them can be found in the May 19 "Consultation" documents, obscured in a thicket of obfuscation: 'Emissions estimates calculated using a comprehensive land-based approach would, for example, account for activities currently covered by Article 3.4. Future decisions will
need to be made regarding Australia’s position on the international accounting rules that apply to setting international obligations. These decisions will need to balance the risk arising from the variability of these emissions in a commitment period against the potential for reductions of these emissions - in other words, whether additional activities encompassed by the broader approach are more likely to be sinks or sources of emissions."

The dagger between the folds of the cloak is intended for farmers: "If coverage is not practical, alternative mitigation measures will need to be explored." This means legislation. Fines. Taxes. Not market incentives.

We know the Butler did it.

Green Paper starts to unravel

Soil Carbon (Australia)'s Tony Lovell has an eagle eye for anomaly in the Green Paper's treatment of soil:

"Take a look at the graph. The pale blue line is Australia’s emissions without article 3.4 activities (land use, land use change and forestry) included – the yellow line is Australia’s emissions with full article 3.4 activities included. The paragraph above the graph draws attention to the current risks in accounting for the variability of emissions from land systems and the impact that large variations in emissions would have on ongoing abatement incentives for farm businesses.

"BUT - What I find absolutely fascinating is that while the yellow line has more ups and downs (our old friend variability again), if you take a long term view of the yellow line the average emissions are LESS with full article 3.4 included. And this is in the complete absence of any incentives to change agricultural management to actually capture and store carbon. And the data covers the past decade which has been one of the most drought affected in our history.

"I rough the yellow emissions line to average just under 500 Mt CO2e while the pale blue emissions line is clearly averaging above the 500Mt line.

Based on the information clearly revealed by the graph itself can I suggest that the paragraph directly under the graph should read “There are huge and important opportunities to increase the carbon stored in Australia’s agricultural soils. However, the inadequate scientific research conducted in Australia so far has not even been done on land that has been managed under more appropriate carbon building practices. A significant practical research effort is needed to establish the best methods for increasing and retaining agricultural soil carbon in Australia. While it is acknowledged that there can be a significant loss of soil carbon in times of drought or under continuing inappropriate management practices, it must also be acknowledged that this soil carbon will be rapidly recovered after the drought ends, and even more quickly under appropriate carbon farming methods. Australia must commit to investigating all opportunities for improving soil carbon capture and retention.”

Friday, July 18, 2008

Green Paper fits Coalition Strategy

The National Soil Carbon Strategy is aligned with the schedule set by the Government's Green paper. The Strategy (extract below) sees the introduction of a Voluntary Market as a precursor to inclusion in the Kyoto Mandatory Market. Anyone who doubts the latter will happen hasn't been watching the weather. The times will suit soil carbon.
The reasoning behind the Government's decision to stick with the status quo is hard to follow. Instead of incentivising farmers and graziers to build up carbon stocks in their soils and the associated vegetation to act as a buffer against drought and higher temperatures, the Government says we shouldn't take the risk of releasing huge tonnages of gases through drought or bushfire. Naturally they have no science to support their decision because none has been done to assess how drought and fire would affect carbon farms.

There are many contradictions in this Green Paper. They will be unravelled in coming posts. However, the following is our response to the Government's curiously old-fashioned attitude to soil carbon.


The strategy proposed is a progression to Direct Measurement/Full Value Offsets in the following stages:

Stage 1: Remove barriers to Indicator/Discounted Value (Voluntary) Offsets market.

Stage 2: Launch Indicator/Discounted Value Offsets Market

Stage 3: Remove barriers to Direct Measurement/Full Value (Mandatory) Offsets market.

Stage 4: Launch Direct Measurement/Full Value Offsets market.

Method: We shall remove barriers systematically by studying them to discover solutions.

Stage 1: Barriers

A Voluntary Market System can operate with the following:

Data: soil carbon scores from a locality, district and climate zone based on land management techniques.

Recommendation: a commission of scientists to provide a recommended set of soil carbon levels for a defined set of land management practices at particular locations.

Standard: The protocols and practices that dictate the fundamental processes that are required for purchasers to feel confident that their interests are protected and their objectives are acheved.

Recommendation: Develop the Australian Voluntary Soil Carbon Standard (already at draft stage, in development by organics industry standards authority NAASA)

Removal of Stage 1 Barriers:

1. Establish the National Soil Carbon Database

• A central warehouse of all soil carbon data in Australia.

• Accessible by anyone wanting to use the data.

• Resource for populating carbon calculators with localized soil carbon data.

• Start with “Soil Carbon Data Roundup” – gain access to all data held by government and private laboratories, research institutions, and anyone who holds data.

2. Commission of Scientists

• Review data available.

• Meet to develop a recommended set of soil carbon levels for a defined set of land management practices at particular locations.

3. Establish Australian Voluntary Carbon Market Standard

Stage 2: Barriers

A Mandatory Market System can operate with the following:

Measurement Methodology: a method of estimating amounts of carbon in a defined volume of soil.

Consensus on Methodology: agreement among buyers and regulators that the system is sufficiently accurate as to allow confidence in levels of uncertainty
And risk management.

Cost of Measurment: cost of ‘baseline’ carbon scoring for individual landholder is described as “high” by scientists.

Removal of Stage 2 Barriers:

1. National Soil Carbon Baselining Program

• Option: The Commonwealth Government can take on task of baselining all properties as part of a Natural Resource Management program.

• Cost of baselining reduced by national tender process, open to international suppliers.

• Offset NRM costs and drive restoration programs.

• Option: Landholders pay low price negotiated by Government.

2. Commission of scientists recommend a baselining methodology.

• Review available technologies and methodologies.

• Recommend methodology.

3. Commonwealth Government endorse decision.

4. Launch Market in Australia

Green Paper science ‘unsound’, says Carbon Coalition

There should be an independent inquiry into all science used to make decisions that impact farmer’s futures.

“The Federal Government’s Green Paper used unsound science to rob farmers of the right to sell the carbon they can grow in their soil. All science published by the Australian Greenhouse Office should be independently audited before it is used to make decisions about farm emissions and liabilities.”

“The Coalition uncovered the gaps in the data sets in the research on which the National Carbon Accounting Scheme was built. The AGO immediately rushed out to backfill the gaps in the data sets. Those projects have not yet been reported, but decisions have been made, based on the old, unsound science.”

“If the old guard from the AGO are running things in the Department of Climate Change, we say look out. If the methane and nitrogen emissions science is as disconnected from modern farm realities as the soil carbon science has been, it will be dangerous for farming in the future.”

(The Report: ‘Sound Science Questioned’ is attached below)

An example of the ‘unsound’ science is the statement in the Green Paper that: “Australia does not have the same sequestration potential as other countries, and there is significant risk of loss of soil carbon in times of drought or changed management practices.”

“There are three major flaws in these statements: First, the Government can have no idea of what the ‘potential’ of our soils are because they haven’t studied soil management techniques less than 20 years old. They have no idea of the potential of soils managed under modern ‘carbon farming’ techniques.

“Second, they have no grounds on which to predict the likely emissions from soil in drought when they haven’t studied the low emissions farming techniques now coming available.

“And Third, a farmer who commits to capturing and holding carbon in the soil is bound by a contract to deliver.”

“As the recent Senate Committee on Climate Change and Agriculture found to its dismay, the Government’s senior policy advisers never set foot on a farm and so don’t know what’s going on out here.”

( PP.80-81

ver set foot on a farm and so don’t know what’s going on out here.”

( PP.80-81

Sound Science Questioned

No scientific studies have tested the potential of Australian soils to sequester carbon. The research program on which the National Carbon Accounting System (NCAS) was based suffered from methodological flaws which led to gaps in the data and unjustified conclusions. The authors of one major report have agreed that the paired sites chosen for analysis were unrepresentative of the land management techniques that are widespread today. Scientists have pointed out that the case studies reviewed in another major report are out of date.

Analysis of Technical Reports 34 and 43, the core data reports for the construction of the NCAS, reveals that the data sets are incomplete, focusing almost exclusively on conventional rather than regenerative land management techniques.

It studied only soils managed in ways that caused losses of carbon rather than soils managed in ways that capture and store carbon (ie. regenerative land management techniques such as biological farming, time controlled grazing management, pasture cropping, etc.)

Farming has changed in the 20 years since most of the studies reviewed for NCAS were done. The scientific methodology was flawed because it did not choose a representative range of samples.

For this reason, there are gaps in the data sets. Therefore the data cannot support the conclusions being drawn from it. The authors of these reports warned against relying on them for definitive conclusions.

The consultant hired to assess the data sources was also concerned: “While there are some very useful datasets available, there are also considerable deficiencies in the completeness of the data… In many established agricultural areas, there are practical difficulties in finding true pairs… The approach is limited by gross lack of data…”

The AGO admitted that the data was insufficient. “Development of the NCAS was undertaken with the clear understanding that data would be imperfect, but that the significance of data limitations could be assessed only in a functional integrated system.”

The AGO took a ‘fix it in the mix’ approach: “The tacit acceptance of variability in data provided for a proper focus on matters of accuracy and bias, rather than on potentially unachievable precision.” The Agency believed the sheer weight of data points would carry the day, provided there was no bias in the inputs: “Over a large sample … a national inventory derived from an aggregation of fine-scale events can provide a robust central estimate provided inputs are not biased.”

But the inputs were biased. The data sets were incomplete.

No AGO research has studied the “potential” of Australian soils to take up carbon. Most official studies recorded poor carbon performance because they studied only traditional techniques which are destructive of soil carbon. They did not find sequestration because they weren’t looking for it.

They were looking for declining carbon. They found it. There are several trials underway to fill the gaps. Further evidence that the gaps existed and the conclusions were unsustainable.


• Exhibit 1: The NSW DPI, DECC and CSIRO are currently evaluating an increase in soul carbon recorded on grazing and cropping land from 2% to 4% recorded on “Winona”, Gulgong, between 1995 and 2005.

• Exhibit 2: There was a 0.46% carbon difference between a paddock managed by conservation farming techniques (stubble retained/no-tillage) and a paddock heavily grazed and conventionally tilled over 10 years at Greenethorpe, NSW translated into a difference of 185 tonnes of carbon per hectare (or 675 tonnes of CO2e.)

• Exhibit 3: A CSIRO study (unpublished) in Albany WA found a significant difference in organic matter between two paddocks, one stubble-burned 3 years previous then no-tillage treatment for three years (3.35% OM), the other managed with no-tillage (5% OM).

• Exhibit 4: Dr K Yin Chan, Principal Research Scientist (Soils), NSW Department of Primary Industries, has a research project which has stretched over 20 years. In the soils studied, he found that there was on average 70 tonnes of soil carbon per hectare under undisturbed native vegetation. This fell dramatically to 40 T/ha under conventional tillage by the 1940s. It rose 5T/ha under Reduced Tillage, to 45T/ha. Dr Chan believes we can recover the (25T/ha) balance. He calls it the "Soil C Sequestration Potential".

• Exhibit 5: “Permanent unimproved pastures in moister areas of NSW, SA, WA and Qld, after sowing to introduced grasses and legumes and fertilised with superphosphate have been shown to exhibit linear increases in soil C at a rate of about 0.4 t C ha-1 yr-1 over several decades. (Russell and Williams 1982, Gifford et al 1992).

• Exhibit 6: Barrow (1969) reported a soil C gain of 440 kg/ha/yr in sandy soils under permanent pasture during a period of 30-40 years in Western Australia. The pasture outscored undisturbed native vegetation on soil C by 2.0% to 0.8%.

• Exhibit 7: Senior CSIRO soil scientist Jeff Baldock says there is today no technical barriers to a fully-functioning market in soil carbon, and that such a market could make it ‘more economic to farm for carbon than to farm for yield.’

• Exhibit 8: Two cases studies reported in The Australian Farm Journal (July 2008) found it is possible for both cropping and grazing enterprises to be net sequesters of carbon, in one case over a period of 17 years. Government advisers are involved in both projects.

Soil Carbon Alliance formed

Andre Leu (Organic Federation of Australia), Chris Rochfort (CORE), Eric Love (CORE), Michael Kiely (Carbon Coalition) and Louisa Kiely (Carbon Coalition) forming the Soil Carbon Alliance.

We make each other stronger.

Three major agricultural and environmental bodies have joined forces to urge the Commonwealth Government to remove the blockage to the world’s largest terrestrial carbon sink and avoid the ‘major damage’ to Australia’s economy and environment predicted by the Garnaut Report and the Government's Green Paper on "Carbon Pollution".

The Carbon Coalition has joined forces with organics industry peak body, the Organic Federation of Australia (OFA), and environmental research and marketing experts, the Centre for Organic Resource & Enterprise (CORE), to form the Soil Carbon Alliance.

"We welcome allies in this campaign, and Eric, Chris and Andre are energetic, make-it-happen people who have forged solid reputations in the recycling and organic industries. We find common ground in carbon farming," says Coalition Convenor Louisa Kiely.

Andre Leu claims that Organic Farming has been "Carbon Farming" all along. This may be. Certainly Christine Jones's paper in the July Farm Journal indicates that she sees Carbon Farming trending towards the organic: "The soil conditions required for humification are diminished in the presence of herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, phosphatic or nitrogenous fertilisers..." Rapid uptake of non-labile humic fractions is the key to the new 'turbocharged' carbon farming.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

National Soil Carbon Strategy

A DRAFT of a National Soil Carbon Strategy is posted on this blogsite, can be found at, and is being circulated by email for comment and input among those who believe Soil Carbon Sequestration is an important solution to Climate Change. It aims to provide a framework for action that supports the efforts of the Carbon Coalition. It is an initiative of the newly formed Soil Carbon Alliance, an umbrella body that aims to add weight to our standing and strength to our arm. We believe it can help us all project a more substantial image at this critical time in our history. (Read about the Alliance in the next post.)

NB. Open Grants for Caring For Our Country

To assist as many submissions that support the soil carbon solution, the Carbon Coalition has formulated a statement that can be attached to them to alert the assessors to the fact that your project meets the Government’s preferred model:
• “In particular, we are looking for applications for projects or programs that demonstrate integration of approaches and issues and partnerships between key players, such as regional groups, community, industry, government and non-government organisations.”
• “Caring for our Country Open Giants are encouraging larger scale integrated projects or programs or activities… “
• “Eligibility Requirements: larger scale projects which have the capacity to achieve significant outcomes are preferred…”

Conditions for Use of Alignment Statement

There are only two conditions: 1. That you send us an email describing how your project is aligned with the National Soil Carbon Strategy. 2. That you agree to incorporate any soil carbon data arising from your project in the National Soil Carbon Database. (See within for description.)


National Soil Carbon Strategy

This project is aligned with the National Soil Carbon Strategy proposed by the Soil Carbon Alliance. Under this alignment (project owners) undertake to supply soil carbon data arising from this project to be incorporated into the National Soil Carbon Database.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"No money in soil carbon.": Professor Pannell

In his blog called Pannell Discussions, Professor Dave Pannell of the School of Agricultural and Resource Economics, at the University of Western Australia gave an old chestnut a run: "farmers are unlikely to benefit from... carbon sequestration in soils."

Prof. Pannell uses the following definition:
"Soil carbon sequestration is the process of transferring carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the soil through crop residues and other organic solids, and in a form that is not immediately reemitted. This transfer or “sequestering” of carbon helps off-set emissions from fossil fuel combustion and other carbon-emitting activities while enhancing soil quality and long-term agronomic productivity. Soil carbon sequestration can be accomplished by management systems that add high amounts of biomass to the soil, cause minimal soil disturbance, conserve soil and water, improve soil structure, and enhance soil fauna activity. Continuous no-till crop production is a prime example." (Sundermeier et al., undated),

This definition of sequestration reflects the paradigm that held that organic matter input was the sole dynamic in the manufacture of soil carbon.But a definition should include reference to the activities of microbiological communities in response to rootmass activities.

He then tries to convince this farmer there won't be much in soil carbon for them:
1." It difficult to increase the amount of carbon stored in most cropped soils in Australia, even with zero till and when large amounts of stubble are retained (Chan et al., 2003)." My response to this is: Who can disagree with Dr Chan? He is a highly regarded soil scientist and one of the top 10 in the world for references to his work. He told us when we met at a farmers' meeting near Junee last year that we could put back the 30-40 tonnes of soil carbon lost from each hectare of cropping land, but it won't be easy. Who said no-till or zero-till was all that is needed to restore soil carbon? Do you have a reference? Have you seen CSIRO's ECOS magazine, March 08 edition? In it you will find the following: "One of the broadacre cropping properties north-east of Clermont in Queensland that is participating in the ASCAS (Australian Soil Carbon Accreditation Scheme) project has more than three times the amount of carbon in the farmed soil than there is under the surrounding native vegetation (149 tonnes of carbon/ha under native vegetation versus 516 tonnes of carbon/ha under the crop). As a result, the soil is far more productive. The wheat crop yielded 4 tonnes per hectare of grain with 13.5 per cent protein this year – well above the district average."

2." Soil sequestration is a once-off process," says Prof Pannell. "Once farmers change their management to increase soil carbon, it increases up to a new equilibrium level and then stops." Well we did some work on his in NZ. Not everyone agrees with the ‘steady state’ theory of soil development. “The steady-state has been defined as a temporary state of dynamic equilibrium in an open system. Any open system is continually directional in time,” said one contributor to the debate. (G. N. Park, Concepts in Vegetation/Soil System Dynamics — II. Post Steady-State, Tuatara: Volume 19, Issue 3, August 1972) Then there's Huggett's paper that rejects the notion of ‘steady state’ in favour of ‘evolution’, a process that never stops:
“Traditional soil formation theory sees a soil developing progressively under the influence of the environmental state factors until it is in equilibrium with prevailing environmental conditions,” says Huggett. But a new evolutionary view of soil growth makes the attempt to capture real conditions a soil would experience: random changes in systems, the notions of multidirectional changes and multiple steady states (as predicted by non-linear dynamics). It proposes that environmental inconstancy and non-linear behaviour in soil-landscapes lead to soil evolution, rather than to soil development. Soils ‘evolve' through continual creation and destruction at all scales, and may progress, stay the same, or retrogress, depending on the environmental circumstances.” (R. J. Huggett, “Soil chronosequences, soil development, and soil volution: a critical review”, School of Geography, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK Question: If a dynamic disequilibrium is created by a change in management, and that disequilibrium runs its course, could it be possible that another change in management could create a further disequilibrium?

Professor Pannell makes the popular point ":3. It is difficult to measure the amount of carbon stored in soils. To do so in a convincing way would involve regular and ongoing costs, which would eat away at the modest once-off benefits."

But we say: " Why is soil carbon hard to measure? Soil carbon specialists measure it every day. And if "flux" is the problem, does it not have statistical properties, and as such, is it not manageable? As for the cost, in what context is it expensive to measure? In the scientific context or in the commercial world? On a one-off basis, or on negotiated price for thousands of tests? Do you know about the new measurement technology just now coming available? And how will cost affect demand when carbon dioxide is at $40/tonne?

The conversation was proceeding apace when the Professor brought out the big guns: His colleague John Passioura believes that increasing humus in the soil (e.g. from reduced tillage) ties up carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulphur (Williams and Donald, 1957; Passioura, 2008) which would otherwise be available to increase crop yields. He estimates that in Australian cropping conditions, the cost of replacing these nutrients using additional fertilizer would be sufficient to wipe out any benefits from carbon sequestration even if the CO2 price was as high as $80 per tonne. He acknowledges that the error margin around this estimate is large, but even so there is clearly likely to be little or no net benefit at the sort of CO2 price currently being discussed: $20 to $40 per tonne.

Now there's a clue in there: the need to buy additional fertiliser. Part of the answer could be found in the following extract from Christine Jones's evidence before a Senate Select committee last month: "When we measured the nutrient levels in his paddock this year prior to him sowing his crop [again - Pasture Cropping], the phosphorous levels had gone up by a factor of five. The agronomist actually thought there was a laboratory error in the data. We relooked at that and at bare areas compared with areas under the grass, and it was correct that available phosphorous had gone up by a factor of five... Phosphorous fertilisers had been used over time, under 15 years of zero till in that area, and they just formed a phosphorous bank that had been inaccessible. A fortune has been spent on phosphorous fertilisers. That farmer will not need to apply phosphorous fertiliser, we do not know for how long but for several decades, because the microbes are releasing what has been built up. You mentioned before the issue with your conventional zero till and why it is that carbon does not work, nitrogen does not work and phosphorous does not work. Nothing works because you have to have a microbial bridge between plants and minerals in the soil. Plants cannot actually access those unless that is in place. Normally the carbon from plants feed the microbes that in turn bring nutrients back to the plants. We have destroyed all those associations in soil by loading it with toxic chemicals, basically. What has been in favour of its adoption is not only climate change but the rapidly increasing price of phosphorous, nitrogen and herbicides. That has encouraged farmers to look for alternatives to that system." MTC

Dave is a good bloke and has a great following on his blog. He'll see the light some day.

Sundermeier, A., Reeder, R., Rattan Lal, R. (undated) Soil Carbon Sequestration—Fundamentals,

Williams, C.H. and Donald, C.M. (1957). Changes in organic matter and Ph in a podzolic soil as influenced by subterranean clover and superphosphate. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 8(2): 179-189 .

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Hooray for the Farm Journal

The current issue is a triumph for soil carbon. Congratulations Patrick. It has articles on successful trials of perennial pasture species and pasture cropping in WA, on the biological basis for rapid soil C sequestration, on biochar, and an editorial that questions the scientists and agronomists who can't come to terms with the fact that a farm operation could be net carbon positive. Grab a copy!

Letter to Editor
Australian Farm Journal

Dear Sir –

Hooray for the Farm Journal for covering the soil carbon issue! While we were in the wilderness, AFJ gave us hope. Now the issue is on the national agenda. We have important advice for farmers interested in carbon trading: Seek advice from someone who knows the carbon market before you commit to anything. There are many pitfalls as well as opportunities. Pitfall 1: Additionality. Unless you can prove that the change in land management which has led to the accumulation of carbon (whether in trees or soils) was made specifically with carbon in mind, the offsets or credits will not be recognised under Kyoto principles. All activity must be ‘additional’ to business-as-usual, not something you would have done anyway. This includes getting involved in “best practice’ programs sponsored by government bodies. Better to stay out of them for the time being until the government solves the “Additionality” problem. Pitfall 2: Prices. The price of carbon dioxide was around $20/tonne in March when your article (about Landcare CarbonSmart) was being written and $40/tonne in May when I read it. Industry watchers estimate the price will move quickly to $60 and some say it will eventually reach $100. If you lock in at $20, you might regret it. Tip: Don’t commit your whole property. Opportunity 1: The combination of time controlled management, pasture cropping and biological farming is proving to be the fastest way to sequester soil carbon. Opportunity 2: You can add an income stream or two if you secure the local market for compost and compost teas as well as biochar unit. Production units of these soil ameliorants will need to be decentralised and localised to solve transport problems. General Tip: Don’t be distressed by presentations by scientists and government officials and industry body speakers about methane and nitrous oxide emissions on your farm that talk about how bad the situation is and do not include mention of the simple solutions that have already been discovered to address the issue. No one is giving a balanced view of the issue. They all dwell on the worst case scenario and remain silent about the fact that solutions are arriving. And the most important fact they refuse to tell you: even at low prices, an average farm can sequester sufficient carbon to meet its liabilities for emissions. So if the powers that be refuse to give farmers access to the carbon they sequester in soil yet insist that they meet their responsibilities for emissions, it will be a great injustice.

Soil carbon furphies in The Land

The following ‘facts’ that appeared in The Land recently are false or misleading:

Furphy: The average NZ dairy farmer’s returns will be reduced by 160% because the NZ government entered Kyoto. Fact: The truth is that no NZ dairy farmer’s returns will be reduced by 160% because the NZ Ministry if Agriculture’s figures are the worst case scenario with no allowance for adaptation or mitigation. (Ie. they assume the dairy farmer makes no changes to his operation. The main source of emissions for a dairy is methane. Research reveals simply adding flaxseed oil to the diet reduces methane emissions 20%. Other solutions are in the pipeline.)

Furphy: The Emissions Trading Scheme will damage farm businesses more than the impact of climate change itself, because of a 30% increase in costs. Fact: Mick Keogh of the Australian Farm Institute estimates that Australian agricultural output is projected to continue to grow strongly over the next forty years, with the gross value of annual farm output estimated to virtually double by 2050 despite the projected impact of climate change.

Furphy: An ETS would see farming exported to developing nations. Fact: Population explosion, food shortages, substitution of biofuel crops for food crops, and the shift to animal protein in new consumer markets has created a crisis. Recent food riots in 10 locations reveals the reality of the in ability of developing nations to feed themselves, let alone steal our markets.

Furphy: Wool has the ability to become a carbon sink. Fact: The use of harvested timber in construction is not acceptable to the Kyoto Principles. Even the use of forest trees as offsets is not acceptable to European nations. Wool fails several Kyoto tests, including additionality and permanence. Analysis of the potential value of a flock’s wool (18,000 DSE) by Dr Richard Eckhard found the contribution of wool was minimal (20 tonnes CO2e out of 2500t/CO2e).

Furphy: Tree plantations covering 10% of the average farm would offset emissions from livestock. Fact: Trees must hold their carbon for 100 years. They do not sequester significant amounts for the first 5 to 10 years and they cease sequestering at around 50-60 years. According to a calculator developed by Dr Richard Eckard, a plantation covering 10% of a 2000ha sheep/grain property would contribute around 1100 tonnes CO2e to paying a Methane bill of 2500 tonnes.

Furphy: Researchers proved that heavier soils cannot build soil carbon, even under a heavy superphosphate regime. Fact: The researchers proved only that they couldn’t grow soil carbon. Soil carbon will not respond to heavy super and annuals. “Carbon farmers” would choose deep-rooted perennials, encouraged by pasture cropping, grazed periodically, the root pulsing feeding a complete micro-biological community.

Senate Committee gets the soil C message

Dr Christine Jones, Tim WIley (WA Dept Agriculture & Food) and Bob Wilson (Evergreen Farming WA) appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport's "Inquiry into Climate Change and the Australian Agricultual Sector". recently - and had a great triumph! They are pictured here with Senators Sterle, O'Brien, Nash, and Heffernan.

We will publish their record of testimony when we have it. Until then, we have Bob Wilson's email impressions

G'day Michael & Louisa,

Well........ interesting times are upon us! This next six months is going to be very hectic for all us soil carbon tragics, are they not!? I have attached a photo (sorry it isn't better quality) of the three SCT's (see above) after our presentation to the senate standing committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport's "Inquiry into Climate Change and the Australian Agricultual Sector". (these were some of the senator's that we could grab at the lunch break on the second day)
We stayed for the whole two days and listened to the presentations from many of the Agro political / science R&D/ and policy organisations. Very interesting stuff!
Our presentation was so well received by the senators that we were questioned for an extra 20 minutes after our allotted time had elapsed! And at the end of our presentation, almost unanimously, the senators decided that they WANTED TO SEE these "Carbon Farming" systems that we had told them were happening on farms around the country RIGHT NOW! We hope this will occur in august this year in both the east and the west.
As we were the 3rd presentation of 18 over the two days, we were thrilled to hear a number of the senators subsequently ask leading questions of the representatives of many organisations, regarding their views on soil carbon, and their knowledge on pasture cropping etc. At least on two occasions these organisations were given the suggestion from the senators that they should introduce themselves to us before they left, so they might be able to learn more about the practice.
It was fantastic......!!
I feel a key supporter that we need to work with is Michael Robinson from LWA, who is in charge of the CCRSPI program. This was acknowledged by a number of speakers as the 'Big player in town'..... Apparently there is still one organisation that is not playing ball at the moment, but we don't know which one. (although senator Nash asked some very interesting questions of DAFF)
Hopefully the hansard report will come out on monday, and it will be worth reading, just to hear the instructions to the DAFF 'suits' (I think there was 7 of them!!) to turn around and introduce themselves to us, so they can learn about soil carbon........ It will make your day!! It did for us.........
I would be happy for the photo and a short article to appear on your blogsite....... mainly about the positive reaction to our presentation, and the forthcoming visit.
Any of my personal thoughts had better stay out, until I have read hansard........
I was quite impressed by some of the intelligent questioning by the senators..... especially sen Fiona Nash (NSW nat), Mary Jo Fisher (lib SA) and the two greens Milne and Siewert. Bill Heffernan was very entertaining at times!!

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.

Voluntary market for soils in 6 months?

Professor Peter Grace of the Queensland University of Technology believes there is enough basic scientific information on soil carbon in Australia to have a voluntary soil carbon trading scheme operating within six to 12 months.
Despite the difficulties in measuring methane and nitrogen emissions, Professor Grace told ABC Science Online that climate friendly farming practices can be encouraged, while waiting for more data. Even with the uncertainties, it would be possible to begin trialing agricultural emissions trading in a voluntary offset market. Such a scheme could account for the scientific uncertainty in measuring emissions and sequestration by offering discount credits. Farmers could, for example, get credit for half the estimated amount of carbon they are sequestering in their soils, with the hope of later using these credits in an official system.
The Professor estimates that more than 900 megatons of GHG could be sequestered annually through improved pasture management alone. "It's a very significant amount of carbon," he said. Even if only 10% of this amount was achieved it would result in a significant reduction in Australia's carbon emissions.
Mick Keogh from the Australian Farm Institute agrees ith Professor Grace: "There is good reason to think that, given some robust accreditation and verification standards, this voluntary market may be the way in which a market for soil carbon sequestration can be developed," he said.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Commission of Scientists to Solve Garnaut's problem with soil measurement

The Soil Carbon Alliance: Andre Leu, Organic Federation of Australia, Chris Rochford, CORE, Eric Love, CORE, Michael Kiely, Carbon Coalition, Louisa Kiely, Carbon Coalition

Three major agricultural and environmental bodies have joined forces to call for urgent action by the Commonwealth Government to remove the blockage to the world’s largest terrestrial carbon sink to play a decisive role in the battle to avoid the ‘major damage’ to Australia’s economy and environment predicted by Professor Ross Garnaut in his Draft Report.
“We are calling on the Government to commission Australia’s top soil carbon scientists to agree on a method for estimating amounts of carbon in soil so farmers can be encouraged to capture and store carbon at the maximum rate possible,” says Michael Kiely, Convenor of the Carbon Coalition, a member of the new Soil Carbon Alliance.
The Soil Carbon Alliance is appealing to Australia’s soil carbon experts to join a list to be submitted to the Minister for Agriculture, Tony Burke, to overcome the “practical difficulties” the Government is having with soil carbon. “Some scientists say soil carbon is hard to measure. But soil carbon specialists, who measure carbon routinely, do not have a difficulty measuring it,” says Michael Kiely.
To promote the capacity of soils to capture and store carbon, farmers’ climate change lobby group, the Carbon Coalition has joined forces with organics industry peak body, the Organic Federation of Australia (OFA), and environmental research and marketing experts, the Centre for Organic Resource & Enterprise (CORE), to form the Soil Carbon Alliance.
The soil is a powerful carbon sink that can turn the tables on climate change if given a chance, according to the Alliance. It stores more carbon than the atmosphere and all the trees and vegetation on the Earth combined. Australia has more than 450 million hectares of land managed by farmers. There are 5.5 billion hectares of farmland in the world. “If farmers were to sequester half a tonne of carbon per hectare, we could extract more than 12 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere,” says Mr Kiely. The world emits 8 billion tonnes more than it should each year. “Already farmers in WA are sequestering between 1 and 3 tonnes per hectare per year, according to Government – sponsored trials.”
CEO of CORE, Eric Love says ‘the time for centralising, qualifying and quantifying our national knowledge base for carbon in soil is now, with federal political intelligence and will finally aligned to achieve profoundly important climate change mitigation outcomes, for both Australian farmers and for the world.’
Andre Leu, Chair of the OFA, an organisation which represents thousands of carbon-sinking farmers whose organic methods have been demonstrating carbon soil sequestration for decades, said, ‘it would be outrageously stingy and indeed negligent of the organic sector and the governments of all levels to withhold from Australian farmers the collective wisdom of over 50 years worth of proven carbon farming methods and systems, the adoption of which is not half as complicated as some farmers have been made to think and which does not have involve any level of certification whatsoever.’
CSIRO soil carbon specialist Dr Neil McKenzie recommended the appointment of expert panels in emergencies in 2002: “There is a strong case for maintaining several national panels to undertake expert assessments [when] decision-makers require advice on likely changes in soil and land resource condition and they cannot wait until there is statistical certainty in trends from long-term monitoring sites. Interim procedures are required so that assessments of change can be based on risk, probability and expert opinion.”
Soil carbon has been a neglected field for scientific work (compared to the $145m given to the coal industry to develop ‘clean coal’.
This under-investment has left Agriculture unprepared for joining the Emissions Trading Scheme.
“Recently the NSW Government cancelled an important soil carbon calculator project that would have brought trading closer. It cost only $30,000. The bureaucrats have no concept of what they are dealing with,” says Michael Kiely. “They need leadership.”


Sunday, July 06, 2008

Garnaut: Soil carbon must be in an emissions trading scheme

Soil carbon must be recognised if agriculture is to be part of an emissions trading scheme, Professor Ross Garnaut told Rural Press writer Lucy Skuthorp. He says soils have “considerable potential for sequestering carbon,” in his Draft Report on Australia’s Emissions Trading Scheme. The amount of carbon which that could be stored in the soil "could be very big.
It's very important that the arrangements put in place give true credit for carbon that is in the soil," he said.
"That's one of the reasons we can't go quickly with agriculture is because we're still working out how to measure that." The science hasn’t kept pace with the politics. “Full inclusion of agriculture… in an emissions trading scheme will require issues to be resolved regarding measurement and monitoring of greenhouse gases.” The science of methane and nitrogen emissions is lagging, despite having Australia’s best emissions scientists such as Dr Richard Eckard dedicated to the task.
"Getting the measurement right, the administration right is crucial and a lot is going to be depending on that," he said.
"But my view is we shouldn't be moving to put agriculture in until we've got that right."
Professor Garnaut said we should forget Kyoto if the measurements in agriculture can be perfected.
"I think we can move ahead of the Kyoto rules," Professor Garnaut said. "If we think we can measure things right, we can go ahead, even if the international community doesn't recognise it.
"It will be some cost for us but I think we should do it.
"But we've got to get it right, and if we can get it right then that could be an example to the world."

Garnaut's Otherwise Dismal Report

Economics is called ‘the dismal science’. Ross Garnaut is an economist. And all the news seems bad because Professor Garnaut often presents the worst case scenario. Even though he also presents more optimistic outcomes, readers and journalists are naturally focussed on the bad news. He should use the words “If nothing is done to stop it happening” after each worst case statement:

• By 2100, production in the Murray-Darling Basin will have fallen by 92%. (If nothing is done to stop it happening.)

Professors can hold more than one thought in their mind at a time. But the rest of us are less flexible. If people remember only the bad news, they will lose heart. There is a short distance between awareness and despair in the climate change issue.

• “Growth in emissions is expected to have a severe and costly impact on agriculture, infrastructure, biodiversity and ecosystems in Australia.”

• “The emissions trading scheme and associated mitigation policies will contribute to large structural change throughout the Australian economy. The changes will be most profound in the sectors in which emissions are most important… energy… transport, and agriculture….”

• “Crop production is likely to be affected directly by changes in … rainfall and temperatures… Livestock industries will be influenced by the changes in the quantity and quality of available pasture...”

• “The hot, dry extreme case has devastating consequences for the Australian wheat industry, leading to complete abandonment of production for most regions.”

• “Australia will not be immune from the consequences of climate-induced migration in Asia and the Pacific… significant population displacement caused by sea-level rise, declining agricultural production, flooding, severe weather and step changes in the climate system are all distinct possibilities.”

• “The key Australian export markets in China, India, Indonesia and elsewhere in Asia are projected to have significantly lower economic activity as a result of climate change. A slowdown… would be associated with a decline in international demand for Australia’s mineral and energy resources and agricultural products.”

• Export volumes: “Agriculture is the most affected sector in the economy, reflecting the very large productivity losses in the sector [because] increased temperatures and reduced rainfall are likely to cause substantial reductions in agricultural output.”

• “Mitigation has costs; and no degree of mitigation commenced in 2008 or 2010 will avoid all of the costs of climate change.”

The news was not all bad.

• “The modifying impact of adaptation is exemplified by Australian agriculture. Better and earlier knowledge will allow farmers to make timely decisions on whether new money should continue to be invested in locations that seem to be severely damaged by climate change, or whether it is better to find new livelihoods in less challenging locations. Investment in plant and animal genetics may be able to diminish the loss of productivity associated with higher temperatures and changing rainfall patterns. Investment in water retention or storage will sometimes be an economically sensible response to more variable rainfall.”

• “Under the no-mitigation case and through adaptive management much of Australia could experience an increase in wheat production by 2030. This is attributable to the farm-scale (autonomous) adaptive management considered(that is, moving planting times in response to warming and selection of optimal production cultivars) and increases in growth and water-use efficiency resulting from higher carbon dioxide concentrations.”

No “poor bugger me” handouts for ag in climate change

Peak industry leaders are celebrating like they dodged a bullet (see below) after Garnaut recommended that agriculture remain outside the Emission Trading Scheme until the measurement and ‘administration’ issues are settled. But they are dreaming if they think that agriculture will escape from paying its way. The alternative to being covered in a market-based system that allows businesses to choose how to manage their response is being told what to do by government. In an ominous warning at the Farm Institute conference last March, a senior public servant said that, if agriculture is left out of the trading scheme, the government would resort to legislation to ensure agriculture makes the big changes needed to reduce emissions. The Carbon Coalition has been campaigning since 2006 for land holders to be given the right to trade the carbon they can grow in their soils. Sequestration rates in trials in WA and QLD confirm our belief that soil managed for carbon - using a portfolio of techniques such as grazing management, pasture cropping and biological farming - can capture and store enough carbon to offset the emissions from methane and nitrogen, when combined with other mitigation strategies. No official scientific research has tested these combinations of techniques, so anyone proclaiming that sequestration rates are too small to be bothered with is talking through their hat. The campaign of misinformation and intimidation waged against the morale of the farm community and its leaders has succeeded in frightening us into submission. In their presentations about the likely impacts of Climate Change, scientists and government officials and even some industry representatives have followed a strategy of presenting only worst case scenarios with no mention of factors that will balance the situation, such as new techniques and technologies or the potential contribution soils can make.

This barrage of pessimism has succeeded in softening up industry leaders who don't understand the issues or how they are being manipulated. For as long as Agriculture is content to be given 'special status', it will be reduced to the 'poor bugger me' hand-out mentality. It won't work this time because there are no free rides. We'll pay one way or the other. The excuses for leaving Agriculture out - difficulty of measurement and administration of many small enterprises - are both overblown furphies. No other industry is forced to measure its emissions directly. They all rely on estimations. Why not Agriculture? And if the Tax Office can deal with 130,000 enterprises reporting each year, why can't the Department of Climate Change? The arguments used against Agriculture's right to stand up on its own feet are disingenuous and unsubstantiated. The Carbon Coalition calls on the Department of Climate Change to release the substantive arguments and evidence and sources used to support the contention that measurement and administration are insurmountable problems. At the same time, we suggest that the farm community will not be satisfied to accept the reliability of government science as a basis for decisions that impact on their lives and businesses, given the gaps in the data sets in the soil carbon inventory. The Coalition requests that a panel of experts retrospectively audit the methodologies of all scientific studies on which major policy decisions have been based.

Bleating and handwringing a poor substitute for policy

The Queensland Farmers' Federation (QFF) and AgForce were quick off the mark to celebrate a hollow victory - the Ganaut
Report's recommendation that agriculture not be included in an emissions trading scheme for the time being.

QFF CEO John Cherry hopes it will all go away: he is not convinced the agricultural sector should ever be ‘in’. "There are some fundamental problems with applying an ETS to agriculture, we're not sure we can sort the measurement issues out," he said. "We're not sure that his compensation mechanism sorts out the trade exposure issue and we might end up exporting our agriculture industries to countries that don't have an ETS."

AgForce president Peter Kenny says: "AgForce does not believe agriculture should be a covered sector in Australia. We support the use of research as it can deliver both improved efficiency and reduced emissions.

"The Federal Government is still unable to demonstrate how it plans to account for the significant offsets already provided by agriculture (unlike the major emitting industries) or how it plans to account for the price we have already paid here in Queensland because of the land clearing legislation.”

Unfortunately the Queensland land clearing legislation has nothing to do with emissions reduction. It falls ouside Kyoto guidelines and any use of it by the then Commonwealth Government to ’meet its obligations under Kyoto’ was spurious and nonsense bcause AUustralia – having not ratified the Protocols – did not have obligations to meet. If his foregone deforestration hs since been accepted by Kyoto officials, it is direct contravention of their own principles of Additionality. (See below)

"Australia also currently lacks the mechanisms needed to independently measure agriculture's carbon emissions and it's vital to our industries that both their emissions and the full scope of their carbon sequestration are known, measured and understood."

Worst case scenario (and therefore of little value) modelling from the Australian Farm Institute has input costs up 45% for some cropping enterprises and up 15% for some graziers.

"Increases of this scale would make many producers unviable even if agriculture is not a covered sector, it will certainly drive up the price paid by consumers," Mr Kenny said.

The myth of the stolen carbon credits (Queensland land clearing laws)

The Queensland Government’s Native Vegetation Clearing legislation is often waved around as proof that landholders have already contributed millions of tonnes of emissions foregone and a lot of economic pain in the name of reducing Australia’s GHG liability.

Peak industry body leaders use it whenever emissions trading is the topic. But it is not true. The Queensland Government legislation was never meant to reduce Australia’s emissionsin 1997 when it was proposed, in 1999 when it was introduced, in 2000 when it was ratified. Only in 2002, when PM Howard asked for help with emissions was the Queensland native vegetation conservation repurposed for the national emissions task.

The legislation therefore fails to pass the Additionality Tests for acceptance as creating legitimate offsets. They fail because they were ‘business as usual’, ie. going to happen anyway.

Farmers were promised compensation, which they subsequently claimed they did not get. But they could not have used the tonnage of carbon saved for credits because Australia had no formal or informal trading scheme at the time.

So, if the agrpoliticians were fair dinkum, they wuldn’t seek to hide behind this furphy which carries little weight with the Commonwealth Government because they understand it for what it is: making a virtue of necessity, which spells ‘business as usual’ and doom for claiming lost or stolen carbon credits.

The relevant extracts from Hansard are included here:

Premier Beattie, Hansard (11 December 1999)

“In 1997 I promised the people of Queensland that, if elected, my Government would protect all land from unsustainable tree Previous HitclearingNext Hit and land degradation by introducing a new Vegetation Act or other appropriate regulation. … today we will deliver on this commitment. And we will deliver in a way that not only protects the unique biodiversity of this State but also gives our farmers the certainty they need to be able to plan and develop their properties on a sustainable and long-term viable basis. This is a pro-farmer, pro-sustainability of land, pro- Queensland outcome. This is in Queensland's long-term interests’”

Robert Hill, Commonwealth Minister for the Environment (Senate February 2000):

“In relation to land clearing, I accept that Australia has been overcleared and at the moment Queensland is being overcleared. The rate of clearing in Queensland is too high and it is up to the Queensland government to do something about it... To simply clear native vegetation on a broad scale basis, without understanding the health of the natural system, means that you end up with the same problems that we have in southern Australia which are costing the tax payer billions of dollars in repair.”

Premier Peter Beattie reading letter from PM John Howard (Queensland Parliament, 11 March, 2002):

“As set out in my letter to you of 24 July 2001, the commonwealth's offer to provide matching assistance recognises the national interest in reducing the high rates of land clearing specific to Queensland to assist in meeting Australia's international greenhouse commitments. As indicated in that letter, I consider that land clearing is primarily a land management issue and the responsibility of State and territory governments. I also indicated the Commonwealth would be prepared to provide a financial contribution commensurate with the reduction in emissions from land clearing negotiated and implemented by your government. Achieving a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will involve a sizeable and sustained reduction in 'business as usual' rates over the past decade beyond that flowing from the management regime and the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality. For example, a guaranteed reduction in the order of 20 to 25 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually could provide significant abatement to secure national outcomes from Commonwealth investment.”