Sunday, March 08, 2009


Please read the text below and decide if you can agree to be a "Signatory" of the petition to Minister Burke, seeking to avoid the mistakes of the past with the $20m to be sent on soil carbon research. If you agree, simply email the address on this link, supplying the following information: your assent, property/organisation name, and your location. If you are an office bearer in a relevant organisation.

Collaborative Science in Agriculture
A Brief Submission on Maximising Return on Investment in Soil Carbon Research

Statement of the Opportunity: The Minister for Agriculture has announced a $20 million investment in research into Soil Carbon, for which we are very grateful. The Soil Carbon Movement has long petitioned for this outcome, and we are anxious that Soil Carbon be given the opportunity to perform to its potential. That justice is seen to be done is the key to the Farm Community’s acceptance of the outcomes, given that the economic viability of many farm enterprises will be determined by these outcomes.

Context: The controversy over the sequestration potential of Australian soils is based on a methodological flaw in the National Carbon Accounting Scheme which saw gaps in the data skew the results and lead to the conclusion that Australian soils were more likely to be a source of emissions than a sink. The gaps in the data – the absence of new land management techniques that sequester carbon in soil – have been acknowledged by a former Australian Greenhouse Office executive. Unfortunately, the consensus opinion was formed before the ‘key gaps in the data’ were filled. Those gaps are still waiting to be filled – even after the projects that you announced this week are complete. The common belief led policymakers to see Agriculture as ‘problem’ rather than ‘opportunity’. Funding for trials was denied. Meanwhile farmers were recording rates of soil carbon increases 10 to 100-times faster than official science (by focussing on soil biology). Official science has also started to record higher rates of sequestration than the models, based on incomplete data, will allow.

Core Issue: A farmer could see the gaps in the NCAS research at a glance because he knows what to look for. Scientists are not fully briefed on emerging land management practices, they might construct methodologies that potentially do not reflect practical reality. This in turn could compromise the research. Where the outcome of this research underpins public policy that will affect the financial well-being of an entire industry, it becomes a critical issue.

Core Proposition: We recommend that a collaborative approach to science in Agriculture be pursued.

The professional farmer or grazier can help identify the landscape issues that should inform the construction of the study. The farmer in turn will learn more about scientific method. The Carbon Coalition has been developing these types of relationships for three years, engaging scientists and practitioners in five knowledge-sharing events, two of which have been National Carbon Farming Conferences. The scientists involved have included Prof. Richard Eckard, Prof. Peter Grace, Prof. Alex McBratney, Dr Jeff Baldock, Dr Brian Murphy, Dr Annette Cowie, Dr Greg Chapman, and Dr Yin Chan, who has long championed the capacity of Australian soils to sequester.

Collaborative Science in Agriculture is not novel. It was a finding of the 2020 Summit’s Rural Stream: "New participatory approaches to research, including on-ground research extension, are needed … The most effective way of generating on-ground change is by having producers actively involved in participatory approaches to research since ‘farmers are often first order innovators’."

We believe your announcement this week of nine key projects, the strategic nature of these studies, and their timing makes it imperative that we engage farmers in the process.


1. That the Minister requests the CSIRO which has overarching responsibility for the nine projects to engage members of the Carbon Farming community in discussions about the methodology chosen for the studies.
2. That the scientists listed above be consulted as to the sincere collaborative intention of the Carbon Farmers. And that the credibility of the studies in question would be guaranteed by such transparency.

Request: That a meeting be arranged as soon as possible between the relevant people at the Ministry, the CSIRO and a delegation of Carbon Farmers.

Thank you.

Michael Kiely
(And attached signatories).

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