Friday, May 08, 2009

Minister Burke Responds to the Petition - PLEASE COMMENT



Thank you for your email of 6 march 2009 about the Soil Carbon Research Program (SCRP) and your petition of 10 March 2009. Climate Change is one of the greatest challenges facing primary industries, but also offers opportunities if we engage farming communities and invest in research and industry preparation. It is encouraging to see the depth of community interest shown in your petition. The Australian Government has committed itself to examining the opportunities for producivity gains that may flow from improving the level of carbon in agricultural soils.

The program covers all states and the Northern Territory. It will identify land uses and management practices that have the poptential to increase the levels of carbon in the soil across the nation's diverse farming systems - including cereal crops, sheep and beef grazing, sugarcane and vegetable farming, and irrigated and non-irrigated dairy. The SCRP will develop a national standard for measuring soil carbon levels and will assist with the development of a national dataset of soil carbon levels.

The Government recognises the important role that sound, peer reviewed science can have on influencing international accounting rules, negotiations and policy. The SCRP is a scientific research program and its findings wll be subject to peer review.

It is also important to highlight that the projects to be undertaken under the SCRP were recommended by an independent panel with extensive links to Australia's agricultural indstry, research institutions and fsrming sector. I believe that the panel is well positioned to select projects that address gaps in our knowledge.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Burke


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).

1 comment:

Mike said...

Having been a land manager myself, I managed a property in the central tablelands for over 10 years from 1995-2005 using an intensive grazing system involving cell grazing.In that time I set up 6 monitoring site and soil tested these sites every year for 6 years and the results were dramatic. The average of the 6 sites at the start was below 2% OM and after 5 years the average was above 5% OM.
The methodology is critical, conventional farming methods don't show these sort of result and the added benefits or "freebies" you get, like increase in soil health, production and profit(a term not usually associated with agriculture).