Sunday, June 14, 2009

Nation's top public servants have a 'soil carbon experience'

A unique and historic event in the soil carbon movement’s history took place on Friday 12 June at the Bylong property made famous by Peter Andrews and Natural Sequence Farming (NSF). The gathering – under the command of former Governor General Major General Michael Jeffery – saw heads of several key Government Departments ‘feel the carbon beneath their feet’ as they walked across the dense, rich pasture on Tarwyn Park, the property where Peter first demonstrated NSF in action.

The guests of honour included The Secretary, Department of Treasury, Ken Henry, the Secretary, Department of Environment,Water, Heritage and the Arts, Robyn Kruk, Dr Angela MacDonald (Prime Minister & Cabinet), Dr Brian Keating, Chief, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Mike Clarke, Department of Agriculture, Western Australia.

The theme of the day was NSF as the centrepiece of a sustainable biological system of farming that will regenerate the Australian landscape and capture enough carbon in soils to give society time to build alternative energy responses while burning coal in the interim. Soil carbon was front and centre in the presentations and not simply a bolt-on as it often is.

One of the 5 recommendations made to the Government representatives was: “Soil Carbon to be recognised as part of the solution to sequestering carbon in Australia’s Global Climate Change Policy (post Kyoto), with farmers able to generate recognised offsets to the CPRS (ie . A tradeable soil carbon credit.)”

The balance of the proposed recommendation to Government and Business includes:

1. The establishment of a high level Task Force ‘responsible for overseeing the implementation of Sustainable Biological Agriculture (SBA) based on NSF and including biological farming and planned grazing.’

2. Priority access to Caring For Our Country grants to establish demonstration farms linked with education programs.

3. Adopt as a nation the objective of 80% of Australia’s agricultural and rangelands converting to SBA by 2020.

4. Soil carbon as a tradeable offset under CPRS.

5. CSIRO and other scientific bodies assist in developing Measurement, Monitoring and Verification methodologies for soil carbon increases and nitrous oxide and methane emissions reductions.

The official guests were subjected to a program of presentations and site visits staged with military precision. The General spoke first of the crisis in Australia’s water and soils and how important the meeting was. Peter Andrews spoke of the natural irrigation system that the continent had created for itself centuries ago and the need that we should allow that system to re-emerge. Farmers had to learn how to read the landscape and understand the needs of the water cycle. Professor David Goldney gave a theoretical explanation of NSF, followed by Professor Richard Bush who reported on the scientific work he did on Gerry Havey’s NSF program at nearby property “Baramul”. David Mason-Jones (a journalist) demonstrated with a sponge and a jug of water how a floodplain fed by a river (in this case the Hunter) could hold 1.6 gigalitres of water in the soil while still releasing water for downstream users and losing far less to evaporation than conventional dams and irrigation systems allow. Then John White, whose company Ignite Energy controls 75% of Victoria’s brown coal, exlained how he had found a way to use his coal as a soil ameliorant, returning the peaty coal to the soil in a biofert combination devised by Adrian Laurie of LaurieCo. This and other biological soil treatments were positioned to the audience as the means of kickstarting the landscape before the NSF effect kicks in. Adrian Laurie gave a tight presentation on his Biological Farming Systems and Tony Lovell’s presentation explained how elements of Holistic Management (HM) fit in to the broader picture – and also made the plea for science to follow the market, the only sane solution.

The meshing together of NSF, HM, and biological farming in a single presentation was a brave attempt to present Carbon Farming as a holistic system, albeit with a ‘first among equals’ twist, placing NSF at the hub of the wheel. Peter’s system earned the right to “first” place by making the event happen. But life isn’t neatly arranged, and there are as many farmers passionate about planned grazing or pasture cropping (which did not get a guernsy on the day, though we spotted some oats direct drilled on Tarwyn Park.) The program was in danger of causing ‘soil carbon overload’ in the minds of the official guests. And those Carbon Farming techniques not present were acknowledged several times during the event.

Once in the outdoors Peter led a convoy of 4WDs to visit the pastures his system has produced. A rich, species diverse matress of luxuriant native perennials mixed with clovers, sewn once many years ago. The soil, which had been salt-ravaged in 1974 when Peter took on the property, is rich and dark. Then on to a weir built across the stream which slowed down the flow and turned an ‘incised’ V-shaped gully into a lush, ‘rainforest’.

The senior public servants were obviously impressed with the enthusiasm and knowledge of the presenters and observers (including Carbon Coalition affiliates Maarten Stapper, Walter Jehne, Martin Royds,and Tom Nicholas). The highest policy advisers in the land made themselves available, a tribute to Peter and the General. One was able to engage them in conversation easily and without ceremony. Ken Henry revealed that he had read both Peter’s books and used his techniques on his own property. Perhaps the most important official for the soil carbon movement was Ken Henry because the Government won’t have too many excess dollars for Agriculture. It wil be looking for good ROI from its investment. And Carbon Farming is a good investment.

Peter's NSF principles have always been considered to be a foundational infrastructure issue to be considered by every farmer wanting to grow carbon in soils and wanting to encourage natural fertility systems in their landscape. This event further reinforces that belief. Congratulations to the NSF organisation on a triumph.

1 comment:

Phillip Diprose said...

Thanks heaps for sharing, Michael. Awesome to know this has been done.
Just curious ... was there any discussion on the 'methane emissions from livestock' issue?