Sunday, June 14, 2009

What is Carbon Farming?

What is Carbon farming? It's different things to different people. Every farm and every farmer is different. Each has its own list of advantages and disadvantages, talents and prejudices. For this reason every Carbon Farming solution will not be suitable in 100% of cases. A farmer should be free to chose from a portfolio of techniques, having been taught the difference between them and how they can be combined.

(The following definitions are truncated for the purposes of simplicity. Naturally there is more to each of the sectors and systems mentioned.)

Carbon Farming – any land management technique (or combination) that aims to sequester carbon in soils for whatever reason.

Holistic Management - a systematic method for making decisions about any shared resource; identified with ‘planned grazing’.

Natural Sequence Farming – a system for managing water in the landscape that seeks to replicate the native irrigation system that operated before white settlement.

Keyline Planning – a system of water engineering and subsoil ploughing that aims to restore farm landscapes and soil health.

Planned Grazing - known in the past as cell grazing, time control grazing, or rotational grazing, it has elements of each. Planned grazing involves planning the access of grazing animals to pasture based on the amount of time the vegetation needs to recover and grow a full complimentof ‘solar panels’ (blades of grass).

No-Till – a cultivation technique that reduces disturbance of the soil. Can be known as ‘direct drill’. Can involve heavy use of herbicide. “NoKill” variant uses no herbicide.

Pasture Cropping – direct drilling a cereal into a dormant perennial pasture to renovate pasture. Less emphasis on yield.

Perennial Cover Cropping – the reverse of pasture cropping. A perennial sward is kept covering the soil during old fallow time. Crop planted into sward.

Biological Farming – the name has been used by one of the two major organic certification standards in Australia; also the name used by the biofertiliser industry for a soil-biology-focussed farming approach – using compost teas, minerals, .etc.

Sustainable Biological Agriculture – a new term; applied to a combination of Natural Sequence Farming, biological farming and planned grazing.

Biodynamic Agriculture – known mainly for composting process involving on-farm manure placed in cow horns and buried for 12 months, then used to in a naturopathic style to produce a spray on liquid.

Organic Agriculture - growers are certified as running a toxic chemical free operation. Soil disturbance by ploughing allowed.
Probiotic Inoculants – Inoculants that contain microbial mixes selected for conditions and objectives. Sprayed onto vegetation.

Mulching – a soil repair technique using any suitable material to protect soil from heat and conserve water

Green Mulching – any crop grown to be ploughed in to soil to increase soil organic matter.

Composting – converting raw biomass into plant-available organic matter.

Compost Teas – tea-like solution created by determining microbe mix in composting process and steeping water in the mix; some operators use flow form structures to energise the water/teas befor application.

Dung Beetles - introduced species of dung dessicators which roll balls of mainly cow manure into holes and transport it metres down into the soil profile.

Forestry – grassy woodlands, shelter belts, wldlife corridors, and lantations are all options tha can be used to increase soil carbon.

These Carbon Farming alternatives divide themselves into the following:

1. Systems for decision making
a. Holistic Management
b. Grazing for Profit (RCS)
c. Principal Focus
d. ......................

2. Major Infrastructure foundational systems
a. Natural Sequence Farming
b. Planned Grazing
c. Keyline Planning
d. ......................

3. Marketing Assurance Systems
a. Organic farming
b. ..................

4. Cropping practices
a. Minimum vs No Till cultivators
b. Pasture cropping
c. ......................

5. Soil Treatments
a. Compost
b. Biofertilsers,
c. Inoculants
d. Worm Juice
e. Minerals & Trace elements
f. Mulch
g. Dung Beetles
h. ......................

6. Trees
a. Grassy woodlands
b. Shelter belts
c. Salt expressions
d. Carbon Plantings
e. Wildlife corridors
f. .........................

These alternatives can be combined in many ways:

1. Only one decision-making system: most will use a version of what has worked for them in the past
2. Only one water management system (NSF, Keyline): because there is major earthworks involved with hydrology systems, we call them "infrastructural'; as they involve a fundamental theory of landscape design, we call them 'foundational". The decision to install either will affect management decisions beyond the immediate activity.
3. Fencing infrastructure for planned grazing can be used with all except high yield broadacre cropping. It is also infrastructural and foundational.
4. Cropping practice could change with type of soil, yield requirement and objectives.
5. Soil treatments not exclusive.

The alternatives above divide themselves into 'fixed' and 'variable' activities, along the lines of how easy/inexpensive or hard/costly it is to get started. For instance, wire and water for planned grazing is more expensive than inoculating a crop.

There are no rules when it comes to Carbon farming. There are only options and a single objective: soil carbon.
And there are a million reasons to grow it.

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