Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Don't blame Science for lagging 5 years behind

While farmers are now joining "microscope clubs" and becoming conversant with soil biology - using it to get amazing results - science is still just starting on the previous generation of land management practices.

A summary of the NSW DPI's program: "Comparisons include high and low input grazing land management; conventional crop rotations versus response cropping or inclusion of pasture phase; and revegetation of grazing land with native tree and shrub species." No mention of biology. And then there's the "novel soil amendment, biochar" - it's capacity to increase soil carbon is being researched when there is no known economic model that works - whereas biological farming is already widespread.

Take a look at the biology-free "Soil Carbon Research" Program Minister Burke kindly funded: unless I am mistaken, no biology.

And the danger of science getting even these imple things wrong (See "Scientists are not always good farmers" - next post)

But we can't blame the scientists. They don't decide which projects will be funded. Ministers do that.

Soil Carbon Research Program

Soil carbon research program overarching project – CSIRO
This project will undertake the technical oversight and management of the Soil Carbon Research Program. It will develop standardised data collection protocols and undertake carbon content analysis.

South eastern SA cereals, sheep and beef systems and Australia wide perennial sheep pastures – CSIRO
This project will identify sites and undertake sampling within south-eastern South Australia’s cereal, sheep and beef systems. Perennial pasture sites will also be identified and sampling will be undertaken throughout the country — particularly in WA and NSW.

South-west Western Australia: Cereal, sheep and beef systems – University of Western Australia & WA Department of Agriculture & Food
This project will engage with a number of grower groups and collect samples from a number of their sites. It will also undertake sampling at sites where management practices have been in place for a minimum of five years.

Victorian dairy, sheep, cereal and beef systems – Victorian Department of Primary Industries and the Co-operative Research Centre for Future Farming
This project will undertake re-sampling of a number of ongoing crop and pasture sites around Hamilton, Rutherglen and Ararat. It will build upon work which has previously occurred under the EverGraze program as well as DPI long-term experimental sites at Horsham, Rutherglen and Walpeup. Engagement with ongoing farmer trials will be undertaken with Southern Farming Systems, the Birchip Cropping Group and the South West Climate Change Forum.

Northern rangelands beef systems – Queensland Departments of Natural Resources & Water and of Primary Industries
This project will undertake sampling at Kidman Springs (NT) to assess the effects of cell grazing. The sites have documented fire and management histories. It will also resample a Toorak grazing trial in north-western Queensland. This sampling will include a range of soil types and rainfalls.

Queensland cereals and sugar - Queensland Departments of Natural Resources & Water and of Primary Industries
This project will undertake sampling of grain cropping systems at the long-term Hermitage Fallow Management Trial near Warwick in Queensland and sugar cropping systems at Tully and Mackay. No-till grain trials will be sampled near Biloela and Goodger and archived soil will be analysed from a number of historic trials (Biloela, Warra, Nindigully, Mt Murchison and Goodger).
Additional sugarcane sites in the Northern Rivers, Mackay and Ingham regions will be sampled – including tilled and permanent beds and across a number of soil types and rainfall levels.

New South Wales cereals, cotton, sheep and beef systems - University of New England, NSW Departments of Primary Industries and of Environment and Climate Change
This project will undertake sampling at 20 long-term trials with 25 corresponding satellite sites on private land to define amounts and variance of carbon contained in pools of soils from the major land-use/soil type combinations in NSW.

New South Wales cereals and beef - Murray Catchment Management Authority
This project will undertake sampling and analysis of paired sites which have been under no-till/conventional till and set stocking/controlled grazing practices.

Tasmanian vegetables and dairy systems - Tasmanian Institute for Agricultural Research, University of Tasmania and Botanical Resources Australia P/L
This project will undertake sampling at a number of broadacre cropping and vegetable sites across the state – including low input pasture/irrigated cropping and short-term perennial/long term pasture. Sampling will also be undertaken on existing sites which have undertaken a change from pasture to cropping and on paired sites which compare irrigated and non-irrigated dairy and beef systems.

Monday, June 22, 2009

NSW DPI - mythbusters and all - welcome!

The following is from a NSW DPI "Science & Research - Climate Change: Key Issues" fact sheet ingeniously dated 2005 as proof that the agency has not been in deep denial about soil carbon trading until now.
"Mitigation options include ... management of crop, pasture and forest systems to enhance carbon stocks in vegetation and soil..."
" Of particular relevance to NSW DPI is emissions trading, which provides incentives for mitigation measures..."
"Sequestration through soil carbon management in agricultural systems and management of existing forests are flagged for future inclusion..."

Pro-soil carbon DPI scientists such as YN Chan and Annette Cowie have shone like beacons in the gloom surrounding the issue in the DPI which - as recently as a few months ago staged the amusing "Soil Carbon MythBusters" tour by BioChar devotee David Waters - short on soil C myths, long on Biochar promotion. And they said the tour was to clear up the 'misinformation' surrounding the issue.

Dr Cowie is behind the project in which a group of NSW soil scientists is overcoming barriers to inclusion of soil carbon in emissions trading. "Impacts of management practices on carbon sequestration in soil are unclear, with some proponents claiming large potential and others dismissing the possibility," says a DPI report.

Dr Cowie says: "Detractors additionally say soil carbon is too costly to measure, and changes in soil carbon too difficult to audit... In preparation for potential inclusion in the national Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in future, and for inclusion in the voluntary carbon trading market, it is important to investigate these objections." In the same way that carbon trading based on forestry offsets uses models to predict sequestration, soil carbon models can estimate sequestration through agricultural practices, she said. "To increase confidence about the potential for altered management practices to sequester soil carbon, researchers are undertaking paired-site studies, comparing the soil carbon stock between adjacent areas under different management," Dr Cowie said. Comparisons include high and low input grazing land management; conventional crop rotations versus response cropping or inclusion of pasture phase; and revegetation of grazing land with native tree and shrub species.

One more piece to the puzzle: CCX & Obama

Economist Richard L. Sandor founded the Chicago Climate Exchange six years ago with $1.1 million of seed money from the city’s Joyce Foundation. At that time, the foundation’s board included a state senator named Barack Obama. Today, Sandor is working with Henry Waxman whose bill for a cap and trade system is the cornerstone of Obama’s environmental agenda.
Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, agreed to give free pollution permits to utilities and allow manufacturers and refiners to meet CO2 targets by buying offset credits of the type sold by the CCX.
The government would allow as many as 2 billion offset credits to circulate, beginning in 2012. Half of those could be generated domestically and the other half from projects in other countries. The number of offsets and permits will decline over time.
The CCX model is now seen as a precursor to the government-mandated market Congress plans to create, according to Ecosystem Marketplace. President Obama has proposed auctioning pollution permits to raise at least $646 billion from 2012 to 2019. Sandor opposed that provision, saying that paying for the permits would wipe out utilities’ profits. “You bankrupt the industry,” he said.
“What this really does is buy a little bit of time to smooth out the rate impacts in the early years,” said John Stowell, vice president of environmental policy for Duke Energy, the Charlotte, N.C.-based owner of utilities in the Southeast and Midwest. “We need a bridge to get us to the new technology.”

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Here comes the market

Ken Newcombe The former head of carbon emissions trading at investment bank Goldman Sachs started his own carbon finance business last year, C-Quest Capital. He aims to set up 85-90 percent of its projects in Asia and the United States, with the remainder in Australia, Newcombe told Reuters on the sidelines of a carbon conference in Barcelona.
"We're looking to improve land management in the U.S. and Australia, including soil sequestration, growing biofuel crops, and planting trees." Soil sequestration involves encouraging less intensive farming practices that retain organic matter in the soil, thereby storing carbon.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Australian Carbon Farmers go global

"Australia's carbon farmers in quiet revolution" headlines a feature story on members of the Carbon Coalition and our struggle to make soil carbon credits a reality. Articles appeared on Reuters UKas well as the USA and versions appearing in India, South Africa, and Cyprus. The world wants to know about Carbon farming and new options for farmers and graziers.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ecological Agriculture Australia (EcoAg) off the drawingboard

Earlier we reported on a brave attempt to create an association/community/cluster for those who feel the time is ripe for a new form of agricultural relationships in Australia. A working party was formed out of the initial meeting at CSU in Orange and 5 "Pillars" or subject areas were nominated for discussion and purposing by smaller working parties. The following is the result of that work which the group feels is ready for comment from interested parties. Please consider and contribute.

Kerry Cochrane for the Working Party - comprising David Hardwick, Rob Fenton, Maxine Blackburn, Michael Kiely, Pennie Scott, Robert Pekin- writes:

Our name: The Working Party recommends one of two names. We welcome feedback on these and if you think they are both not to your liking by all means suggest a third name, however, more than likely, we shall go with one or the other. We wait your feedback before moving on.

Name - Ecological Agriculture Australia

Abbreviation - EcoAg Oz or EcoAg Australia or E double A

Rationale - Nice corporate ring to it. Has a classical feel which means that it has a touch of longevity. The word agriculture is ever lasting although some might argue it is dated. More than likely it will be shortened to EcoAgOz.

Name - Ecological Agricultural Society of Australia

Abbreviation - EASA

Rationale - Again a classical name. It indicates that we are a community of people with similar values. It sits along side such names as The Soils Association of Australia or The Royal Agricultural Show Society of Australia

We have included a sub heading to the name. It is the advancement of farming, food, and community (or the advancement of farming food and fulfilllment). In other words the name might be...

Ecological Agriculture Australia
For the advancement of farming, food, and community

What we have done
• We have created a diagram or symbol of the organisation. It is a nested relationship between five pillars
• The five pillars represent the engine room of the organisation
• Central to the five pillars is ecology
• The mission and objectives of each pillar has been determined. This is work in progress.
• A quote for each pillar has been provided. This too is open for comment and change.

The process that lies ahead is as follows:
1. The Working Party is getting on with writing a constitution. We envisage an association to start with. If anyone has expertise re such matters we would welcome your input. We are aiming to have this completed within a month.
2. Once completed we shall form an interim governing body to manage the process.
3. We would hope to launch the organisation at a venue to be determined but one possibility is the Carbon Coalition Conference in Orange in November. This moment could represent the beginning of the new entity with election of office bearers etc.
4. It is envisaged that each of the five pillars will include perhaps as many as five members who will largely drive that section. Each pillar will have a rep on the governing body. This is still to be worked out.
The above is a broad picture of where we are at. We would welcome any feedback


Name (here) The first set of statements are for the overall organisation

QUOTATION: "To build a sustainable society, we must first be willing to rethink our fundamental concepts of science, economics, and society. We must build a new sustainable society on the philosophical foundation of a new worldview, a new approach to science, a new economics of sustainability." John Ikird: Emeritus Professor of Agricultural Economics, University of Missouri, Columbia

Vision: to develop bio-diverse landscapes, biologically enriched soil, healthy food, and vibrant communities through ecologically, holistic and ethically driven processes.

Mission: To coordinate the activities of the five pillars to ensure a strong connection between the vision and the objectives as outlined.

1. Implementation of the objectives as outlined for the pillars of the organization: ecology; farming; food; education; and, ethics.
2. To raise the profile of ecological farming processes and its relevance to the needs of an Australian society facing diminishing oil reserves and concerns regarding climate change.
3. To foster ways of thinking that enhance an understanding of biodiversity and its value, reflects awareness of connections and relationships, and appreciates the power of systems and emergent properties.
4. To appreciate that humans are one thread amongst many threads in the web of life. To recognize and respect all forms of life.
5. To promote an ecological approach to sustainability in the interest of generations to follow.
6. To enhance the development of a quality assurance program to ensure the authenticity of ecological inputs into agriculture.


“….ecology has left the biology departments of universities and migrated into every consciousness. The scientific term has turned into a worldview. And as a worldview, it carries the promise of reuniting what has been fragmented, of healing what has been torn apart – in short caring for the whole.”
Sachs, Planet Dialectics, 1999,p63

Mission: We recognize ecology – the scientific and social scientific worldview -- as the basis for the production of food and fibre and see it as the bedrock for the healthy functioning of the earth and its subsidiary systems.

1. To enliven the relationship between ecology and food and fibre production

2. To promote an understanding of and implementation of ecological principles as being fundamental to the survival of and preservation of our planet.


QUOTATION: "We are told that farmers still have a strong sense of stewardship, that they are environmentalists at heart. Perhaps this is true, but many farmers have felt compelled to do whatever was necessary to survive the relentless competitive pressures in an agricultural industry driven by the economic bottom line. Many will admit that they are doing things to the land that they don’t want to do, but feel they have no choice. The gains in economic efficiency have been impressive, but what about the ecological costs? What is the value of the health and productivity of the land? What is the value of maintaining the ability of the earth to support human life?"

John Ikird: Emeritus Professor of Agricultural Economics, University of Missouri, Columbia

"Eating is an agricultural act. - Wendell Berry


To increase the awareness, understanding and adoption of ecologically-based farming practices.


To achieve the vision we will:

1. Establish a readily accessible ‘knowledge bank’ of ecological farming ideas, proven practices and networking data (eg, group contacts etc).
2. Facilitate and establish mutually beneficial partnerships with related groups and organisations.
3. Conduct and sponsor seminars, workshops and conferences to assist in the transfer of information and techniques associated with ecological farming.
4. Facilitate and support research and development into ecological farming practices.
5. To promote carbon footprint recognition per farm as a means of increasing farmer awareness of carbon emissions and carbon sequestration potential.
6. Enable support groups for farmers engaging in ecological farming processes.


"It is a great mistake to think that food is primarily nourishment of the body. All good food, carefully selected, prepared, and presented, nourishes the soul too." - Thomas Moore, Author of Care of the Soul


To create and provide opportunities for the equitable and efficient distribution of food and fibre from farm to a range of clients including families and businesses thus increasing the connection between farmers and consumers.

1. To establish effective and efficient connections between farmers and end consumer
2. To acknowledge farmers for their efforts in farming ecologically
3. To reduce inefficient links in the supply and value chain
4. To empower farmers to diversify and strategically become the value chain
5. To encourage retailers and wholesalers to price differentiate with ecologically grown food and fibre
6. To promote the benefits of ecologically grown food and fibre


“A sustainable community cares for its own environment and does not damage those of others. It uses resources frugally and sustainably, recycles materials, minimizes wastes and disposes of them safely. It conserves life-support systems and the diversity of local ecosystems….People can do this if they make it a priority, and if they are given the necessary powers to make full use of their own intelligence and experience.”
IUCN,WWF, UNEP. Caring for the Earth, 1991, Chpt 7

Mission: To enhance the farming communities understanding of ecological agricultural principles and ways of thinking.

• To promote the teaching of ecological principles and ecological thinking skills at all levels of education
• To develop training packages to enable farmers and people not interested in a formal education to develop an understanding of ecological principles
• To communicate via the webpage to enable an attachment community to evolve that supports the principles of ecological agriculture and community marketing processes embraced by the organization
• To provide input into the national agri-food industry skills council to enable development of training competencies and their inclusion in National training packages
• Provide easy teacher access to engaging ecological agricultural learning resources.
• To support research endeavours into ecological approaches to food and fibre production or to seek funding to conduct the research

• To act as the Course Advisory Committee for the Bachelor of Ecological Agricultural Systems course at Charles Sturt University
• To be the repository for the alumni of the Bachelor of Ecological Agricultural Systems and to be managed through this agency
• To develop a professional body for the registration of graduates from courses relevant to ecological agriculture and land management [a body similar to the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science]


• Work with TAFE to develop units of competency that can be included in general agriculture qualifications and develop specific eco-ag qualifications.

• To develop a repository of engaging learning resources and activities such as the Northern Rivers Soil Health card.

• To work with state agricultural teachers and with the national body representing agricultural teachers to enable the exchange of information about ecological farming practices, healthy foods, and community marketing systems.
• Work towards getting ecological agriculture principles included in the curriculum.
Design a staff development program for agricultural teachers to develop skills in ecological agriculture.
• Provide impetus to the development of teaching and learning resources to enable agriculture and primary industry teachers to easily include this in day-to-day teaching programs.

• To develop a link between gardens and food and health.
• To promote the concept of the school garden grown with ecological sustainable practices with the participation of the children in the growing of and eating of food produced.



A thing is right only when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the community [soil, water, fauna and flora, as well as people]. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. - Aldo Leopold

Mission Statement

To promote the values and principles that underpin the development of an ecologically sustainable agriculture. Such an agriculture recognizes the intrinsic rights of all including the human and non-human worlds. These values and principles need to lead to a way of farming which enhances the environment (both living and non-living) within which agriculture operates.

In order to define a set of clear principles and values to guide Australian agriculture the organisation ratifies and adopts as its working model the 4 principles and 16 sub principles as outlined in the Earth Charter.

These 4 principles are:
1. Respect and care for the community of life
2. Ecological Integrity
3. Social and economic justice
4. Democracy, nonviolence, and peace

We endorse the Earth Charter and the expressed opinions contained therein and seek to ensure their application. In this context we:
• support an ethical framework that respects values and cares for the natural ecological systems and cycles.
• endorse the three dimensions of life, ecological, social and personal
• recognise the interconnection of organisms and the environment and their intrinsic worth.
• seek to preserve the integrity and stability of the biotic community and leave as good as or better for the following generations.

Refer to http://www.earthcharter.org.au/ for details regarding the principles.

Biochar does "sequester" carbon

There is some question about whether biochar is actually a form of sequestration. Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Turnbull got it right when he likened biochar to geosequestration: " There is absolutely no question about the science or the fact that that charcoal, once restored to the soil, does result in carbon being stored—just as much as if it is taken from a coal fired power station and pumped under the ground." If "Sequestration" means "capture and hold", Biochar certainly holds carbon, but it does not capture it. Who, then, 'owns' the sequestration rights?

The IPCC Glossary gives the following meaning for Sequestration: "The process of increasing the carbon content of a carbon reservoir other than the atmosphere. Biological approaches to sequestration include direct removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through land-use change, afforestation, reforestation, and practices that enhance soil carbon in agriculture. Physical approaches include separation and disposal of carbon dioxide from flue gases or from processing fossil fuels to produce hydrogen- and carbon dioxide-rich fractions and long term storage in underground in depleted oil and gas reservoirs, coal seams, and saline aquifers."

Biochar would qualify under "practices that enhance soil carbon in agriculture".

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Voluntary Market so close you can smell it

It's too early to be popping corks, but all the signs are pointing to success in our campaign to have soil carbon traded and farmers paid fairly for what they grow. The Voluntary Market has a sense of inevitability about it. After briefings by the Carbon Coalition and its members, the Federal Coalition has got religion about soils (seeing it as a weak spot for the Government) and have hardened up their position with plans for a voluntary market in soil carbon by next year. (Read the excerpt from Malcolm Turnbull's speech in Parliament on 2nd June (below) - he is right on song with Carbon Coalition policy.
And the Government seems to have turned the corner in its attitude to soil carbon.

A Departmental Fact Sheet was quietly released in May entitled "Agriculture & the Voluntary Carbon Market, and subtitled: "A new national standard could help farmers to create and trade carbon credits in voluntary markets not recognised by the CPRS."
"Are soils & native pastures a source of carbon credits?" asks a headline on the Department of Climate Change fact sheet.

The answer seems to be YES:

"In Australia, voluntary carbon credits can only be generated from emissions sources
that are not covered under the CPRS, and do not form part of Australia’s obligations
under the Kyoto Protocol." (Tick)

"Sound management of agricultural land can play an important role in reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Changes in the management of agricultural soils and native pastures that reduce emissions are potential sources of carbon credits for
voluntary markets..." (Tick)

"These activities could be used to generate carbon credits providing that:
• they are not recognised as part of Australia’s reporting obligations under the Kyoto Protocol; and
• the measurement and reporting systems used meet the National Carbon Offset Standard when it is in place." (Waiting.)

"Measuring and attributing improvements in soil carbon to management practices will be essential for meeting the additional and permanent criteria under the National Carbon Offset Standard when it is in place. (Waiting)

"To address this issue, the Government and industry partners have committed over $20 million to soil carbon research under the Climate Change Research Program." (Waiting)

Now this research is starting, and will take 3 years, and could be overtaken by events. A letter from the Premier of Queensland, Anna Bligh, reveals that the final National Carbon Offset Standard "is planned to be in place by mid to late 2009."

The Premier also reveals that the Department is not 100% confident that it has the skillset to develop a workable standard for soils. "The National Carbon Offset Standard will establish a process for assessing methodologies for domestic offsets from uncovered sources for sale in the voluntary market. It will be possible for proponents to bring forward methodologies for generation of offsets under the Standard and assist in reducing Australia's national emissions."

Malcolm Turnbull told Parliament on 2 June: "Our greatest comparative advantage is our real estate—770 million hectares of it. Our massive land mass is our greatest advantage. We have the ability in Australia to offset hundreds of millions of tonnes of CO2 emissions through improving the soil carbon across Australia, improving the productivity of our soils and improving the productivity of our agriculture, yet that form of carbon sequestration, of carbon offset, is not to be recognised in this scheme. It is recognised in the United States. Those credits generated by farmers through more sustainable tillage and other agricultural practices are traded every day on the Chicago Climate Exchange. That is why we have proposed the establishment of a voluntary carbon market that can take advantage of credits of that kind and others, such as biochar, from the beginning of next year."

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.

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.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Farmers on the front foot in Copenhagen

The International Federation of Agricultural Producers released a Declaration this week. It is called "Farmers’ solutions to climate change - proposals for including agriculture in a post-Kyoto agreement". (The NFF is a member of the IFAP).

It calls for Agriculture to be included as a full member of the post-Kyoto agreement, with full consideration of the unique contribution it can make and the unique challenges it faces.



"• Agriculture is different by nature and must be differentiated from other sectors
Most of agriculture’s green house gas (GHG) emissions are directly linked to natural biological cycles. The future accounting framework should allow a distinction to be made between anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic emissions. Farmers cannot be held accountable for natural biological processes.

"• The origin, monitoring and reporting of emissions from agricultural land is inherently different from those associated with fossil fuels. Agriculture should not be penalized for natural emissions that are beyond human control, independent from management effects. Natural emissions are due to climate conditions such as variable rainfall, drought and bushfires.

"==> Agriculture cannot compete with other sectors in terms of cost-efficiency in reducing GHG emissions, unless its carbon sequestration and displacement potential are recognised."


"Specifically, farmers represented in IFAP are seeking the following desired outcomes from the negotiations

• Official recognition of agriculture as a sector that is adversely affected by the effects of climate change and, at the same time, as a sector with a huge potential to provide solutions to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

• A commitment for a substantial increase in investments in and support for agriculture. The sector must be prioritised in international and national strategies as well as in budgets in order to increase agriculture’s resilience to climate change while boosting economic growth.

• Support for the full integration of agriculture in the post-Kyoto agreement. Agriculture being a cross-cutting issue, it should be mainstreamed under all the different components of the Bali Action Plan and beyond.

• Recognition of the specific characteristics and needs of agriculture in the post-Kyoto agreement in order to take full advantage of the sequestration and adaptation potential of the agricultural sector. The current Kyoto accounting rules do not reflect these specificities.

• Establishment of an appropriate financial mechanism to reward farmers for the carbon sequestration and ecosystem services that mitigate climate change, providing them with the right financial incentives to adopt the most sustainable practices.

• Recognition of Farmers’ Organizations as partners, as the link between farming communities and the international carbon market, and as the link to the international institutions. "

UN Supremo says soil carbon is on track

This is good news coming out of the Copenhagen process:

Addressing the participants at a Land Day gathering held on Saturday, 6 June, in Bonn, Germany, Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, stressed the significance of climate change on future food security and said 89% of mitigation in agriculture can be achieved by soil carbon sequestration through measures such as cropland management, restoration of organic soils and degraded land, bioenergy and water management.

De Boer said "Copenhagen is the time to make sure win-win effects become reality across the world."

Recalling that scientific and political challenges that inhibited the comprehensive elaboration of land-based adaptation and mitigation strategies for the Kyoto Protocol, De Boer said "science has since caught up, and monitoring carbon sequestration into soils can be monitored with much greater accuracy" and that "a successful outcome will include incentives for the agricultural and forestry sectors to adopt decisive mitigation measures."

While the climate change negotiating process was moving to better accounting processes, he said, progress will depend on the ability to manage some of the uncertainties, which, he added, "this forum, and by linking climate change to the broader development agenda can do." For the full statement visit: website: http://www.unccd.int/publicinfo/landday/docs/090606_speech_Bonn.pdf

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Ostrich strategy still popular in Agricultural Industry Leadership

NSW Farmers Association Board Director Louise Burge took us aside one day in 2006 when we were about to address a group of landholders at Cobar and said, "You don't know what you are dealing with." Pretty positive way to start. She meant we were ignorant of the methane and nitrous oxide issues, the dark side of the soil carbon equation. And she was right: we were. But not for long. And when we understood the size of the downside, we believed even more in the need to win the right for farmers to trade in their soil carbon. What alternative is there: face the methane and nitrous oxide liability without offsets? Louise led us to believe that if we made a fuss about soil carbon, the Government would notice us. We would draw attention to agriculture and its emissions. It is the ostrich strategy. I thought it couldn't have been that blatant, that I must have misunderstood her. But in The Land this week there she is, still pushing the ostrich solution. "Proponents of carbon credits schemes are responding to perceived opportunities, perhaps without fully considering the carbon liabilities that will apply to agriculture." The Climate Change denialists, who dominated the debates for so long in agriculture, left the way clear for the Government to do whatever they want with Agriculture because as an industry we weren't at the negotiating table. The whole industry didn't turn up. They didn't get it. And the leadership so comprehensively failed the membership that they should resign en masse with an apology. Even today, they refuse to engage with the issues: "It is hard to see how the quantities of emissions now attributed to agriculture by the Federal Government can be offset by carbon storage in soils or in trees along the edges of paddocks." It's hard to see if you don't look. If, instead of seeking to block the soil carbon message and undermine us for three years, these people got behind the campaign and we got some real science behind the rate of growth and the tonnages possible that we know are possible, they would not be reduced to the traditional 'poor bugger me' defence. That worked when agriculture was a political force. But The Nationals are reduced to the clowning self promotion of Barnaby Joyce who gets the nod from John Hewson in the Australian Financial Review last Friday. Both Barnaby and Louise have got to face facts: there will be some form of carbon trade in permits or a tax - we have to pay. Penny Wong's people have told us agriculture will be covered one way or the other. I can't see the Nationals winning Government anytime in the next 100 years and reversing history. So, given that, why not try to get a fair deal for farmers? Why do they want to leave farmers exposed by opposing soil carbon credits? What is their motivation? Who benefits? (John Hewson's article is a gem. Whoever briefed him has our gratitude. You did a good job.)

PS. Jock Laurie, President of NSW Farmers, was the first prominent leader to endorse our campaign.

LAL LAYS DOWN THE LAW: Briefing Notes for Copenhagen

PROFESSOR RATTAN LAL, the world's leading soil carbon scholar, has written a briefing paper for the Copenhagen round of negotiations for The International Food Policy Research Institute. In it he has laid down some basic precepts that should inform the debate and lift the level of discussion.

PHOTOSYNTHESIS CAN BALANCE THE CARBON BUDGET: "The natural rate of photosynthesis in the global biosphere is about 120 billion mt of carbon per year. Fossil fuel combustion emits about 8 billion mt of carbon annually, and deforestation and land-use conversion emit another 1.6 billion to 2 billion mt of carbon per year, for a total of 9.6 to 10.8 billion mt of carbon emissions per year. Thus, if roughly 8 percent of the carbon being photosynthesized by the biosphere is retained within the soil and biotic pools, the global carbon budget would be balanced."

NO-TILL ALONE NOT ENOUGH: "Examples of soil and crop management technologies that increase soil carbon sequestration include no-till (NT) farming with residue mulch and cover cropping; integrated nutrient management (INM), which balances nutrient application with judicious use of organic manures and inorganic fertilizers; various crop rotations (including agroforestry); use of soil amendments (such as zeolites, biochar, or compost); and improved pastures with recommended stocking rates and controlled fire as a rejuvenate method."

50 YEARS: "The technical potential of carbon sequestration in world soils may be 2 billion to 3 billion mt per year for the next 50 years. Thus, the potential of carbon sequestration in soils and vegetation together is equivalent to a draw-down of about 50 parts per million of atmospheric CO2 by 2100."

CARBON JUST LIKE ANY OTHER PRODUCE: "One way to think of soil carbon is as a commodity. It can be produced and, if carbon markets exist, traded like any other farm produce. Additional income can be an important incentive for the resource poor farmers in developing countries to invest in soil restoration and adopt RMPs. The economic potential may be as much as 60 percent of the technical potential, or 1.2 to 2.0 billion mt of carbon per year. Furthermore, measuring and monitoring protocols of change in carbon pools at the landscape, farm, and regional scales are available to facilitate carbon trading."

DEGRADED SOILS HAVE HE MOST POTENTIAL: "The greatest potential for sequestration is in the soils of those regions that have lost the most soil carbon. These are the regions where soils are severely degraded and have been used with extractive farming practices for a long time..."

ONE TONNE CARBON PER HECTARE PER YEAR: "Most soils have a technical or maximum sink capacity of 20 to 50 mt of carbon per hectare that can be sequestered over a 20-to-50-year period."

COPENHAGEN GOALS: "Suggested negotiating outcomes:
Carbon sequestration in soils and plants is the only strategy that can remove carbon from the atmosphere and, over time, reduce atmospheric concentration of CO2. Initiatives to support reduced emissions from deforestation (REDD) are well underway. Funds for soil carbon mitigation should also be made available. Support should be provided for:
• crop mixes to include more plants that are perennial or have deep-root systems in order to increase the amount of carbon
stored in the soil;
• cultivation systems that leave residues and reduce tillage, especially deep tillage, in order to encourage the buildup of soil
• shifting land use from annual crops to perennial crops, pasture, and agroforestry in order to increase both above- and belowground carbon stocks; and
• activities that restore degraded and desertified soils and ecosystems, especially those affected by accelerated erosion,
salinization, and nutrient depletion."

LOW-COST MONITORING: "Carbon offset payments should be allowed for carbon sequestered in soils where low-cost monitoring is available. Funds for the development of these monitoring systems should be part of any outcome."

WIN-WIN: "Soil carbon sequestration is a win–win strategy. It mitigates climate change by offsetting anthropogenic emissions; improves the environment, especially the quality of natural waters; enhances soil quality; improves agronomic productivity; and advances food security. It is a low-hanging fruit and a bridge to the future, until carbon-neutral fuel sources and low-carbon economy take effect."


The Potential for Soil Carbon Sequestration
Rattan LaL Focus 16 • Bri eF 5 • May 2009

Rattan Lal (lal.1@osu.edu) is Director of the Ohio State University’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center and Professor of Soil Science in the School of Environment and Natural Resources.

Agriculture and climate change are inextricably linked, and thus, agriculture must be on the Copenhagen agenda. Indeed, it must be on the agenda of negotiators well before COP15. The International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) 2020 Vision Initiative approached leading experts around the world to share their views on the key negotiating outcomes that must be pursued now in order to effectively put agriculture on the climate change agenda. Their perspectives are compiled in a set of policy briefs on “Agriculture and Climate Change: An Agenda for Negotiation in Copenhagen”, which is available at http://www.ifpri.org/2020/focus/focus16.asp.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Is there a role for agriculturalists in soil research?

Here's a lesson: Unsound science looks like sound science if you don't know what you are looking at... Science can produce inaccurate results if the methodology adopted to simulate farming practices is unrealistic. For instance, in 2003 (just 6 years ago) The Australian Journal of Experimental Science published a scientific paper titled "Effects of Grazing and Management on Herbiage Mass..." 2003, 43, 892-905. They were trying to test the claims of Holistic Management and Grazing For Profit's grazing management systems that they produce more vegetation than conventional grazing. Practitioners of these grazing techniques will tell you that it can take approximately 7 years for the full impact of grazing management to kick in with any dramatic results, unaided. It seems that the soil biology has to reach a critical mass. As well, anything less that 35-55 paddocks defeats the purpose because rest (or freedom from grazing) is the key variable in vegetation growth. Animal impact - bunching them up so that they graze the paddock evenly, disturb the topsoil and fertilise it with their dung and urine - is a key part of the system, which is why such a time controlled grazier would graze 25-50 sheep per hectare for the period of grazing, which is in many case less than a week or two weeks. Table 1. compares how the simulation of the land management technique was designed for the experiment with reality of how that technique is practiced.

Naturally the researchers concluded that there was no effect on herbiage mass from rotational grazing. Therefore, they concluded 'recipes' (exotic grazing management systems) don't work. One alternative explanation that they did not consider was that they were not good rotational graziers. And had they been aware of what was necessary to make such a system work, perhaps they would have produced a more useful research result. As it is, this piece of research adds little to the knowledge base, but it was given the status of 'scientific fact' by virtue of its publication and no doubt used by extension officers and district agronomists to knock rotational grazing systems which are taught by the organisations mentioned above which engage their students in a mentoring relationship, which means they no longer rely on the extension staff for advice. They also promote a low-chemical/low artificial fertilizer regime which most extension officers would not have encountered in their training and would therefore be uncomfortable with.
But had practitioners been part of the research team and allowed to have input on the methodology, the findings might be more useful. The Evergraze project has 4 landholders consulting to the research team, I believe. Even then it has a 4 paddock and a 20 paddock rotation. The phenomenon of scientists being unable to verify what farmers on the ground are finding was demonstrated in a paper called Production-Oriented Conservative-Impact Grazing Management. It was prepared for a WA Department of Agriculture workshop in 2002, by Ben Norton. He points out that the majority of published research studies of rotational grazing find that continuous grazing is better than or comparable to rotational grazing in terms of either animal or plant production. Yet “Hundreds of graziers on three continents claim that their livestock production has increased by half or doubled or even tripled following the implementation of rotational grazing…” The answer to the conundrum lies in the methodology adopted by the scientists: the research trials employed only 16 paddocks or less in the rotation. A typical real-life rotational cell will have 40 to 80 paddocks, the high numbers affecting the amount of time animals are intensively grazing each paddock and the amount of time the paddocks have to recover.

Someone should tell them....

The St Paul of Soil Biology...

IS Maarten Stapper's story is a parable about Agricultural Science in Australia?.He is not the Messiah. IS he the St Paul of Biological Farming - his "Road To Damascus" was the road to Canberra. The Romans persecuting the earliest Christians - the CSIRO? The dominant paradigm (religion) Industrial/Dominate Nature vs Biological/Mimic Nature?
Does the aggressive response to the natural farming movement reflect the realisation by those in extension mentoring roles that they are losing contact with the farmers. (Both Scott Macalman and Peter Cook admit to hiding somewhere on their farms when the district agronomist came visiting.)
The GRDC is investing in its agronomist network in the CENTRAL WEST OF NSW, Home of Carbon Farming and Conservation Tillage. It has also announced a major investment in soil biology. Was the "Cost Of Humus" saga really The Chaser Team? Could be.... It was hinted at, at a major sustainability conference in Canberra recently when a very senior government manager, after sitting through presentations by Adrian Lawrie, Christine Jones, and Bob Wilson, said, of soil biology, "This is something we are yet to learn about."

A compassionate analysis: soil biology neglected in a country where the soil science is dominated by physicists and chemists. The industrial solution losing its effectiveness. The "Moron" response - put more on - also loses potency. Farmers demand for soil biology noted by NSWDPI 2004 (Tamworth event overbooked), Cotton CRC 2005 (survey)... meanwhile Arden Anderson and Elaine Ingham derided. Meanwhile Governments close agencies, slash staff (LWA, DPI, DAFF etc.). Carbon farming derided - "Mythbusters" seminars try to win back hearts and minds of landholders while justifying denying farmers access to carbon credits to offset against their emissions...

More farmers want to understand, don't want to be told. LawrieCo is forming support groups who learn from each other. "Microscope Clubs" are springing up - farmers search for and discuss the microbes they discover in their soil.

Grassroots farmers should not be ignored. They may not have PhDs, but they work in their laboratory (farm) everyday.