Thursday, April 08, 2010

Farmers set the pace in adaptation - it's getting around

Alan Lauder's insights into Carbon Grazing are a signal that giving farmers the right to trade the soil carbon that they grow is the way to unlock the new ideas that will eventually lead to the solutions we need to survive and thrive in the new conditions. Expect to see a lot more of this type of innovative thinking coming from the farmers. Official science is still stumbling along behind, "proving" that no-till and planned grazing and pasture cropping don't work. This pattern of denial has become embarrassing and was mentioned by Tony Windsor MP and the Australian Farm Journal in recent weeks. The Productivity Commission Inquiry into Rural Research & Development Agencies has put the question: "How effective is the current rural R&D and extension framework, and is the role of the RDCs within that framework appropriate and clearly defined?" Has there been anything useful for farmers and the broader community in the torrent of negativity pouring out of esteemed research institutions on the prospects of increasing soil carbon levels? Any new ideas?

"Innovative farmers are in front of the researchers," says Independent MP, Tony Windsor, Member for New England, who was on the standing committee on primary industries looking at methods being adopted to help reduce agricultural emissions and the impacts of climate change on farming. In the area of bio-dynamic and biological farming practices, many farmers are experimenting way ahead of the research currently available. "There's a lot of history in that. In the adoption to no-till farming and conservation farming, it was farmers leading the debate. The researchers eventually caught up."

PAtrick Francis, editor of Australian Farm Journal, declares is the April issue that "mainstream science is struggling to embrace opportunities for adaptation, preferring to lobby for more research." He quotes from the new CSIRO book Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change. The authors of the chapter on grazing wrote this revealing statement: "The adaptation challenge and opportunity need to be clearly defined by quantifying the range of plausible impacts that uncertain climate change could have on the grazing industry and framing adaptation options in relation to existing management pressures. Likely responses of grazier and policy-makers to these impacts need to be determined and comprehensively evaluated." Put aside the astonishing lack of urgency..
The CSIRO and their colleagues in other institutions have been acting as though climate variability is a new phenomenon. But a 2004 study by the QLD Dept of Natural Resources identified 8 'pasture degradation' episodes since 1788. The main factor in degradation was poor stock management. Too many animals left on the pasture too long. (“Pasture Degradation and Recovery in Australia’s Rangelands”) Patrick quotes a 2009 FAO paper "Review of evidence on drylands pastoral systems and climate change" which is optimistic about grazing management and soil carbon in pastures. He quotes the CSIRO making the obligatory negative statement: "Efforts to sequester carbon in rangelands will also have to be carefully considered against the long-term costs and benefits of maintaining the enhanced vegetation and soil carbon stores often in face of climate changes which tend to reduce them."
What must be discouraging for these ‘concerned’ scientists is the rapid uptake of the practices they prove to be ineffectual by their research trials. No-till isreaching saturation in several states. Col Seis – the inventor of Pasture Cropping – is having trouble keeping up with demand since a nasty attack on him and his techniques by NSW Industry & Investment..
And you’d have to look hard to find a conventional set stocker in many districts.
The CSIRO’s contribution to the soil carbon trading cause has been the “You Can’t Afford to Grow Humus” campaign with the GRDC and “The Bucket of Biomass Limitations” Theory. And the “Soil Carbon Mythbusters” campaign with NSW I&I. It has always been consistently negative. Now it is being noticed.

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