Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The dangers of talking down soil carbon

Could farmers sue industry executives for bad soil carbon advice? The managing director of Dairy Australia Ian Halliday is not a financial adviser, but does he take on the same responsibilities when he offers advice that will affect investment decisions of his members. Dairy Australia may not be covered by the financial services industry standards, but it is very likely to have exposure under Civil Law (Torts) which extends the duty of care beyond professional advisers*. “Negligent mis-statements” can be made by anyone who holds themself out as an expert and does not exercise a ‘reasonable’ standard of care for the accuracy of their information. Mr Halliday and all amateur commentators on the emerging soil carbon offsets market should consult their legal advisers. This includes scientists who speculate outside their field of expertise to warn farmers off the market opportunity.
The fact that Mr Halliday is new to the role and comes from outside Agriculture explains but does not excuse his blind acceptance of the arguments against soil carbon trading recited in this report. Any reasonable dairy farmer would conclude from Mr Halliday’s defence of this report (in a letter to Australian Farm Journal, August 2010) that:
1. Soil carbon must be stored for 70 to 100 years (Wrong.);
2. Australia’s soils are too dry and hot to capture carbon (Wrong.);
3. Most dairy soils are saturated with carbon; (Wrong.)
4. Farmers need to grow an impossible amount of pasture to lift soil carbon levels 1% in 5 years (Wrong.);
5. Carbon would need to be $200/tonne to deliver a better return than feeding pasture to cows; (Wrong.)
6. The cost of building carbon is too high because of all the N,P and S you have to apply to grow it; (Wrong.)
7. Soil carbon is expensive to measure, which impacts returns; (Wrong.)
8. Changes in weather, etc. could see farmers having to repurchase credits to make up their shortfall. (Wrong.)
“The basic science of soil carbon sequestration strongly indicates that dairy farmers should approach the issue of signing up for soil carbon sequestration with considerable caution,” he concludes. Your land will lose its value, he says. Then leaves the biggest falsehood till last: “The Dairy Australia review is an important piece of work for all pasture-based industries…” As proof he observes that it “has been endorsed by numerous leading soil scientists.” The only conclusion a reasonable reader could come to is to stay clear of soil carbon.
The Carbon Coalition doesn’t give advice to farmers, but we’ll make a exception in this case: Dairy farmers who decide to give soil carbon trading a miss when it comes available should make a diary note to that effect and lodge it with your solicitor or accountant. You will need to specify that you are not moving because of the negative assessment by your industry body. You might find it handy if you want to join a class action to recover lost revenue when it becomes plain that Mr Halliday was misleading – caught up in the hysteria infecting scientists recently when soil carbon is mentioned. To call the report a ‘review’ implies even-handedness, yet not one positive aspect of soil carbon trading was mentioned. This was a hatchet job. It’s lack of objectivity should shame Science. (For a complete report on the soundness or otherwise of soil carbon science, go to Good Science Or Snake Oil?)


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