Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mike Kelly gets it right about soil

"We need to get carbon back in the soil to increase productivity," said Mike Kelly, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries, Joe Ludwig, when he was speaking to an Horticulture Australia session at the CCRSPI Conference 2011 yesterday. Mike comes from an old dairying family from the Bega Valley, so he understands the farmers point of view. But, when questioned about the Government's plans to invest in soil carbon science, he referred to the funds already committed, even though Dr Jeff Baldock has indicated that the current Soil Carbon Research Program has been allocated enough money to do a fifth of the research needed to get the trade in soil carbon offsets off the ground. Mr Kelly said the Government was looking to private investment to come to the party. But investors invest for a return and a return comes from margins from turnover. How can there be sufficient turnover if the return to the farmer is too low to attract their interest. They are too low because the data populating the models is scant, covering less than 20% of the soil sequestering activities, and the naturally low performers at that. At the same time, the Department of Climate Change & Energy Efficiency has indicated that it will take a 'cautious' approach to soil carbon. The Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into Soil Carbon Sequestration also decided on a 'cautious' approach and put the whole issue on the back-burner until there is more science. The DCCEE looks like it thinks a couple more rounds of research is needed. This could consume another 5 or 10 years. (One year to get the funds, three years to conduct the trials, one year to get published = one cycle; two cycles needed.) If this is soil carbon at the speed of science, the question needs to be asked: Is food security really a first order issue? Is getting more carbon in the soil a major answer to food security? Who is serious about this?

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