Monday, March 05, 2012

It's a Tree-Rush!

A sign of the times: tree company CO2 Australia has taken over an entire building in Wagga Wagga as the tree-rush caused by the lop-sided offering available under the CFI.

Are we in danger of celebrating the Year of the Farmer by shutting down Australian Agriculture?
While politicians make speeches about how badly the country needs its farmers, we are finding new and better ways to lock up productive land.
There’s a coal rush, then a gas rush, now a tree rush – farmers turning over their land to companies who lock the animals out while they try to lock the CO2 in, securing future food resources for koalas but not humans. And we’re back to the bad old days when carbon forests marched across the landscape, ripping the children out of the schools, the family incomes out of the local economy and the heart out of rural Australia.
The only environmental and climate change option that secures family farming is soil carbon enrichment. It increases production and buffers the landscape against drought. Yet the Government is dragging the chain – giving broadacre farmers only one option – forests – to gain from the Carbon Farming Initiative. Government sources have revealed that they don’t expect to see soil carbon offsets traded for years. We have been told to curb our expectations.
The forest promoters have been waived through, meanwhile, to plunder the farmlands being abandoned by families because the next generation can’t see a future in it. Dad can sell it to the carbon forest people and retire.
If the current speed of Government-funded soil carbon research and development is a guide, forests will be all there is for what could be years. Late last year we discovered that the $20m Soil Carbon Research Program (SCaRP) – which is due to report after 3 years - is not going to produce a method for measuring how much carbon a farmer has stored. It will not serve the interests of farmers at all. Instead it will inform policy makers of what we already know: that the CSIRO and the GRDC, etc. do not approve of farmers being rewarded for enriching their soils with carbon and predict that only tiny amounts can be sequestered anyway. This is because the scientists study what they imagine carbon farming to be, not what it is, as practiced by skilled practitioners, who are simply better at it than scientists.
We believe farmers - given the chance to show what they can do - will be able to measure carbon increases in their soils at surprising levels. If given the chance. The SCaRP system would appear to be feeding the small results into a computer model which will ‘tell’ a farmer how much they can claim, given their climate zone, soil type and management practice. Not only will the amounts be small, the coverage of management types will also be low.
The Department of Climate Change is working on a measuring methodology. It could take a year. Meanwhile the World Bank and the FAO have started soil carbon programs in Africa, and the United Nations’ Environment Program is urging the world community to make soil sequestration a priority to feed a starving world.
There are two methodologies for soil carbon offsets being prepared under the CFI: one from the Department of Climate Change and one by the Bridge Consortium – of which Carbon Farmers of Australia is a member. Ours uses buffer pools to manage risk and address uncertainty rather than pursuing impossible levels of scientific exactitude.
All of the successful methodologies to date are the work of Government Departments.
The process of developing and having a methodology approved is so intensively convoluted and bureaucratic that the thought of a farmer attempting it alone – an opportunity that the Government generously offers – is fantastic. The need for buyer confidence to create demand is acknowledged, but precaution should not be so stringent that it chokes supply.
The CFI promises to drive a revolution in agricultural practices on the ground, if it can get there. What a tragedy if, at the end of it, all we have to show is kilometres of forest and not much else.

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