Friday, April 06, 2012

Is 100 Years of Healthy Soils too much?

So what’s the big deal about being paid to stop flogging the land for 100 years? It has taken us only 234 years to lose half of the top soil that we rely upon to feed ourselves. We are still losing it at 5 times the rate of replacement. How hard can it be to stop hammering the source of your children’s and grandchildren’s food?
Why is 100 years of doing the right thing for soils such a scary thought? There is not a single soil scientist who doesn’t agree that increasing soil carbon is a good thing for the farm, the landscape and the nation. Soil carbon sequestration is not a silver bullet. It’s a no-brainer.
It stops erosion. It buffers against drought. It restores fertility. It builds biodiversity. And it fights Climate Change. The carbon that the soil needs is taken out of the Atmosphere where it is doing damage. Farmers command the only technology that can convert Greenhouse Gas into soil and food: photosynthesis. It’s easy to capture CO2 because we do it all the time for a living, growing grass and grain, bushes and trees. But don''t some people tell us our soils are slow to put on carbon? Yes, but highly skilled carbon farmers have shown that they can sequester carbon 10 times faster than non-farmers. The farmers practice every day.
But don’t the experts say that we lose carbon as fast as we take it in? Yes, they do say that, but we know that carbon can be trapped safely in soil humus for 1,000 years or more. And humus can make up 80% of carbon in the soil.
But isn’t it risky? Don’t they ask you to give the carbon credits back if you lose soil carbon because of drought or fire? No, they don’t. You just have to build it up again, by doing what you did to get it in the first place: treating the soil with respect. (You have the option to 'relinquish' the units you earned.)
There are some people who don’t want farmers to be paid to do this. They want them to do it for free. The Carbon Farming Initiative is the first opportunity for farmers to be paid the true cost of agricultural production instead of being expected to work to protect the environment on behalf of the community for nothing. Simply putting a dollar figure on soil speaks volumes.
To start A Century of Healthy Soils, we need to make it easy for farmers to get involved. Right now, with the CFI legislation the way it is, it’s like trying to bring down the road toll by fitting cars with square wheels. It works. You’ll also solve the traffic problem. There won’t be any.
There are ways to achieve Permanence without scaring the farmers: insurance, buffering or carbon pooling. Spreading the risk is reducing the risk. Our “Soil Carbon Methodology” uses buffering and pooling – a type of self insurance. It removes the danger without risking the result.
Instead of scaring farmers off by making the risks seem worse than they truly are, we should be recruiting them with a vision of how good life can be when your soils are rich with carbon.
So next time you hear someone reciting a long list of negatives about the prospects of being paid to increase soil carbon, ask them: “Is 100 Years of Healthy Soils too much?”

*Carbon Farmers of Australia is a not-for-profit company.
* MIchael Kiely is a Director of Healthy Soils Australia.

The material in this blog is made available for general information only and on the understanding that Carbon Farmers of Australia is not providing advice. Readers should familiarise themselves with the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) and obtain professional advice suitable to their particular circumstances. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy, correctness and reliability of this publication, Carbon Farmers of Australia and all persons acting for Carbon Farmers of Australia preparing this publication accept no liability for the accuracy of or inferences from the material contained in this publication, and expressly disclaim liability for any person’s loss arising directly or indirectly from the use of, inferences drawn, deductions made, or acts done in reliance on this publication.

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