Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Farmer Wants Advice

Farmers are running way out in front of agronomists and advisers, adopting biological systems that advisers don't understand, according to Patrick Francis, editor of Australian Farm Journal. Plant nutrition and advice is in a state of confusion, he says. Few understand the function of soil organic matter and carbon.
“Farmers are adopting new systems that are far more sympathetic to soil health and increasing organic matter levels. They have precision farming technology to monitor impacts but their advisors knowledge of what’s happening to soil biology is rudimentary at best. Most advisors have a background in soil chemistry and physics and don’t understand what’s happening to the soil food web as organic matter increases. It’s why many (advisors) continue to recommend annual inorganic fertiliser applications even though responses are often uneconomic,” Mr Francis says. “There are now so many questions being raised about the plant, soil, water, carbon interface that piece meal research programs need to be converted into a concerted, national, across systems approach with at least a 21 year time frame."
Australia needs a dedicated Soil Health CRC. “Farmers are looking for better direction about holistic farming systems, compatibility of inputs, levels of inputs, alternative inputs and their consequences for food nutritional content,” he said. A classic example is the impact of increasing soil carbon on populations of free-living nitrogen fixing bacteria. Their implications for soil health and cost of production are likely to be enormous. Many farmers don't apply inorganic fertilisers in some years but still achieve as good as if not better yields than those applying them. But the one common denominator is increasing soil organic matter and carbon. “The major changes on these farms are stubble retention, legume cover crops and often controlled traffic. On their own, or combined, organic products like composted manures and soil biology enhancers, means there are all sorts of implications for the soil food web. And how does the soil food web react to conventional fertilisers and pesticides. For instance, what is the impact of herbicides and fungicides on rhizobia, the bacteria that work symbiotically with legumes to fix nitrogen? There is no research data from Australia on this subject but the door has been opened overseas to suggest there is a problem. And if there is with rhizobia, what is happening to other soil species?”
“A soil health CRC needs to operate without barriers between biological, chemical and holistic approaches," he says.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What is an agricultural community worth?

Finley High School principal Bernie Roebuck spoke at the Murray Darling Basin Plan consultations in Deniliquin last December. It is an amazing depiction of life in a community threatened by climate. Society has got to make a choice between the sentimentalism of rural communities vs the sentimentality of environmental flows in a river system.

My name is Bernie Roebuck and I am currently the principal at Finley High School. Previously I was principal at Deniliquin High School and for a two-year period worked as a principal consultant across all schools in the Riverina.
Though I might be called a “blow in” by some standards I have lived and worked in communities in the Murray Valley for 34 years. My grandfather settled in Deniliquin during WWI and my father was born in Deniliquin in 1919. My children have all been born in the Murray Valley and two have started their working lives there. So “blow in” maybe, but for 96 years and four generations my family have lived in this part of the world and it gives us a claim of having a vested interest in the future of Riverina communities.
I represent the NSW Secondary Principals Council, a professional organisation of public school secondary principals. You may well ask, so what has the Murray-Darling Basin Plan have to do with school principals?
In truth, heaps.
The reason for our existence, our students, are the group of people that will be most affected by whatever the final decision is in regard to the Basin Plan — the full effects of these proposals will fall on my children’s heads and their children. We must not forget this.
It also affects our staff — their future employment is at stake, the value of the homes that many of them purchase is at stake. It also affects school communities. Uncertainly has already taken its toll in many instances.
The young people that we work with on a daily basis are not oblivious to the pressures that their mums and dads are under, and there is no question that affects many of them.
This is my second stint at Finley High. In 1990 when I was first appointed there as a head teacher the student population was 720. Currently our enrolment is 450 — a decline of close to 40%. In the Deniliquin area of schools known as South West Riverina this enrolment decline is similar across all schools. In fact, apart from Albury, and to a lesser extent Wagga, it is the pattern across the whole Riverina.
What has this meant for schools? Less students means we can give students less options in terms of curriculum choice, recruiting staff is more challenging. Because there is uncertainly of employment the pool of quality students in each year group continues to get smaller and this can have a critical impact on student outcomes.
We have any number of schools that are so critically small now that they are absolutely in danger of closing or of not being able to deliver a quality education.
This is not some emotive throwaway line, it is the honest truth.
Of greatest concern for students is their life after school. Increasingly they know that local jobs are hard to come by. Increasingly young people see no future in their communities.
Some see no point in studying when there is a limited future. We constantly hear about things such as skills shortages, but as an example try and find a building apprenticeship easily in this part of the world. Increasingly they seek work away from these communities and so not surprisingly rural communities have less and less young people.
The decline of schools in our communities has other effects as well.
Less students means less teaching and admin staff, and often affects trades that support schools such as builders, plumbers, electricians, local grocers, bus drivers etc, so that income therefore disappears from the local economy and the multiplier effect on local businesses rolls out.
I feel bemused, and confused and quite frankly angry when I hear criticism as soon as someone makes any emotive response to the plan, or when someone wants to talk about the human cost of the plan, such as what I am doing right now.
Constantly I hear that emotive calls, emotive language, emotive pleas, emotive people should be dismissed as the lunatic fringe because they exaggerate, they misrepresent, they do not produce balance nor facts in dealing with the plan.
I would say how can one not be emotive if your livelihood, and all that is important to you, is at stake. I see no reason for us to need to apologise for being emotive. But that does not mean we cannot be rational or that we do not understand what is happening in the basin.
Few would deny that the Murray-Darling Basin has a complexity of issues to address. And find me an irrigator who would not applaud the concept of a sustainable Murray-Darling river system.
Many of my students have real mums and dads who are farmers. The very same people who produce the quality wine, rice, rockmelons, potatoes and grains that are in such demand in the supermarket. The vast majority of them are not environmental vandals.
They are in many cases hard working, highly skilled operators who have a vested interest in protecting and preserving their land, and they do so. Why would they not want a sustainable future for their sons and daughters?
These people are happy to discuss changes to aspects of water policy that would lead to a sustainable future. And they would love to see real investment in the infrastructures that would save enormous quantities of water that could contribute to environmental flows.
I for one applaud the announcement this week by Mr Burke of some major infrastructure programs. But why has it taken till this week for such an announcement to be made? And in truth, we would like to think this is but the first step.
Let’s be frank here, our nation is currently spending tens of billions of dollars to ensure that Australia has the technology base for the 21st century through the national broadband network.
The infrastructure base for our irrigation systems is in many cases 70-80 years old — what we are asking for is a fraction of the NBN but it would give this nation a base for huge water savings and at the same time allow for productive 21st century agriculture.
It would also create the jobs and the certainty to give the young and not-so-young people of rural communities hope, security and to feel that they can make a real contribution.
Without a commitment to long-term sustainable development in rural Australia our future is potentially very grim.
My staff and my students and my community are full of some of the very best people. These are the very same people who endure higher fuel prices, higher food costs, poorer medical facilities and poorer educational outcomes than any other part of our country. It is not reasonable, nor acceptable, for people in these communities to continue being treated as the rural underclass.
We are not second rate — we have some of the best brains, the best thinkers, the most creative talents and the best students. I cannot continue to accept that my students and the students of my colleagues at other basin schools should have a quality of life that is less than that of any students in Sydney or Canberra. How totally inequitable and un-Australian would that be?
I do not ever want to see my school become so small and so residualised and marginalised that it cannot deliver top quality education as it now does. Yet that is the clearly the fate in the very near future of many of our rural schools.
I implore you not to sell us down the drain. This issue needs serious and sustained consideration.
(MDBA chairman) Craig Knowles has said that in consideration of the plan there have been vastly opposite views of what needs to happen and what should happen. None of us doubt that. We accept that, we are reasonable people, we will compromise.
Some of those views, however, come from those whose livelihoods are not at stake. They come from those who do not have to worry about their kids futures.
In comparison our governments and business magnates are hell bent on digging everything and anything from the ground.
The environmental issues in so many cases related to mining receive scant consideration — such developments are perceived to be in the public interest and therefore environmental costs are deemed acceptable. The hypocrisy is totally unacceptable.
In truth, rural people do not accept that they are treated with respect. Their opinions, though considered, are often derided as second rate compared to their politically powerful, well connected urban counterparts, and rarely if ever are rural communities given the chance to be a part of the solutions.
In my 34 years in the Riverina I have seen the slow but constant decline in communities to the point where we now have those publicly saying “are communities under 15,000 people worth saving? Is it a waste of government money to keep them afloat?”
All this at a time of urban congestion, rising urban social violence, transport gridlocks, a lack of affordable urban housing, and the need to feed a rapidly rising population in this country and the rest of the world.
We have a rapidly declining manufacturing base and a massive over reliance on the mining sector that has a limited life span. There is a clear and obvious reason why vibrant and sustainable rural environments are critical to this nation.
In conclusion, I want to give my students and my community hope. I want them to vigorously support the concept of long term sustainability but I want governments to give them the sensible pragmatic means to do that.
I plead for some commonsense, practical solutions, not those concocted in the pristine halls of power away from the very people who are most affected. Include rural people way beyond flying one day visits, way beyond fly-in fly-out three hour meetings. Way beyond tokenistic representation on committees and working parties.
Engage with the people here, negotiate with them. Properly and sincerely and seriously engage with them — work with them to find some reasonable solutions. I implore you do not to be so naive as to think that the people of these communities are unreasonable or are not important.

UN calls for urgent action on soil carbon measurement

We’re all in this together.”

The UN has called for urgent action on soil carbon. It wants a method for measuring soil carbon so farmers can be paid to capture and store it. Specifically, it wants “the development of universally agreed and reproducible field and laboratory methods for measuring, reporting and verifying changes of soil carbon over time,” says Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program. It is a timely call because in June this year the CSIRO is scheduled to report on the Soil Carbon Research Program - a $20m project that started in 2009. When it was announced we were called by CSIRO's Dr Jeff Baldock, the scientist charged with spending the money. His call was to thank us for our part in getting the funds allocated to soil carbon. We then petitioned the Minister for a collaborative role in deciding how the money would be spent. We wanted the practical barriers to trading soil carbon offsets removed. We wanted the money spent on methodologies for direct measurement - which would maximise returns to the farmer and maximise their interest in storing carbon in soil. Instead the CSIRO decided to spend the money populating a model that would 'predict' the amount of carbon that could be stored by climate zone and by soil type as a result of changed land management. The model under-estimates the impact of soil biology. Unfortunately this would have the effect of minimising the return to the farmer because of the "Norton Effect" - the failure of scientists to replicate the soil carbon performance of experienced Carbon Farmers. (Named after Professor Ben Norton who discovered the condition.) If, after three years and $20million, we are not one centimeter closer to a soil carbon methodology that would deliver the promise of restored soil health, regenerated farm landscapes, increased biodiversity, reduce farm input costs, improved water holding capacity, and climate change mitigation, etc. we can’t blame scientists for obeying their science. The decision was made –based on the only available science – that a direct measurement methodology was not possible and that a model was the only way forward. We discovered that this was the case only recently: “SCaRP was not set up to baseline carbon contents on paddocks or farms," said Jonathan Sanderman, Jeffrey Baldock,, NATIONAL SOIL CARBON RESEARCH PROGRAMME: FIELD AND LABORATORY METHODOLOGIES CSIRO Land and Water, 2011. Why not? Because the scientist is a prisoner of his paradigm. Instead of dismissing the reported increases achieved by experienced Carbon Farmers as 'anecdotal' (even though they use the same measurement techniques and the same laboratories as official scientists), a more fruitful line of enquiry would be to assume for a moment that these farmers aren't lying and study how they consistently report rates of increase in soil C up to 10 times faster than conventional scientists. A purely scientific approach will not work. Scientists have been unable to supply a solution for direct measurement. We have submitted a methodology to the Government's expert panel that addresses the measurement difficulties and solve the problems by actuarial methods commonly used in the insurance industry. The FAO, the World Bank, the UN have all called for action on soil carbon.
Until political decision-makers take the time to learn the issue they will suffer by outsourcing their power to one group of professionals who, on their own, will never provide the answer. There will be many millions of dollars misallocated until the collaboration between science, actuarial science, market economics and carbon farmers. “We’re all in this together.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Walking backwards into the future

The leadership of the major farmers' groups in NSW and VIC have redefined leadership as walking backwards into the future on the issue of carbon trading. "NSW and Victorian farmer groups are urging producers to be wary of locking into long term carbon trading, " reported the ABC recently. "Both groups see little financial benefit for producers from the new carbon trading to begin in July. NSW Farmers Association's senior vice president and head of their sustainability taskforce, Sam Archer, says the returns are not there due to falling global carbon prices and restrictive land management."Potentially low commercial benefits, restrictions on land use practices, the onerous land use permanence requirements of 100 years, and as we have seen overseas, a high transactional cost (so) all of which I would encourage people to err on the side of caution." The President of the Victorian Farmers Federation, Andrew Broad, says farmers reject the notion of a carbon economy. "Globally we have been fools by making our agriculture less competitive and we think somehow that we are saving the planet."

The comments are poorly informed. EG., the low prices currently on offer reflect the global financial crisis as companies realise the value of offsets they have on their books for liquidity purposes. Now is the perfect time to buy some cheap offsets to cover your future liability. A farmer sitting on offsets would be wise to keep sitting until better prices are available. Few farm commodities are as bankable. These gentlemen may not be aware (because they are not engaged in the process) that there are several insurance and buffer mechanisms being proposed to reduce the 100 Year risk. Sam's complaint about 'restrictions on land use practices' seem odd since he has his own scheme called the National Ecosystem Services Scheme (ESS) which would see farmers paid for land stewardship - which involves 'setting aside marginal land' for ecological 'goods and services'. The only difference between the CFI system and Sam's Scheme is how the farmer is paid. We believe in markets. Sam believes in taxes: "Potential funding for the scheme could come from a GST on fresh food..." Whoa! Australians love their farmers, but not enough to pay 10% more for food. And governments tend to find it difficult keeping their hands off a GST. Stewardship payments are handouts which institutionalise the top-down, dependency relationship traditional for farmers. They can be switched on or off at will. In The Land's Year of the Farmer supplement recently, Mr Archer said his proposed ESS could become "the cornerstone of Australia's response to climate change..." But it has no connection to Climate Change. Why is the carbon market anathema to many in agriculture? Why are those involved in it seen to be ethically compromised? This has motivated some to propose "Market Based Instruments" which are not markets at all, but schemes that pit farmer against farmer to compete for handouts.
Andrew Broad claims to speak for farmers who reject the carbon economy. Do they reject the Government's decision to absolve farmers for responsibility for all their emissions on farm and reward them instead with tradable offsets for their efforts to reduce methane and nitrous oxide? Or the option of being paid to enrich their soils and strategically revegetate their landscapes? Is Mr Broad's climate denialism typical of farmers? The dairy farmers are hardest hit by the price on carbon because of their energy usage. Yet Dairy Australia says on its website: “Belief’ in Climate Change is no longer relevant because the very idea of Climate Change, backed up by clearly more volatile weather events, has created its own, overwhelming social and economic momentum. ‘Climate Change’ is fundamentally changing everything from the behaviour of Governments to consumer choices. It has become one of the critical lenses through which every decision must pass – how individuals and industries react will fundamentally their future resilience and competitive advantage."

These are the facts: 1. No farmer is obliged to change anything in the way they manage their holdings when the carbon markets start operating. 2. No farmer is obliged to get involved with carbon markets. 3. No farmer should rush into any arrangement, especially planting trees. Changing the way you manage pastures or cropping is less restrictive of land use than planting trees. The tree companies want to sell as many trees as possible. Too many trees can be as bad as too few trees. The strategic placement of vegetation can enhance production. 4. Your advisor should have experience in whole-of-farm-planning for carbon farming. Contact the Carbon Farming & Trading Association to be put in touch with experienced carbon farmers who know what they are talking about.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Additionality Trap defanged

As members of the Bridge Consortium, we met yesterday with representatives of the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests to discuss the reaction to our Soil Carbon Methodology. During the meeting we brought up the issue of the Additionality Trap (landholders falling into a permanent state of 'business as usual' by changing land management practices for scientific trials, etc. when they intend to make the change when they can earn offsets for it (when a methodology comes available). Representatives from both departments indicated that this was not an outcome they could accept and that something would be done about it. In the meantime we recommend that a statutory declaration of the landholder's prior intent We will report the DAFF/DCCEE mechanism when it appears..

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Plantation carbon trees dangerous - Fire Services

The Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA) in Western Australia says an increase in the number of carbon capturing tree plantations poses a huge fire risk. More native plantations have arisen in traditional farming areas since the onset of the carbon farming industry, after the Kyoto Protocol ratification came into effect in 2008 and more are expected to be planted via the CFI and the Biodiversity Fund. While there is no method for trading soil carbon offsets, trees are threatening to dominate farmland. Most of the plantations are owned by companies so have no-one onsite to put out fires when they start."By their definition these areas are carbon sequestration areas which means that in theory they're not burnt and they remain a repository to trap the carbon," says Great Southern area manager John Tonkin. "Not withstanding that, there are natural effects like lightning ... which may occur that may ... [start] these parcels of land on fire."

Hard Questions for The Year of The Farmer

AN extract from a speech by Wendell Berry delivered in 1974 in Spokane, Washington. It formed the kernel of his book The Unsettling Of America, 1977. It asks the hard questions we should be asking about Agriculture in the Year of the Farmer.

In the decades since World War II the farms of Henry County [Kentucky] have become increasingly mechanized. Though they are still comparatively diversified, they are less diversified than they used to be. The holdings are larger, the owners are fewer. The land is falling more and more into the hands of speculators and professional people from the cities who-in spite of all the scientific agricultural miracles-still have much more money than farmers. There are not nearly enough people on the farms to maintain them properly, and they are for the most part visibly deteriorating. The number of part-time farmers and ex-farmers increases every year. Our harvests depend more and more upon the labor of old men and little boys. The farm people live less and less upon their own produce, more and more from the grocery stores. The best of them are more worried about money and more overworked than ever before. Among the people as a whole, the focus of interest has largely shifted from the household to the automobile; the ideals of workmanship and thrift have been replaced by the goals of leisure, comfort and entertainment-for, as my friend, Maurice Telleen says, "this nation has created the world's first broad-based hedonism."

And nowhere that I know is there a market for a hen or a bucket of cream or a few dozen eggs. Those markets were done away with in the name of sanitation-but to the enormous enrichment of the large producers. Future historians will no doubt remark upon the inevitable association, with us, between sanitation and filthy lucre. It is, of course, one of the miracles of science that the germs that used to be in our food have been replaced by poisons.

In all of this few people whose testimony would have mattered have seen the connection between "modernization" of agricultural techniques and the disintegration of the culture and the communities of farming. What we have called agricultural progress has, in fact, involved the forcible displacement of millions of people.

I remember, during the fifties, the outrage with which certain of our leaders spoke of the forced removal of the populations of villages in communist countries. I also remember that at that same time, in Washington, the word on farming was "Get big or get out"-a policy that is still in effect. The only difference here is in the method: the force used by the communists was military; with us it has been economic, a "free" market in which the freest were the richest. The attitudes were equally cruel, and I believe that in the long run the results will be equally damaging-not just to the concerns and values of the human spirit, but to the practical possibilities of survival.

And so those who could not get big got out-not just in my community but in farm communities all over the country. But bigness is a most amorphous and unstable category. As a social or economic goal it is totalitarian; it establishes an inevitable tendency toward the tyrannical one that will be the biggest of all. Many who got big to stay in are now being driven out by those who are still bigger. The aim of bigness implies not one social or cultural aim that is not noxious. Its influence on us may already have been disastrous, and we have not yet seen the worst.

And this community-killing agriculture, with its monomania of bigness, is not primarily the work of farmers, though it has burgeoned upon their weaknesses. It is the work of the institutions of agriculture: the experts and the agri-businessmen, who have promoted so-called efficiency at the expense of community, and quantity at the expense of quality.

In 1973 1,000 Kentucky dairies went out of business. They were the victims of policies by which we imported dairy products to compete with our own, and exported so much grain as to cause a drastic rise in the price of feed. Typically, an agricultural expert at the University of Kentucky, my colleague, was willing to applaud the failure of 1,000 dairymen, whose cause he supposedly being paid-with their money-to serve. They were inefficient producers, he concluded, who needed to be eliminated.

He did not say-indeed, there was no indication that he had even considered-what might be the limits of his criterion or his logic. Does he propose to applaud this same process year after year until "biggest" and "most efficient" become synonymous with "only"? This sort of brainlessness is invariably justified by pointing to the enormous productivity of American agriculture. But any abundance, in any amount, is illusory if it does not safeguard its producers-and in American agriculture abundance has tended to destroy its producers.

Along with the rest of society, the established agriculture has shifted its emphasis-even its interest-from quality to quantity. And along with the rest of society it has failed to see that, in the long run, quantity is inseparable from quality. To pursue quantity alone is to destroy those disciplines in the producers that are the only assurance of quantity. The preserver of abundance is excellence.

What are the results of such thinking? The results are the drastic decline in farm population and political strength; the growth of a vast, uprooted, dependent and unhappy urban population. (Our rural and urban problems have largely caused each other.) The result is an unimaginable waste of land, of energy, of fertility, of human beings. The result is that the life of the land, which in its native processes is infinite, has been made totally dependent upon the finite, scarce and expensive products of industry. The result is the disuse of so-called marginal lands, potentially productive, but dependent upon intensive human care and long-term familiarity and affection. The result is the virtual destruction of the farm culture without which farming, in any but the exploitive and extractive sense, is impossible.

My point is that food is a cultural, not a technological, product. A culture is not a collection of relics and ornaments, but a practical necessity, and its destruction invokes calamity. A healthy culture is a communal order of memory, insight, value, and aspiration. It would reveal the human necessities and the human limits. It would clarify our inescapable bonds to the earth and to each other. It would assure that the necessary restraints be observed, that the necessary work be done, and that it be done well. A healthy farm culture can only be based upon familiarity; it can only grow among a people soundly established upon the land; it would nourish and protect a human intelligence of the land that no amount of technology can satisfactorily replace. The growth of such a culture was once a strong possibility in the farm communities of this country. We now have only the sad remnants of those communities. If we allow another generation to pass without doing what is necessary to enhance and embolden that possibility, we will lose it altogether. And then we will not only invoke calamity-we will deserve it.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

It' only a market. It won't kill you.

Carbon Farming is now law. It is the Law of the Land. It is being progressively implemented by the approval of "Methodologies" which govern the way offsets can be earned. It is a fait accomplis. Still some people champion alternative solutions. This is good. Diversity means opportunity. For instance, Sam Archer's National Ecosystem Services Scheme (ESS) would see farmers paid for land stewardship - which involves 'setting aside marginal land' for ecological 'goods and services' such as carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, improved water quality and bushland protection. (Taking animals off land and locking it up is the fast way to degrade it.) Government regulation would be 'light' to avoid the scheme becoming a victim of political whim and changes of government. (Can't see how this works.) "Potential funding for the scheme could come from a GST on fresh food..." Whoa! The Community loves its farmers and expects them to protect the environment, but not enough to pay for it. And governments tend to find the concept of 'light regulation' difficult and keeping their hands off a GST? Stewardship payments are handouts which institutionalise the top-down, dependency relationship traditional for farmers. They can be switched on or off at will. The 600lb gorilla not in the room is the market. The market for offsetting carbon emissions... "Mr Archer said his proposed ESS could become the cornerstone of Australia's response to climate change..." But it has no connection to Climate Change. The carbon market is anathema to many in agriculture - and those involved in it are seen to be ethically compromised. This has motivated some to propose "Market Based Instruments" which are not markets at all, but schemes that pit farmer against farmer to compete for handouts.

My colleague and fellow director of Healthy Soils Australia, Walter Jehne, has an excellent scheme: “The Net Emissions Reduction Incentive“ scheme or N.E.R.I. "Emitters have an option of ... offsetting their emissions ... by buying offsets generated by farmers through soil-carbon farming, whereby farmers manage their land in a regenerative, holistic, productive, resilient system that sequesters carbon as HUMUS in the soil, giving long-term food and water security."

" There would be no opportunity for carbon to be on-traded as a commodity."

Farmers are commodity marketers by nature. They are used to derivatives as a concept. The answer to every problem is not Government interference. Cooperatives don't guarantee protection from being ripped off. There is a role for stewardship payments and for Government regulation. But we are not dealing with a temporary change. We need a change in culture and tradition, a permanent shift in the relationship between humanity and nature in the way we extract our food, clothing and shelter from it. The free market drives innovation and incites entrepreneurs to develop new solutions, new technologies, new answers. Our future is bright only if bright ideas are allowed to flourish in an open market. Open minds are needed, not ancient prejudices.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Last chance for independent advice on the Carbon Farming Initiative before FarmReady funding runs out.

For farmers wondering what the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) has for them, there’s an opportunity to find out while FarmReady subsidies are still available.FarmReady funding runs out in June 2012. Farmers could potentially have 65% of the course fee reimbursed if they act soon. “An Introduction to Carbon Farming & Trading” is a 1-day Workshop that will equip farmers to make decisions about the CFI opportunities they will be offered. It is FarmReady Approved which means attendees may be eligble for a 65% subsidy of the course fee. The CFI is moving quickly as new income streams are emerging. Already there are possibilities under the headings of “Environmental Plantings” (farm forestry), “Savanna Burning”, and “Manure Management” (Piggeries). Carbon Farmers of Australia have an application for a Soil Carbon Methodology before the expert panel. Course Participants get more than just a day’s training. They get a copy of the Carbon Farming Handbook, the only one of its kind. They receive email updates in the Carbon Farming Newsletter. They receive invitations to events such as the Carbon Farming Conference where you meet with other ‘Carbon Farmers’. And they become part of the community that is working to restore farm landscapes to health while paying farmers for their role in this important national responsibility.You will have many people offering you opportunities that sound good but may not be what they seem. After attending “An Introduction to Carbon Farming & Trading” you will know the right questions to ask to avoid pitfalls.

The course is delivered by Carbon Farmers of Australia, experienced professionals who have six years practical hands-on engagement in the carbon farming 'industry', having led the campaign for farmers' rights to carbon credits under the banner of the Carbon Coalition and now have established the Carbon Farming & Trading Association. The have staged the Carbon Farming Conference every year since 2007 and publish the Carbon Farming Handbook.

“I believe that we have the Carbon Farming Initiative today because of the efforts of the Kielys over the past 5 years.” – Professor John Crawford, University of Sydney

“There would have been no Carbon Farming Initiative if not for the work of Michael and Louisa Kiely.” – Hon. Greg Hunt, Shadow Minister for Environment & Climate Action.

Upcoming dates include:

BENDIGO 27 February, WARRAGUL 1 March, TERANG 5 March, WAGGA WAGGA 13 March, ORANGE 15 March, SINGLETON 22 March, JAMBEROO 26 March

We can run a workshop in your district. Call Louisa on 02 6374 0329 to find out how it works.

New Edition of Carbon Farming Handbook - Contributions?

The Carbon Farming Handbook is uniquely useful as it forms a comprehensive introduction to the discipline. The Handbook is being updated. Contributions are welcome. We are particularly interested in techniques for increasing soil carbon levels. The list of contents (below) reveal the gaps. We also welcome support from advertisers and sponsors, companies that want to introduce themselves to the many new farmers entering the carbon field. We have various ways to make the introduction. Call us on 02 6374 0329 or email michael@carbonfarmersof


What is Soil Carbon?
An Introduction to Carbon Farming
Can Farmers Slow Climate Change?
Changing the Way We Farm
Soil Organic Matter
Soil Organic Carbon
Benefits of SOC
The Soil Carbon Solution
Can We Capture Carbon?
Carbon Farming Techniques
Grazing Management
Conservation Tillage
Pasture Cropping
Biological Farming (including Organic Farming)
Biochar: What Do We Know?
Albrecht Natural Farming System
Biodynamic Farming
Natural Sequence Farming
Landsmanship: Reading The Landcape
How Nature Farms: Sir Albert Howard
Microclimates: Can Carbon Farming Make It Rain?
Microbes Making Carbon
The Root of the Matter
Rhizodeposition: A Hole In The Bucket?
The Liquid Carbon Pathway
Carbon Farming: Grassroots Innovation
The Hidden Costs of Soil Carbon Sequestration?
Farmers Lead Compost Revoluton
Triggering Terra Biologica
Is Fertiliser Bad For Carbon?
The Myth Of Nitrogen Fertilisation For Soil Carbon
Trees and Carbon Farming
Farm Forest Offsets Now Available
Carbon Sinks & Sources
Managing High Energy Costs in Dairy
Pig Farmers Earn Credits For Manure
22 Ways To Go Low N2O
How to Calculate Carbon Credits
Carbon Farm Plan: Soil Carbon Optimising Tool
The Carbon Farming Initiative
What Is A Carbon Offset?
How Does The Market Work?
How To Weigh Up A Soil Carbon Proposal
What’s In The CFI For You?
Did Agriculture Dodge A Bullet?
Why Is The Government Doing This?
CFI 101: The Basics
How To Earn Australian Carbon Credit Units
The Positive List: What You Can Do
The Negative List: What You Cannot Do
Permanence: What You Must Do
A Soil Carbon Methodology
Carbon Tax Funds Farming
Carbon Offsets Value Proposition
“How Much Can I Make From Soil Carbon?”
Potential Returns
Potential of Australian Soils
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Soil, Food & Human Health: It’s Personal

Farmers fall into the Additionality Trap?

Farmers are in danger of forfeiting their right to earn carbon credits for on-farm activities if they move too soon. They can fall into the Additionality Trap if they get involved in on-farm trials before joining an approved offset program. And there aren't many methodologies approved. This is perplexing for those groups working to submit applications for funds under the Government's Action On The Ground because it leaves them in no-man's-land. The Carbon Farming & Trading Association has requested that the Departments involved - DAFF and DCCEE - provide farmers with a mechanism for avoiding this pitfall. Here are the details:

Farmers who take part in the Government’s $99 million Action On The Ground program could fall into the “Additionality Trap” and be excluded from the Carbon Farming Initiative’s Carbon Credits scheme. The program aims to “to assist landholders trial and demonstrate ways to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and/or increase carbon stored in soil.” But farmers who change their practices as part of these trials before they are registered in an offsets project with an approved methodology will almost inevitably make themselves ineligible to earn offsets that they can trade.
The CFI’s Additionality Standard disqualifies any activity that is already underway (‘business as usual’). For a project to deliver genuine carbon abatement, it must result in a reduction in atmospheric greenhouse gas that is additional to what would have occurred in the absence of the project. Currently there are only 4 methodologies approved: methane flaring from waste, savanna burning, piggery methane flaring, and native forest planting. The priorities for Action On The Ground are reduction of methane and nitrous oxide emissions and increased storage of soil carbon. Activities that would be eligible for funding under the program include most of the main Carbon Farming practices, which means that the “Additionality Trap” throws the net wide:
• animal management and feed strategies that can reduce methane emissions
• management strategies to reduce soil nitrous oxide emissions including the use of chemical inhibitors
• planting, rotation, cropping or grazing practices to either reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions from soil and/or increase carbon stored in soil
• on-farm management practices and abatement technologies to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural wastes
• other practices and abatement technologies that can be demonstrated on-farm to have the potential to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and/or increase carbon stored in soil.
DAFF lists a number of practices to be trialled for soil carbon that would be adopted to earn offsets: “Action on the Ground is seeking applications for on-farm projects to trial and demonstrate practices that can be used to increase and maintain the amount of carbon stored in soil. Such practices may include, but are not limited to, crop rotation strategies to reduce or eliminate fallow periods, addition of pasture phase to crop practices and/or cropping pastures, soil amendments, offsite additions to soil (such as claying, addition of organic materials etc), increasing pasture cover and/or inclusion of perennial species, conversion from cropping to perennial pasture and restoration of degraded farm land.”
The “Additionality Trap” also disqualifies farmers in areas where the offset practices had become ‘common practice’. (If more than 5% of farmers in a district or industry segment have adopted the practice, new adoptees are deemed to not be motivated by CFI considerations and any abatement arising would have happened anyway.) Local NRM bodies engaging farmers in certain districts in “soil carbon trials” not only endanger participating farmers, but all others in the district.

“Ignorance of the basic principles of carbon farming and trading is dangerous for farmers and their advisers. We estimate the losses by farmers as a result of these types of incidents could amount to significant dollars,” says Michael Kiely of the Carbon Farming & Trading Association. “These farmers must be informed, if only so they can manage the risk.”
It is to be wondered if the Government's CFI training course would include practical trading information of this type or whether it will be a "Government Information Campaign."
“This is not the first time there has been a collision between government programs due to misunderstanding the CFI. The confusion over carbon credits for Henbury Station is a classic example of silos colliding.”

Ruling sought

The Association is seeking a ruling from the DCCEE and DAFF on the following issues:
Will there be a suspension of the “Business As Usual” provision of the Additionality Standard for those farmers involved in the Action On The Ground program?
Will there be a suspension of the “Business As Usual” and “Common Practice” provisions of the Additionality Standard for those farmers involved in “Soil Carbon Trials” staged by CMAs and DPIs?
Will there be a mechanism provided for farmers who intend to earn offsets for activities for which there has yet to be a methodology approved to register their intention?