Saturday, March 24, 2012

A new DOIC

The permanent Domestic Offsets Integrity Committee (DOIC) has been appointed to replace the interim DOIC which was appointed in 2011 when the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) legislation passed into law. The DOIC is an independent expert committee charged with "supporting the environmental integrity of carbon offsets generated under the Carbon Farming Initiative." The new DOIC includes the following:
Professor Timothy Reeves (Chair): Professor Reeves is an international consultant with expertise in the development and extension of sustainable agricultural productions systems and crop-livestock integration. He is a Professorial Fellow at the Melbourne School of Land and Environment, a director of The Future Farm Industries Cooperative Research Centre, was a Senior Expert for the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and was formerly the Director-General of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre.
Dr Tony Press: Dr Press has led one of Australia’s leading climate science bodies, the Australian Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre as CEO since 2009 and has been Chair of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens Board for many years. He was previously a senior executive on the Environmental Forest Taskforce in the Department of the Environment and Heritage and was the Director of the Cooperative Research Centre for the Sustainable Development of Australia’s Tropical Savannas.
Professor Lynette Abbott: Professor Abbott is the Vice Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Science and Professor in the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Western Australia. Professor Abbott is an internationally well known and respected scientist who has published widely in soil, agricultural and botanical research journals. Professor Abbott’s principle area of scientific expertise is within the agricultural sector with broad expertise in soil biology, including retention/protection of soil carbon.
Ms Rebecca Burdon: Ms Burdon is the principal economist at the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Ms Burdon has extensive international experience assessing the economic impact of existing and proposed regulatory interventions using statistical and econometric analysis and modelling. Prior to working with ACMA Ms Burdon assisted the NSW government with the development of the Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme, specifically with the rules governing the creation of NSW Greenhouse Gas Abatement Certificates from demand side abatement activities.
Dr Brian Keating (CSIRO representative): Dr Keating is Director of the National Research Flagship on Sustainable Agriculture focusing on productivity, greenhouse gas abatement and sustainability challenges in Australian agriculture, forestry and land-use systems. Brian has 35 years experience in agricultural and natural resource management R&D with leadership roles including the Chief of the CSIRO Division of Sustainable Ecosystems (2004-2008) and a past Board member of Sugar, Rainforest Ecology and Management and Tropical Savannas CRCs. Brian has authored over 200 scientific papers covering diverse topics including soil and water management, plant nutrition, soil carbon and nitrogen cycling, crop physiology, farming systems analysis and design, bioenergy, simulation modelling, climatic risk management and food security. He is a continuing member of the Editorial Board of the international journal, Agricultural Systems.
Ms Shayleen Thompson (Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency representative): Ms Thompson is the Head of the Land Division in the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. She has worked on international and domestic climate change policy and programs since 1995. The Land Division was established in July 2010 to provide a coherent and coordinated approach to climate change mitigation.

The DOIC's role is to assess methodology proposals for use under the scheme and advise the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, who makes a decision whether to approve methodology proposals. The Committee also provides advice to the Minister on regulations specifying eligible activities under the Carbon Farming Initiative that are not common practice, known as the 'positive list'. The Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency may also seek the Committee's technical and scientific advice on other offset matters.

Friday, March 16, 2012

No-till farmers doubled soil carbon levels

Farmer Ray Harrington was a founder of the West Australian No Till Farmers Association. WANTFA celebrates 10 years this month."The soils on our farms have become more fertile and we've doubled our organic carbon levels on pretty mongrel soils."
No-till farmers report that the technique has doubled their soil organic matter - that is a 100% increase. Yet research repeatedly fails to detect a statistical difference in soil carbon sequestration between no-till and conventional cultivation. Both scientists and farmers should be concerned about this issue because - as the no-till adoption rates prove - farmers are always willing to forge ahead alone. Friction between the parties over this can lead to poor allocation of resources, ie. research funds

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

My 'vested interest'

Recently more than one or two people have accused us of having a vested interest in the outcome of the Carbon Farming Initiative. Well they're right! Here you see our vested interests. Our grandchildren -the ones who will feel the full brunt of Climate CHange when we won't be there to protect them. We do have an ulterior motive. We're not just doing this for farmers. We're doing it for these kids - Brody, Portia and Xavier. Now that we are getting towards the pointy end of the process of winning for farmers the right to grow and be rewarded for growing their soil carbon levels, it would be strange if those who have been against our campaign all along should not stir the possum at this late stage.
These are the facts: Carbon Farmers of Australia is a not-for-profit company. We have launched many services for farmers interested in soil carbon credits in the past 6 years to drive the campaign forward and because no one else did: the Carbon Farming Conference, the Carbon Cocky Awards (with the Central West CMA), the Carbon Farming Handbook, the 1-day Carbon Farming Workshop, the blog, the Newsletter, the Carbon Farming & Trading Association. With our colleagues in the Bridge Consortium, we have donated hundreds of person-hours working on a soil carbon methodology for which we cannot claim any intellectual property and therefore no return apart from seeing the market open. We are launching a Regional Carbon Market Summit to make sure as much of the wealth created by the CFI stays in the regions. We are launching a representation, advocacy and aggregation service to give farmers the option of dealing with a known quantity in the new market and because there isn't much knowledge about trading in the traditional channels because few have paid attention and taken the time to learn this new language and farmers need information NOW. And finally we have launched a service for companies wanting to go carbon neutral voluntarily, to create a market for farm offsets.
Anyone who thinks working for 6 years for nothing in order to make a business in a market that there was no guarantee of ever emerging is a smart move must have rocks in their heads. Vested interest, indeed.
We all have a vested interest in the success of the soil carbon offsets market. Soil Carbon is widely acknowledged as the only chance we've got to hold Global Warming around the 2°C level beyond which the scientists recite doomsday scenarios. Remember that famous phrase from our first Conference: "We're all in this together." Not to get rich. What's the use of money if you've got no hope for the future?

Destocking vs managing stock differently

Temporary destocking for deep regeneration before careful reintroduction sounds like a sound strategy and well worth funding by a temporary stewardship provision. Unfortunately this Government does not believe in the European practice of paying farmers not to grow produce. Witness what happened to the RM Williams Company's attempt to get carbon credits by locking up Henbury Station. There may be some money for it available in the $1bn Biodiversity Fund introduced under The Carbon Farming Initiative. There may be some money available for research under the Action On The Ground program run by DAFF. David Pollock might even be able to use grazing management intensively on a small area of Wooleen to generate revenue while saving the rest... Evan Pensini of Cheela Plains Station in the Pilbara has been trying to perfect the formula for capturing carbon in the rangelands for more than 10 years. Across a small section of his 133,000 hectare property west of Paraburdoo, he manages a mob of cattle by cell grazing. He says the paddocks are closely monitored to ensure ground cover is restored. "We've basically tripled our carrying capacity since we've been implementing the system and we've had some extremely dry years in amongst it as well, but the whole object of is the point that you're only grazing when you've got that food on offer."

Answers from David and Frances

Under the impression that David Pollock had destocked his station Wooleen permanently, we put a series of questions to him after his story appeared on Australian Story. WHile he and partner Frances have not turned the property into a 'national park with no income', their radical destocking strategy has forced a lot of graziers to consider their own stiuation. As David says, most could not afford to do it. Here are their answers to our questions:
Q.1. Would the tourism enterprise keep the property afloat without stewardship payments?
A.1. The short answer No. Perhaps with more investment and some staff the tourism would be able to. But at the current level it can’t, and we unfortunately can't afford the investment it needs to go to the next level. Tourism has allowed us to pay majority of the bills over the last 4 years but it hasn't been able to pay interest and so our overdraft increases each year. As a condition of our pastoral lease we need to maintain all infrastructure on the property and so the tourism income is running two businesses.
Q.2. What contribution does the regeneration strategy chosen make to providing food or fibre?
A.2. It makes a huge contribution. It means that we will be able to produce food and fibre into the future. You’re a farmer, you would know that sometimes you push a paddock too far, and it needs time to recover. We have a whole station like that! just because you have a paddock with no stock doesn’t mean that it’s a write off into the future. In fact it means the opposite, that you will be able to produce a better quality product, and if you manage it well and have a good understanding of how to manage it, it will produce more. Currently in our area, we have a degraded resource, and no clear idea of how to manage it to its environmental, economic and social capacity.
Q.3. Was a regeneration strategy using grazing management to restore the landscape considered?
A.3. It was considered and is being used on most properties, more or less. It is a very long and difficult road to achieve recovery and most of the stations that are trying to get through with stock in this area are at best sustaining an bad situation. In essence, all grazing management should also be a regeneration strategy, the problem is that the landscape is too degraded at this time to handle any grazing, and Im not just talking about cows, as to have one windmill on could result in 2000 kangaroos in an area, enough to make sure it doesn’t recover. Added to this argument is the necessity of added infrastructure to obtain the control needed for grazing based regeneration. Wooleen has over 200kms of (reasonable) fence, which is hard enough to look after itself, let alone the fences needed for a good rotational grazing system. I’m not saying it’s not possible, but it will take much longer to see results, be just as expensive, and mean a much greater susceptibility to making a wrong judgement in a landscape whose maximum potential is not known.
Q.4. Have the opportunities presented by the Carbon Farming Initiative been considered?
A.4. At this stage, what opportunities? I probably know as much as most pastoralists about CFI, being selected to represent them at a recent meeting of government agencies and industry to identify and address knowledge gaps that may stop uptake of CF. At present there are no avenues to uptake CF, and no means of measuring carbon at a rangeland scale. There are lots of Gaps though! Were working on it.
Q.5. Have the carbon levels in the soil been monitored?
A.5. No. not by me.
Q.6. Is the model valid for use by a large number of graziers in any district or can there be only one as a demonstration property.
A.6. to my mind the best thing about destocking is its simple, it will work everywhere(Maybe with variations), and if they were paid to, everyone could do it. In fact if a few stations did it together it would be much more effective.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Questions for David Pollock and Frances Jones:

ABCTV ‘s Australian Story tonight was about a farmer who destocked his rangeland grazing property in outback Western Australia. It was a love story about a girl from the city who came out for a few weeks and stayed forever, falling in love with the farmer and the farm.
Questions not answered by the program – that would have made sense of the story had they been answered – were the following:
1. Would the tourism enterprise keep the property afloat without stewardship payments?
2. What contribution does the regeneration strategy chosen make to providing food or fibre?
3. Was a regeneration strategy using grazing management to restore the landscape considered?
4. Have the opportunities presented by the Carbon Farming Initiative been considered?
5. Have the carbon levels in the soil been monitored?
6. Is the model valid for use by a large number of graziers in any district or can there be only one as a demonstration property.
Is there a danger that David and Frances's story could encourage city-based people to believe that all farms should be run like theirs - that supermarkets provide food, not farms?
We loved their innovations, like the water spreading wire tubes. Brilliant.

Carbon Farmers on the road

Carbon Farmers of Australia's Michael and Louisa Kiely are 'on the road' conducting the 1-Day Workshop 'An Introduction to Carbon Farming & Trading' in NSW, VIC, SA and WA in the time available while the FarmReady program winds down. The rising numbers of attendees reveals the demand for information is high, especially on the trade side of the equation.

If you would like the Workshop brought to your district, call (02) 6374 0329 or email

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.

This is the gauntlet we are running

The process of developing a methodology involves several stages of review and adjustment of the submission as it moves toward being approval.. The first review is to ensure that all essential elements have been addressed. The second review is to ensure that the submission complies with the legislation. The first two reviews are conducted by the Department. The third review is conducted by the expert panel (the Domestic Offsets Integrity Committee - the DOIC) which has the power to recommend that the Minister give approval. The final stage involves exposure for 40 days for public comment. At each stage, the methodology proponent can be asked to make changes to their submission. In this process, we have been told, the Department and the DOIC will work with the proponent to find a way to approve the methodology that observes the stringent Integrity Standards. Our soil carbon methodology is at the second stage. We hope that those assessing methodologies realise that they are working to make a successful market. A market needs willing buyers and willing sellers. The conditions imposed upon sellers in the name of giving buyers confidence should not be so difficult that none will come forward. Should that happen we will have failed and the 'once in a generation opportunity to recapitalise our soils' (in Tony Abbott's words) will be lost.

Soil CArbon Methodology - Comin' Round The Mountain

Members of the Bridge Consortium met with "the Department" (DCCEE) to get a response to our soil carbon methodology submission. We were told to expect a long time to pass before we get an outcome. We were told we should not raise unrealistic expectations. We were told that we are running ahead of the Department in such areas as the protocols for measurement. (Eg., We have to wait for the D. to produce these since it was agreed that the measurement protocols developed for the Soil Carbon Research Project are not suitable for baselining.) So instead of Martin Luther King's 'burning urgency of now', we're singing 'she'll be comin' round the mountian when she comes'.