Friday, April 11, 2008

THE PUSHBACK**: Coalition branded 'irresponsible'

"There's been a lot of irresponsible speculation about the pot of gold which sits for agriculture at the end of the offsets rainbow." This was the Farm Institute's Mick Keogh on ABC Radio late last year. NSW Farmers - once strong supporters of the soil carbon solution (or at least Jock Laurie was) - have a new position: "Farmers should be extremely cautious about pinning their hopes on sales of soil carbon as a new farm enterprise," writes the Chairman of NSW Farmers Climate Change Working Group, Richard Clark. His letter to the editor in this week's Land is as confused and contradictory as the climate change sceptics who fill the columns of Rural Press publications and dominate the debate at NSW Farmers' meetings. Both Mick and Richard would agree that soil carbon credits are important for meeting our methane and other greenhouse emissions bills. Yet they are trying to scare farmers off, by bringing out all the old boogeymen and some new ones.
"In times of drought, carbon levels run down and carbon credits may have to be bought by cash-strapped farmers in a market where their neighbours are also trying to buy out their obligations." But then he makes a plea for the inclusion of soil carbon as an offset to a farmers' methane bill.

Here is the text of our letter to the editor of The Land. As they rarely publish our material, we send it to you directly.


Thanks to the Land for giving soil carbon so much coverage over the past two years. The Carbon Coalition truly appreciates it, although it is surprising, given the coverage, that so much of what is being said in your pages by ‘experts’ lately is so wrong. For instance, the claim soil carbon trading is dangerous because farmers will be forced to buy carbon credits when they lose soil carbon in a drought or simply to pay for methane and nitrous oxide emissions from stock and fertiliser betrays a need to do some homework.

Here are the facts: Farmers trading soil carbon will be protected by a “buffer pool” of ‘credits’ that can be dipped into whenever they go backwards due to drought or natural disaster. Soil Carbon Trading is not conducted between individual farmers and buyers. Large numbers of farmers are pooled or aggregated in the same way wool is sold. The aggregator holds a percentage of all units submitted for sale in a “buffer pool” which is released for sale at various points in the time period covered by the contract. There is also a system of insurances that can be used. The system has been working for American farmers on the Chicago Climate Exchange for 4 years and our trading arm, Carbon Farmers of Australia offers the same protection. It works for forests, which are in greater danger of destruction than soil carbon.

Methane and nitrous oxide: If you made no changes to the way you manage your animals and to the way you applied fertiliser and to the way you manage your land, then yes, you could end up paying for carbon credits. But this is a distant possibility. There are many alternatives that can reduce your total “Carbon Footprint”. You can reduce methane emissions in many ways: grazing management, rumen inoculants, and genetics. Nitrous oxide can be reduced by targeted fertiliser application, a range of new biological fertilisers, and simply the introduction of dung beetles. Soon the marketplace will be flooded with alternatives. Early indications are that soil carbon increases could easily account for the methane and nitrous oxide liability in the short term while we shift to a new way of farming.

No one is forcing your readers to consider soil carbon (the only revenue positive aspect of the carbon equation for farmers.). But the Government will force everyone to confront their emissions from farming activities. Those who would deter farmers from engaging in soil carbon trading could find themselves in a tricky legal position should the day arrive when farmers who, following their advice, ignored the soil carbon opportunity and find themselves clearly disadvantaged.

I should declare an interest here: We have campaigned for two years to see the day farmers would be paid for the soil carbon they grow. There will be billions sloshing around when carbon becomes the world’s largest commodity market, and unless we fight for it, farmers will see none of it. We formed a non-profit trading arm called Carbon Farmers of Australia to start the market in Australia.

If the naysayers had spent as much energy trying to find ways to make the soil carbon market opportunity happen as they have spent trying to find reasons not to do it, we would be trading now.

Put this question to the next expert you hear listing all the reasons why soil carbon trading is impossible/bad/dangerous/etc.: “Why do you want us to face a carbon bill without any carbon currency to pay it?”

Michael Kiely
Carbon Coalition

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