Saturday, December 20, 2008

Keep on Boxing!

There have been times in the past 12 months when we have been infected by doubts and listened to those who counselled us to be more accommodating and less critical and forthright. We need to become more acceptable to institutions and organisations because we need to source financial assistance in order to continue campaigning. So we face the ultimate dilemma: stop being so effective on behalf of our constituents: the farm families that make Australian Agriculture what it is. And I see my 6 and 2-year-old grandsons and think: "What can I do?" And I remember a message sent to me via a friend from fellow Parkinsonian Muhammad Ali: "Keep on boxing."

Thanks to the fair-minded people in the media who gave soil carbon a fair go.
Thanks to the politicians who gave us the time of day and asked questions in the House and Committee hearings for us.
Thanks to the scientists who risked being see with us at public events. And to those who coach us and guide us.
Thanks to the executives from industry bodies who have given us the benefit of their counsel and insights.
Thanks to the faithful supporters who never say no and who give us the strength to continue.
Thanks to all the members who sent ideas and advice this year.
Thanks to those who made submissions and appeared before special hearings.
Thanks to anyone who was abused or denigrated on our behalf this year. (We can't always be there to accept it personally.)
Thanks to those who sent or spent money for us. God bless your purse or wallet that their contents may multiply.
Thanks to those who invited us to address your members to explain the soil carbon phenomenon and what the truth is.
Thanks to those organisations in the USA and New Zealand who invited us to work with you on the soil carbon challenge in your countries.
Thanks to the angels who speak for no fee at our conference.
Thanks to those visionaries who are helping us establish the soil carbon movement in the cities.
Thanks to the members of our grassroots 'circle', the originals, - Colin, David, Rick, Angus - who inspire by their daily lives.
Thanks to Christine who started the whole enterprise and continues to set the pace.
Thanks to the new generation of soil carbon entrepreneurs, the microbial men and women.
Thanks to the sponsors and supporters who contributed to the financial health of the movement.
Thanks to those who carry the flame in other parts of the country that we can't get to.
Thanks to those who work inside government bodies but who make a fantastic contribution by keeping us connected with reality.
Thanks to the countless 'moles' who send us sensitive and insensitive information.
Thanks to the marketplace insiders who feed us information and set up meeting with useful connections.
Thanks to (.......) (Here insert youself, for reading this blog.

If not you, who?

If not now, when?

Thoughts for Thinkers

These pearls we found during the year. They are yours to use and enjoy...

Live for tomorrow forever

“Live as though you were going to die tomorrow.
Farm as though you were going to live forever.”

19th century English saying

Civilisation and soil

“There is an indispensable agricultural link between the superstructure of a complex civilisation and the soil… The chief product of the farm is the persons who constitute that link and they are the most important agricultural resource for our national health and good character.”

Johnson D. Hill, Roots In The Soil

To Lead

“Governments cannot lead.
They can only follow.

Environmental Groups cannot lead.
They can only react.

Only the People can lead.

The Soil Carbon Manifesto

The earth lives

“In our time, the depersonalised, lifeless concept of soil still predominates… [There is] a need to revive the long-dormant feeling [that] the earth lives in and through human agriculture… Human agriculture is part of the life of the earth… is, in short, a natural activity, properly emergent within many of the ecosystems in which the human species is found. To speak this way is to take the earth, the soils, the waters as living, if not animated, and to understand this life is to seek… the spirit of the soil.”

Paul B. Thompson, The Spirit of the Soil

Can’t see for complexity

“The complexity of large agricultural systems encourages a reductionist approach to study and management that precludes observation of large-scale effects.”

Robert L. Zimdahl, Agriculture’s Ethical Horizon

The Ethics of Soil Carbon

The ethics of denying the farmer access to the potential soil carbon offsets they could use to meet their methane and nitrogen GHG liability are questionable. The ethics of denying the entire community the potential volumes of sequestration that the world's 5.5bn hectares of agricultural soil could secure bear thinking about. The ethics of those in high places who do not move to stop the fillibustering and obstacle shuffling and make a sincere attempt to understand the emergent properties of soil carbon and find a way to free it to prove its capabilities, they are urgently in need of inspection. Just who is protecting whom? And from what?

Caring for Country, not caring for you

The Caring For Our Country program could have been designed to defeat the cause of soil carbon offset trading. It seeks to encourage farmers to become Carbon Farmers, but forfeit their rights to trade by falling foul of the Additionality provisions of the Kyoto rules and by failing to insist that they be baselined so their soil carbon increases can be recorded.
Farmers are not being warned that if they make the change in land management for reasons other than sequestering carbon – such as the co-benefits like soil health, better water usage, higher production, etc. – they rule themselves out of the offset market. The profit motive could achieve many of the goals and targets set for NRM agencies. At no cost to the taxpayer. Polluter pays.
But that would be wrong. Far from replacing them, Carbon Trading would assist CMA’s to achieve their targets. And it will free CMAs to pursue other targets, free resources that would otherwise be tied up. However there is one more critical reason why CMAs should look forward to the day when soil carbon can be traded: it will create a generation of farmers who understand the NRM principles. It will establish a ‘farm ethic’ of sorts, or the seeds of one may be planted. So CMA officers will be dealing with educated farmers, who understand the value they can deliver. Bloody marvellous!

An ethic of farming

“What we are after is an ethic of farming, a philosophy of agriculture, with particular attention to agriculture’s impact upon and integration with the wider natural world.

“This philosophy is needed as much by those who eat as by those who farm. Food consumers see too little of farming to form an idea of agriculture. They demand traits and characteristics in their food that have little relation to its origins and production.

“The act of eating is split between the metaphors of refuelling at the pump, and pleasing the senses as one might at a concert or museum. Nearly gone is the spirit of raising food and eating it as an act of communion with some larger whole.”

Paul B. Thompson, The Spirit of the Soil

So many fortune tellers in science

There are many in Agriculture who declare that the “potential” for soil carbon as a long term commodity market is small.

In this case the estimation of ‘potential’ involves prediction of the future, an activity which cannot be scientific and of which scientists are not capable. In a version of the “Myth of the Ancient Soils”, these people, among them highly respected scientists, declare the “potential” to be small when a combination of factors are considered:

1. the cost of measurement is high
2. the rate of sequestration is low
3. the price is low

“Potential” in this context is a prediction of the upper limit of soil carbon’s performance. Those who make these claims do not have any evidence on which to base them because they are speaking about a time in the future and about issues of which they have no special expertise.

1. The cost of measurement in a market context does not yet exist. The market has not started. The CCX market does not have a high cost of measurment. There are three factors which can influence the costs of measurement: One. Innovation – new ideas can never be predicted. Two. Competition – between suppliers of measurement services which is very likely to be the case once the market opens. Three. The cost of measurement is relative to the price per tonne of CO2e. The market is currently operating without the world’s 3 biggest emitters, and even now there is a shortage of fungible carbon for trading. The cost structure of every new market is distorted in its early days – eg. PCs, mobile phones, air travel, etc.

2. The rates of sequestration are low when scientists have studied them (until recently). They are higher when they occur on ‘whole of farm’ contexts that more closely simulate the true environment within which the soil carbon dynamic takes place. And they are much higher when soil biology is the variable used to make a difference.

3. The price is likely to increase dramatically when the demand more than triples upon the entry of the USA (first) and then China and India.

Some scientists have assumed the role of market economists and futurists, tasks they are not equipped to perform. There can be only one fact about the future of which we can be sure: The FUTURE will not look like the PAST or the PRESENT.

Don't blame Agriculture, Blame yourself

“Historically, farming is the single biggest cause of environmental degradation…” Paddock to Plate: Food, Farming & Victoria's Progress to Sustainability. The Future Food and Farm Project Background Paper. Australian Conservation Foundation, Melbourne.2008.*

It is common to find Agriculture described as the greatest contributor to environmental degradation in Australia. This is unfair to the land managers accused of committing the acts which undeniably damaged the natural resource base of the Nation. Two other parties must stand in the dock beside the farmer for this action: the Consumer and the Government.

Consumers: People who rely on agriculture for their food and sustenance, yet do not understand the agency-principal relationship that they as consumers have with food producers. No damage would have been done to the environment had the community not needed food and clothing from landholders. And the damage that has been done would have been less intensive had land managers not been forced to over-work the land in response to the low prices they are expected to take.
Governments: During the period of expansion of Australia’s agricultural base, Governments encouraged the clearing of millions of hectares of brigalow, mulga and other native vegetation species. In fact, it was often a condition of leases that the land be cleared and brought into production quickly. Further, if Australian farmers have mismanaged the soils by bad decisions, their government advisers who encouraged them should bear much of the responsibility.
Governments should acknowledge their role in environmental degradation in the past and the potential that such advice could cause damage now and in future.
Commentators who depict the farmer and grazier as the ‘problem’ often express sympathy for “our farmers” and see the agriculturalist as a victim of climate and ideas inherited from their parents, without considering their own contribution to the loss of community assets, ie. the natural resource base. Governments and environmental bodies, in many cases unaware of the primary producer’s dilemma, can be seduced into thinking that they will solve the ‘problem’ of Agriculture by forcing ‘non-viable’ producers off the land and/or by legislating a ‘duty of care’ to enforce a land management ideal. The slogan used to be “Get Big Or Get Out”. Now it is “Get Sustainable or Get Out” – entrenching the structural inequities in the system.
Ideally, those making decisions about Agriculture – including policy, land use recommendations, and the design of scientific research projects – should be required to have lived and worked on the land for long enough to understand the issues or undertake to engage meaningfully in rural affairs (as Tony Burke did on coming into the Portfolio).

*ACF is conducting a campaign against agriculture which should be watched carefully. It is able to get traction for its simpistic solutions because those they seek to convince - city-based decision-makers - know less than they do about what really goes on out here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Imagining the Future (Preamble to Response to National Soils Strategy paper)

Planning for the future is like trying to put a spacecraft on the moon. You
don’t aim for the moon. You aim for where it will be when you get there.
The same goes for soils. A National Strategy for Soils needs to be designed to
take into account the likely presence of Soil Carbon as a Tradable Offset on
either or both the voluntary and compliance markets.
The need to imagine the future was highlighted by the Commission into 9/11
which concluded that the main factor in the success of the terrorist attacks on
the USA was a ‘failure to imagine the future’ on behalf of the US security
forces. Such a failure is common among planners. They imagine that the
future is the same as the present. It’s not. It can’t be.
The following are a few thoughts on what the future might look like in a Post
Soil Carbon world. A world in which farmers and landholders are encouraged
to grow soil carbon and paid fairly for what they grow. These are not
inevitable outcomes, but potential ones, based on scientific reports describing
how soil carbon behaves.
1. Many NRM objectives would be met due to the groundcover
requirement for carbon farming. Eg. erosion, stream turbidity, crusting,
etc. It would be like every farmer had joined a LandCare Group. They
2. Many soil conditions would be addressed: eg. revegetation and the use
of deep rooted native species would have an impact on hydrological
problems and reduce salination.
3. Reduced need for inputs (biocides, artificial fertlisers, etc.) would make
more enterprises financially viable.
4. Increased yields due to increased soil microbial activity would make
family farms more viable and rural economies more sound.
5. Revegetation and restoration of mid-story would encourage increased
species diversity of bird life.
6. New species emerge, some thought extinct, as biodiversity scores
7. The impact of Climate Change – increasing temperatures and reduced
rainfall – is buffered by a resilient farm landscape which holds more
moisture naturally and makes more effective use of rainfall than before.
8. Enterprise and employment opportunities will be created in the new
fields of soil sampling, composting, cultivation equipment leasing,
fencing, water infrastructure, compost tea production, natural fertilizer
sales and consulting, grass seed harvesting and sales, dung beetle
supplies, etc.
9. The opportunity to achieve a premium price in markets for ‘carbon
neutral’ produce exists currently.
10. Farm gate sales of soil carbon offsets into the retail market can give
producers the opportunity for building relationships with non-rural
families, creating potential farm stay, etc. involvements.
11. More children of farmers elect to stay on the land as the terms of trade
have improved.
12. There is greater respect for the farmer in the wider community because
of awareness of the Climate Change role they play.
13. Soil science becomes the hottest course on campus once its social,
ecological, economic, and heroic characteristics become well known.
14. Articles appear in Women’s Weekly and tabloid newspapers about it.
15. Soil science, especially microbiology, is taught in primary schools.
It is always easier to imagine bad things happening in the future, especially
when all the agencies of government are busy pumping out negative estimates
of the future and worst-case scenarios of scientific predictions. Bad things
never happen as you expect them to. It’s the ones that you don’t expect that
do the most damage.
It behoves all of us to indulge less in negativity and hand-wringing and practice
more ‘possibility thinking’. Innovation, invention and new ideas cannot be
predicted or factored into estimates of the future.
“The future ain’t what it used to be.”

The White Paper

Reasons to be cheerful: 1, 2, 3.

“Policy position 6.21 - The Government is disposed to include agriculture emissions in the Scheme by 2015. Commencing in 2009, the Government will undertake a work program in consultation with the agriculture industry to enable a decision in 2013 on coverage of agriculture emissions in 2015.”

2015 is 7 years away. 7 years. That’s all we have left of the 10 years Sir Nicholas Stern gave us to do something serious. And what have we done? We have had meetings and consultations and hundreds of submissions prepared and read and produced coloured papers with lots of writing in them, none of which will absorb one gram of CO2e from the atmosphere. The funny/absurd side of this white paper is that it spends the first 200 pages wringing its hands over how serious the problem is. Then it turns to an eccentric way of doing nothing much, except getting in the way of those who can do something.

Is the Rudd Government discriminating against white farmers, like Mugabe?

“The Government will facilitate the participation of Indigenous land managers in carbon
markets and will further investigate the potential for offsets from reductions in emissions
from savanna burning and will consult with Indigenous Australians on forestry opportunities.”

The biggest white lie in the White Paper

The following is plainly untrue and if this document is tabled in Parliament the Minister should be fired for misleading Parliament. “A shift towards less emissions-intensive activities, including farm forestry, is an intended consequence of the Scheme as it would reflect an efficient allocation of resources taking into account the carbon price. However, as noted above new forests are likely to be established on more marginal or less productive agricultural land and will not undermine food security.” Penny Wong’s Forests are occupying the best land in many places in Victoria and South Australia.

In Wonderland, things mean what you want them to mean

Ask yourself, as you read the following two paragraphs, how they can be so sure we as an industry emit 16% of the nation’s emissions, when they admit that it is too hard to measure farm emissions. If that 16% came up as a back-of-the-envelope estimation, I want to see that envelope.

STATEMENT ONE: Agriculture emissions consist mainly of methane and nitrous oxide from livestock and cropping and make up 16 per cent of Australia’s emissions. This is Australia’s second largest source of emissions.

STATEMENT TWO: Estimating agriculture emissions is complex. These emissions are highly variable in response to management practices and climatic conditions. For example, cattle breeds and feed types in tropical and subtropical regions differ from those in temperate regions, generating different amounts of methane. Nitrous oxide emissions from soils in major cereal-growing regions vary geographically and over time, according to rainfall, soil types and fertiliser application rates.”

Remember this:

“The Queensland Farmers’ Federation questioned whether the Carbon Pollution Reduction
Scheme was the best way to reduce carbon emissions in the farming sector. It called on the
Federal Government to consider more cost-effective alternatives such as accelerated uptake of
best management practices.” Here read ‘handcuffs’.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Meet FAO again, On The Road To Santa Fe

Soil carbon specialists from North and South America, China, and Australia met this week in Santa Fe to increase the pressure on the issue of soil carbon sequestration, especially in grasslands (temperate and tropical savannas and rangelands) in the run-up to Copenhagen 2009. Again the FAO was represented, this time by Lesley Lipper, a senior environmental economist in the agricultural and economics division. She is a very imaginative, focussed person with great vision. The 3-day event was kicked off by Professor Lal, whom I have seen present three times in the past month, and he has crafted a presentation for each audience. (Prodigious output, and all of it excellent.). Shannon Horst of Holistic Management International was our host and the Blackstone Ranch Institute made the meeting possible. Executive Director of the Institute, John Richardson, formerly worked with UNICEF. The Institute funds 'vital strategic dialogues at the inception or break out stage of major social innovation.' Also attending is our friend Andrew Fynn who we met in California whn travelling to the FAO-sponsored Conservation farming and Carbon Sequestration meeting in Indiana. Andrew has "JUST DO IT" tattooed on the inside of his eye-lids (or appears to). He is hurrying to find a solution to the usual problems so he can kick start the trading. The "Just Do It" strategy is finding favour. Andy Wilkes, from ICRAF-China, an agroforestry offset development operation, is determined to conquer China which we agree is the lynchpin for the rest of the world falling into step. Maria-Christina Amezquita has a brilliant presentation on the performance of soils in several South American countries. Peter Donovan is the brains behind the Soil Carbon Coalition and is an advocate from Oregon. (Great name.)
This is a smart bunch of people.

I stumbled into a nest of scientists who believe that sol carbon is a function of ecological forces and this mysterious pathway will lead us to better things. Greg McCarty, Rich Conant, and Michael Ebinger have a lot to offer us.


The dreary truth emerged during a breakout session that no matter how smart we are, the same old problems will dog us forever: Measurement, Additionality, and Permanence. People who cannot see these as the foundations of the barriers against soil carbon are destined to bang their heads fruitlessly against them. The rules were not made for soils. They will never accommodate soil carbon. It cannot conform to the bureaucratic demand. Yet we have proved that soil carbon sequestration is the single solution for the next 30 years, reducing the GHG at a dramatic rate once most of the available. I make my argument clear, although it is not yet Carbon Coaltion Policy, that the three problems aren't developed yet.

HRH Charles, Prince of Wales, call it a Soils Crisis

HRH Charles, Prince of Wales, sounded the alarm on soils in the Times:
"When you consider that in one pinch of soil there are more microbes than there are people on the planet, you have to ask what irreversible damage do we do to that delicate ecosystem - the six inches of top soil that sustains all life on Earth? The soil's health is our health. Yet we have eroded it and poisoned it and failed to replace lost nutrients to such a degree that a recent UN survey found that in just 50 years we have lost a third of the world's farmable soil. That is hardly a sustainable rate of exploitation."

AT LAST SOME SANITY ON SOILS: Minister Burke call for Kyoto change

Minister for Agriculture Tony Burke is calling for changes to Kyoto to allow soil carbon to be recognised and rewarded. "Kyoto as the initial agreement was important but we should not pretend that it was a perfect landing place," he told Lucy Sculthorp in The Land. "The fact that trees get counted but other green things don’t when it comes to carbon sinks we know is scientifically wrong. You don’t have to get past year eight at school science before you know that it's the 'green bits' that are doing the photosynthesis and yet well-managed pasture doesn’t get counted, but trees do." Mr Burke said the government would set down a "framework" to be part of a global carbon pollution reduction scheme which would put Australia's primary producers "on a much better footing than under the current accounting rules".
On 24 January a working group of the 2008 Carbon Farming Conference and Expo, organised by Carbon Farmers of Australia, released the following statement: “We confirm: 1. that agriculture can respond immediately to sequester carbon
through capture and storage. 2. that agriculture should be provided with an opportunity to support
the national and global climate management effort and 3. that soil carbon should be included in voluntary offset markets."
Tony Burke agreed that the current Kyoto rules are not fair for the farm sector, arguing there is no reason why well-managed pastures not be considered for their carbon storage capabilities.
The next international agreement on climate change, due to be thrashed out at Copenhagen in 2009, needed to match new science which would help bring more agricultural production into the carbon-capture fold, said the Minister."As we move through the international negotiations on climate change, there is a principle which helps in being part of the global solution and is a very good principle in the interests of agriculture as well. That is, to try as much as possible to get the accounting mechanisms internationally to match the science." (Good Science.)
"The Minister's announcement might have been coincidence, but I'd prefer to believe that Minister Burke is just very responsive," says Michael Kiely, Carbon Farmers of Australia.

Greens MP and Senator plead for DPI soil carbon research to continue

The following happened while the Carbon Farming Expo & Conference was underway - sparked by the event:
Media Release | Spokesperson Christine Milne
Monday 17th November 2008, 2:21pm

Australian Greens Deputy Leader and climate change spokesperson, Senator Christine Milne, said: "The best climate change strategy for rural and regional Australia is in learning how to keep more carbon in the soils - reducing our climate impact and building resilience to the warming that we've already caused."Enhancing soil carbon is being recognised globally as not only a great thing for improving productivity and building resilience in the face of climate change, but it is also potentially a huge opportunity to reduce the carbon emissions which cause climate change.
"It is stupid and short-sighted in the extreme for any government to be closing down a facility which has 75 years of data to back the new, exciting science around soil carbon... We have lost too many scientists from our research institutions who understand how carbon is stored in soils and how natural systems work. We cannot rely on the agribusiness sector which is putting huge pressures on farmers' margins as well as on soils. Instead of getting rid of scientists who understand soil carbon, we should be recruiting them again and increasing their research funding.

19 November 2008
Greens MP calls on Government to reprioritise Soil Carbon Sequestration

Greens MP Ian Cohen, in coincidence with this week’s Soil Carbon Expo, is calling upon the Minister for Primary Industries to cull government funding for the Clean Coal fund and reinject the funds into soil carbon sequestration and agricultural based GHG emission reduction projects. “Last week I put a motion before the Legislative Council that the NSW Government acknowledge the emission reduction capacity of New South Wales’ agricultural sector and start prioritising this sector instead of subsidising clean coal projects” says Mr Cohen.
“NSW Department of Primary Industries has provided $500,000 to the National Centre for Rural Greenhouse Gas Research compared with $50 million dollars already committed for clean coal projects in NSW.”
“Why is the NSW Government disproportionately subsidising Clean Coal research for companies awash with record profits off the back of a sustained resource boom while leaving the agricultural sector, battling through an extended drought, with bread crumbs.”
“Some of the world's leading soil scientists suggest that more regenerative farming and grazing practices in Australia would sequester upwards of 927 million tonnes of CO2 a year and that such practices on 5 per cent of Australia's grazing land could offset this country's total greenhouse gas emissions.”
“Instead of acknowledging my repeated calls for increased funding in Parliament, the Minister has closed the Glenn Innes research facility which has undertaken extensive research into soil carbon and crop rotation.”
“If Alberta, Canada, home of the environmentally damaging Oil Sands can introduce a voluntary carbon offset market which includes 9 different agricultural emission reduction methods, then NSW can surely do the same. Albertan farmers who have adopted reduced tillage practices to reduce Co2 release from soils into the atmosphere have received $6,000 dollars on average from a carbon purchase agreement with a provincial electricity generator EPCOR.”