Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Meet SCOT: the Soil Carbon Optimisation Tool

SCOT - the Soil Carbon Optimisation Tool - is a simple planning system that can help land managers make decisions about Carbon Farming. It is easy to be confused by the array of options for growing carbon levels in soil. SCOT can be used to sort through these options and choose which steps to take towards meeting goals.
SCOT divides Carbon Farming into subject areas. On each of its concentric rings can be found one of the Five Foundation Stones of Carbon Farming:
1. Water 2. Vegetation 3. Soil 4. Land 5. Microbes (or Biology)
These Foundation Stones are equal in importance. To overlook one is to invite failure.
Each Foundation Stone is an area of focus and an area of activity. There is a time to think of them on their own, and a time to think about the way they relate to each other.
The Carbon Farmer can decide to use it any way they like.
SCOT can be a CHECK LIST. Each level is a Heading and a list of options. (Not all options are listed on the rings. A list can be supplied.) The Carbon Farmer can use it to find options that they haven't heard or thought of before.
SCOT can be a TEMPLATE for a SOIL CARBON FARM PLAN. If you start at the centre and move outwards, you are following a path that deals with major decisions which form a platform for all other activities before leading on to less fundamental options. By moving through the rings, YOU ask the Planning Questions: Is this option relevant to this property and this landscape? What Return On Investment can we expect? (Is it low hanging fruit - fast, cheap, and easy to install? Or will it cost more than it is worth?) Does it get a tick in every box - if working on a triple bottom line: financial, environmental, and social impact. Do we face a trade off between one goal and another if we introduce this option?
SCOT can be a PORTFOLIO PLANNING TOOL. Carbon is based on 'change in land management'. Usually a single change is introduced. This can take 20-30 years to reach 'equilibrium' or saturation. But in in view of the crisis in climate patterns, the world would welcome a major contribution to the global effort -the faster we can extract the 'Legacy Load" of CO2e, the better. So combinations will bring the greatest returns.
SCOT can be an IMPLEMENTATION PLANNING GUIDE. The order of installation of options might be important. For instance, a laser graded water solution might deplete soil carbon stocks stored in the soil disturbed by machinery. Whereas a decision to use a biofert can be taken at any time without major implications for other decisions.
SCOT can be a RISK MANAGEMENT GUIDE. If the Farmer wants to put a toe in the water, start on the outer rings and move in towards the centre. If you want to jump in boots and all, start at the centre and move outwards. You are now following a path that deals with major decisions which could be hard to reverse, before leading on to less risky options. Used in this way, SCOT represents a "Hierarchy of Permanence"* - running from more to less permanent as you move from the centre ring outwards.
SCOT can be an EDUCATIONAL AID. By working through the rings and the planning process, a Trainer can lead a class to discover the individual parts of a system and the way they can be incorporated into a Farm Plan. How they can be deployed in 'teams' to maximise their impact. And how they can be changed over time.

SCOT TRAINING is the centrepiece of the training programs offered by Carbon Farming Services (CFS). This is the trading arm of the Carbon Coalition. It helps to fund the Coalition's activities.) CFS offers Carbon Farming and Soil Carbon training in programs ranging from 1 hour to two-day workshops. CFS's "Carbon Farming 101" program is a half-day introduction to Carbon Farming.

"Carbon Farming 101" is being offered as a half day "Come Up To Speed Before The Carbon Farming Conference & Expo" on November 3rd, 2009 at the Orange Ex-Services Club.

Many Farmers and Graziers use a management system to help them make decisions. SCOT does not seek to replace them. Instead it can be incorporated into the process. SCOT is a flexible system.

*Thanks to Ausmin's David Hardwick for this term.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Way To Go, CSIRO!

Our national science icon – the CSIRO – has confirmed that soil carbon sequestration is not only possible in Australia, but an inevitable part of Australia’s response to Climate Change. In a comprehensive report titled “An Analysis of Greenhouse Gas Mitigation and Carbon Sequestration Opportunities from Rural Land Use”, more than 100 scientists and policy specialists recited the science of sequestration and mitigation, with some surprisingly positive statements tempering the usual “it doesn’t exist until it’s peer-reviewed” mantra.
Highlights of the report include the following:
1. Significant opportunity: “This report demonstrates that Australia has the opportunity to offset a significant proportion of our GHG emissions, by storing carbon in the landscape and changing the emissions profile from rural land use.” This type of comment was previously discouraged for fear of giving farmers false hope.
2. Our bridge to the future: “[It] indicates that terrestrial GHG management could play a key role in emissions abatement over the next 40-50 years…”. Professor Rattan Lal’s “Bridge To The Future” concept has finally found a home at the CSIRO. Lal and we believe that the world’s agricultural soils have the capacity to stall Global Warming long enough for non-fossil fuel energy sources to reach critical mass and massive capacity required to power our energy-hungry civilisation.
3. Kyoto perverse: “Options, where carbon is stored in the soil or in regenerated native vegetation, are not readily accommodated in the current [Kyoto] frameworks in a manner that best suits the Australian environment.” The Belief, now widespread in Climate Change circles, that the Kyoto Protocols have had perverse consequences that the world cannot afford, seems to be acknowledged in this paper.
4. Transforming rural landscapes: “Much of the terrestrial sequestration potential involves spatially extensive activities, where small contributions per unit land area collectively contribute significantly through application over large areas. This extent means that their widespread adoption, as might occur by their inclusion in the proposed CPRS and a high carbon price, could see them transform rural landscapes. This provides the opportunity for carbon sequestration to drive many desirable and needed outcomes; for example, for biodiversity and ecosystem restoration, for salinity abatement or to improve stream water quality. Additionally, some of the options provide the means to generate income streams for land-owners that may increase and diversify farm incomes.” This is the stuff myths are made from. CSIRO makes the case most elegantly.
5. Potential agreement: “The project worked by establishing a consensus amongst a cross-section of scientists and land management experts. The focus was on the GHG sequestration/mitigation potential likely to be achieved through land use change in Queensland (and in a broader Australian context).” It is imporrtant to note that 100 scientists agreed on this positive report card. While we might disagree with their concept of ‘potential’, we don’t disagree with their positive attitude.
6. A broarder view: “The authors were also asked to explore other benefits and consequences (intended or unintended) e.g. impact on biodiversity, gains in ecosystem services, potential economic benefits, business and market opportunities for rural communities and social impacts on rural communities..” The decision to widen the viewfinder and assess the desirability of sequestration across a range of interconnected outcomes is a sign of a shift in the normally reductionist mindset of science.
7. Starting with an Optimistic Voice: “The project aimed to refine the analysis presented in Garnaut Chapter 22, through an expert assessment of existing research.” Ross Garnaut was so convinced of the power of soils he advised the Government not to wait until all the issues addressed by this paper have been resolved. Start immediately, he advised.
8. Heavy hitters strike the right note: Ram Dalal, Jeff Baldock, Mike Bell and Peter Grace confirm our position on the fractions of soil carbon by elucidating the fundamental principle of carbon’s need to cycle upon which we base the Molecular Value Theory of Soil Carboin Sequestration: “Sequestration of atmospheric carbon (C) in soil requires that the total amount of organic C stored in a soil is increased above its current level and that the increase is maintained into the future. … Although the processes of C capture and transfer to the soil occur continuously, losses through decomposition and mineralisation of soil carbon back to CO2 also occur continually. For C to be sequestered in soil, the rate of carbon addition must be greater than the rate of carbon loss.” Sequestration is a process that works with Carbon’s urge to cycle. We are not setting out to trap and hold particular molecules of Carbon. We have sequestered so long as where there was one molecule in the holding bay yesterday, there are two today and there will be three tomorrow,.They can all be different. Which is why we are not afraid of the instability of the labile fraction. Believers in the Particular Molecule Theory of Soil Carbon Sequestration cannot hope to succeed, given the nature of Carbon’s behaviour. Denial of Carbon's character leads people to believe in things like geologic sequestration.
There are many other positives in this Report which, while it suffers from the same lack of data all soil carbon issues endure, has not been used as an excuse by some of the writers to refuse to use their imaginations, especially when speculating about future trading schemes.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Soil Carbon's Notorious Variability To Be Tested Actuarialty

Data is needed which demonstrates the well-known 'spacial and temporal variability' of soil carbon readings. We have been inspired recently to meet the former Chief Actuary of IAG, Tony Coleman, who first noticed climate change in the company's claims records and went on to found the Business Roundtable on Climate Change, Australia's first serious corporate move in this area. We have asked Tony to look into the data that reflects the flux or variability of soil carbon which is at the heart of the major barrier to trade. Actuaries can detect information hidden in raw data. Soil scientists also use data analysis techniques to great effect. We believe that a collaborative effort between scientists and actuaries could bring benefits to the nation. We are appealing to those who have data or know of such data to contact us at (02) 6374 0329

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Market expert claims Australian farmers have golden future, maybe

Australian farmers could make sales of soil carbon offsets equivalent to the income Australia makes from selling coal, according to carbon-market expert Dr Ken Newcombe, who set up the World Bank's first trading model. 'Australia could develop a trade in agricultural carbon offsets to the United States worth more than the nation’s current global coal exports,' The Land reports him as saying.
"Australia's vast landmass, the enormous opportunity to revegetate and to increase soil organic carbon in so many ways—improved land management, improved grazing, the exciting things that Australian companies are doing with micronutrient treatments and management of soils that moves away from the gross chemicalisation of agriculture—all these practices can provide a tremendous increase in root biomass and soil carbon. Australia is very well placed to produce soil carbon for the US trade. We have the opportunity, as Australians, to generate a trade in agricultural carbon offsets into the US which is the equivalent of our export of coal into the rest of the world. But it's not going to happen unless this idea of regulating agriculture is given up immediately and soil carbon offsets are seen as a potential export commodity, as well as a basis for helping regulated entities in Australia meet their obligations. As soon as that happens, you’ll see tremendous entrepreneurial vigour around creating soil carbon offsets, because the value to farmers of this trade will be very significant."
But Australia's Government has been bamboozled by 'experts' who have held back the market here. Dr Newcombe says Australia is years behind the rest of the world. The Government is mired in the quicksand of measurement, spending millions trying to trace each farmers' emissions to hit them with a bill. Led there by 'experts'."It doesn't make any sense to try and define the emissions of a huge diversity of agricultural activities and then try and regulate them," said Dr Newcombe. "At a certain point it becomes simply absurd to cover all of agriculture. In the best case, you could only cover the large agribusinesses, and not the myriad of small producers who would be shut out of carbon trading." The Government should have stuck with the principle that only businesses emitting 25,000 tonne CO2e/year would fall under the cap and trade system. He said: "Faced with that situation, in the US it was very obvious how to treat agriculture: that is to make it an offset generator and stimulate private sector investment in lowering emissions, with the beneficial result of substantial inward investment in agriculture."
Dr Newcombe pioneered the global carbon market with the World Bank-supported Prototype Carbon Fund. He has been vice chairman of Climate Change Capital in London, the largest private sector carbon fund in the world; led Goldman Sachs carbon trading division in New York, and last year founded C-Quest Capital, a company dedicated to "originating and developing high-quality emission reduction projects around the world", reports Matt Cawood in The Land.
C-Quest invested in RM Williams Agricultural Holdings on the expectation that there will be trading potential in soil carbon offsets in the voluntary carbon markets.

Minister Burke Joins the Anti-Soil Carbon Society?

Tony Burke bamboozled by the “Anti-Soil Carbon Society”

The Minister for Agriculture and Soil Carbon,Tony burke, appears to have fallen under the spell of the “Anti-Soil Carbon Society”. He’s joined the “It’s Too Hard” Brigade. Every discredited, worn-out argument used by the soil carbon denialists have turned up in Tony’s speech to Parliament during the CPRS debate in August. He made the following school debating points: (1) “You can’t trade what you can’t measure.” This assumes we can’t measure soil carbon, which is untrue. Scientists measure it every day. If it’s good enough for science, it should be good enough for trading. (2) “There are real challenges in the science at the moment”. There will always be real challenges with science. No one is na├»ve enough to believe scientists will ever be satisfied with the degree of accuracy of measurement of soil carbon. Finer and finer degrees of measuring fractions are irrelevant for trade. Buyers are only interested in Total Organic Carbon. Scientists won’t tell you that. (3) “Australia has different soils to those in the United States.” We have degraded soils. The US has degraded soils. We have deep, rich soils, and so do they. Nothing about our soils stops them from adding carbon. But wait – here’s a new entrant in the “To Hard” arsenal: (4) Our soils are ‘more complex’ given ‘the amount of desert that we have’. Que? Does this mean we have more variety of soil types in the arid zone and that this would make soil mapping difficult? Very poor reasoning. (5) Current Kyoto rules would force Australia to account for bushfires and drought if we included soils in our accounts. This is the most absurd of all Kyoto absurdities and the first one most likely to be removed at Copenhagen. (6) The voluntary market in the USA has CO2 at 40¢/tonne on the current science and on the limitations on intrnational trading. What happens to prices when a major new market initiative is about to unfold (the Obama Initiative for Copenhagen)? What has happened to prices on the main mandatory market before such moves? Precisely what is happening now. Tony points to the millions he is spending to get the measurment right. But has he invested in the right sciencec to do that? Will the outcome in 3 years’ time be a trading-based measurement model tt satisfies all parties? Can it possibly be?

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Anti-Soil Carbon Society

Members of the 'Anti-Soil Carbon Society' have confused and misled the Government into taking decisions that have disadvantaged Australian farmers and caused depression and worse and the loss of possibly billions of dollars in farm incomes, according to Carbon Coalition Convenor Michael Kiely.
"We have been gathering a file of evidence that will reveal the identities of those who acted to derail the soil carbon issue, including misleading Parliament and scientific sleight of hand," says Convenor Michael Kiely. "We have been too tolerant of these people. They are standing in the way of the extraction of between 3 and 6 billion tonnes of CO2 per year, depending on whether you listen to Professor Rattan Lal or the FAO. That's more than half the additional tonnages emitted by the world each year."
The delay in mobilising Agricultural soils as a massive sponge to soak up aerial CO2 has also had a major impact on morale among primary producers, according to the Carbon Coalition. "Think about how depressed and despairing an Australian farmer might get, faced as we are with the prospect of a massive bill for methane emissions and no soil carbon credits to pay the bill. Compare us with the American farmer, who will get paid to reduce methane emissions and paid to store carbon in soils," says Michael Kiely. "The Americans proved it can be done. They don't have the Anti-Soil Carbon Society over there, spreading fear and confusion. They have people like CCX's Dr Mike Walsh and C-Quest's Dr Ken Newcombe - both of whom have experts in market making. We have too many experts in market-blocking." Dr Newcombe - who set up the World Bank's first trading model - believes Australian farmers could earn more selling soil carbon offsets to Americans than we do selling coal to China.

These issues will be canvassed at the 3rd Annual CARBON FARMING CONFERENCE & EXPO to be held 4th-5th November, 2009 at the National Field Day Site near Orange NSW.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Farm Institute flogging a dead argument?

Recent comments by the Australian Farm Institute and the Bureau of Rural Sciences prove that there is a vast chasm in the knowledge of soil carbon issues among those who should know more. The AFI made the startling announcement recently that there are some blockages to trading in soil carbon. The first mentioned was that Kyoto rules stand in the way of Australia’s farmers. But anyone observing the events leading up to the Copenhagen Round of Talks know that the ‘rules’ were only good for the period they covered. It is all negotiable. That’s how the system works. And the USA is dealing itself into the game with the demand that Agriculture be given a better deal than it has had to date. The World Bank, the FAO, and the EU all agree. And as the USA is bringing China to the table, it is likely to have some sway. All the parties to this coordinated assault on the distortions in the Kyoto Protocols are determined that it be a global solution. It is hard to see Australia staying out.

The second blockage mentioned by the Farm Institute is our Government’s decision not to include soil carbon offsets in the CPRS. This means we have only the Voluntary Market to trade in, ‘at an enormous discount in price’. Firstly, there is a mechanism whereby these offsets can be sold into the mandatory market. (Commercial in confidence for the moment.) And secondly, how can anyone pretend to know what the price relativities will be between the two markets. Anyone who has observed the market since day 1 knows that nothing can be certain in the pricing area. The demand for offsets is huge and growing.

Another blockage mentioned is the possibility that a farmer might change their land management to an anti-soil carbon regime and face paying back the money they received when they first sold their offsets. In fact they would be faced with paying even more because the market will have moved by then. (Again, the AFI claims psychic powers to be able to see the future.) There are two reasons why this is a scare tactic. Reason 1: A farmer would be a fool to throw away the co-benefits of high soil carbon levels. In fact, the anti-soil carbon trading faction maintain that farmers should increase their soil C for these co-benefits alone. What are they? High levels of soil C are associated with reduced erosion, reduced salinity, improved soil structure, better water holding capacity, reduced need for artificial fertilisers, and all the benefits that come with healthier soil microbial communities. Reason 2: The Voluntary Markets are currently looking at 5-year contracts to maintain flexibility. This is the CCX model which forms the basis on the emerging US model being promoted as a global solution.

The Farm Institute makes another questionable claim when it says that farmers will need all their offsets to meet their own emission costs if they are included in the CPRS. But this is overkill. Surely we were left out of the CPRS and that was the basis for the first blockage? Again, the movement around Coenhagen is for a global solution that acknowledges Agriculture’s inevitable dependence on biological cycles and the unwillingness of the global community to punish farmers for growing food when the word faces a food security problem. The Australian Government would decimate our beef industry if it (as is currently the case) chose to be the only nation (plus NZ) to subject its farmers to punitive methane taxes when the Americans were rewarding their beef growers with incentive payments to reduce methane and the right to sell their soil carbon. The price competitiveness of Australasian beef would evaporate, as would the market and the industry here. Politicians aren’t that stupid.

Commentators such as the Farm Institute and the Bureau of Rural Science are curiously out of touch with the activity surroudning soil carbon. The Bureau released a report in March which claims to be a guide to the “potential” for soil carbon. It repeats all the old, discredited claims made by scientists who profess to know how soil carbon wll react under techniques which are still evolving and have not been subject to research trials yet. One wonders why the report was ever commissioned as nothing new appears in it. And its major finding – surprise – is that there needs to be more research before a market is possible. But markets are not made by scientists. They are made by buyers. And the needs of buyers are very different to those postulated by researchers.

In fact, the Farm Institute is stretching the point a little to say the BRS report was recent. It appeared in March. SO why even devote a blog post to it? It is not news.
Could it be that the AFI is intent on creating the impression that soil carbon trading is a non-starter? Search the reports and articles published by the Institute. Can you find one positive word for the soil carbon market? Can you find one presentation at an Institute conference tat supports soil carbon trading? It looks suspiciously like the Institute is part of the ‘push back’ against the notion of trade, a Canute-like resistance that has featured some of the nations top research establishments.

Those who parade the same old tired and discredited blockages to the soil carbon market cannot get their heads out of the past when all the action is taking place in the future. Appealing to ‘rules’ and scientific uncertainty does not impress buyers. Rules are for changing and uncertainty simply becomes a pricing factor, as all risks do. If all the hours that scientists and researchers have devoted to finding reasons why soil carbon won’t be traded had been invested in looking for ways that would make it possible, we would be trading today. The fact that so much taxpayers money has been spent on scare campaigns among farmers is scandalous.

The most highly respected soil carbon scientist in the world, Professor Rattan Lal of Ohio State U., warned the scientfic community to stop stalling: “Coming events are casting their shadow in this important and emerging field of immense significant to soil science, and the researchers must put their act together before the train departs the station.”