Saturday, December 24, 2011

Scaring the tripe out of dairy farmers

"Dairy farm families will be slugged $4200 by the Carbon Tax, says ABARES" This is how the media reported it, but ABARES said nothing like it in its report "Possible short-run effects of a carbon pricing scheme on Australian agriculture". This is the worst case scenario. It is based on processors passing on 100% of their cost increases to farmers, which they can't and won't do, according to Fonterra, one of the biggest. Before both processors and farmers take action to reduce their electricity usage, the impact could be as low as just over $1000, says the ABARES report. "In most cases, any cost increases from a carbon pricing scheme will be shared along the supply chain between farmers, processors, wholesalers and retailers, exporters and final consumers," it says. Fonterra confirmed this in October when general manager for sustainability Francois Joubert said the company will wear its own increased power costs as best it can, without passing those on to suppliers. "It's increasingly difficult for us to pass costs on to our markets, to our customers; it's also difficult to pass costs on to our suppliers. We are in a very competitive milk supply environment and so therefore it's our job to mitigate increased costs within the business and that's our intention."
There are many opportunities for dairy enterprises to reduce energy consumption. Heating and cooling are major energy cost centres, and one farmer reports reducing these costs by 30% following the advice in a report published by Fonterra: What Does A Carbon Price Mean For You? In it the company lists many ways to save electricity costs.

We list them here to help dairy farmers have a happier Christmas.

Milk cooling
• Insulate the vat, pipes and spaces underneath the vat
• Check and repair any leaks in refrigeration system
• Pre-cool milk as much as possible before placing into milk vat
• Monitor plate cooler performance by checking actual milk temperature against set point temperature and ensure it is sized correctly for milk flow
• Check pre-cooler inlet filter and water flow to ensure volume is adequate and constant
• Check and clean the fins on condensing unit of refrigeration plant and ensure good airflow around the unit
• Service the plate cooler and refrigeration unit regularly – at least annually
• Consider the source of pre-cooler water and whether it is cold enough.

Cleaning systems
• Talk to your supplier about new cleaning technologies and chemical improvements.
• Install heat and chemical recovery systems.

• Use energy efficient globes
• Turn off lights when not in use – use natural light when possible
• Repair defective light fittings
• Install automatic light sensors if suitable
• Consider installing low watt fluorescent lights.

Water and effluent pumps
• Although water management and pumping technology is often automated, significant electricity savings can be made by checking this equipment
• Check there are no leaks or pressure loss points
• Choose appropriately sized hoses and nozzles to minimise wash down time
• Size pipes correctly to capacity of pumps
• Install the most energy efficient pump available.

Vacuum pumps
• Only run the vacuum pump when needed
• Check belts and pulleys are correctly tensioned and any replacements match
• Install a Variable Speed Drive (VSD) linked to your motor’s vacuum requirements
• Rotary vanes or lobe pumps with variable speed drives may also be suitable
replacements for a water ring pump
• Look for the most energy efficient model available.

Energy sourcing
• Shop around for the best priced electricity supplier. You could make significant savings just by asking your current supplier or changing retailers
• Use off-peak power when possible
• Consider solar, wind and other alternative energy sources if available in your area.

Water heating
• Consider solar or gas water systems to heat or pre-heat water
• Heat water only when required – not all day and night
• Check water is not boiling in the cylinder
• Check thermostat settings monthly to ensure good performance
• Compare the temperature of the outlet water with the thermostat to ensure water is not overheated
• Regularly check the element anodes for corrosion – replace if needed
• Regularly check the pipe and cylinder for leaks – repair or replace if required
• Insulate the hot water system (both cylinder and discharge lines)
• Size all systems to appropriate load size and minimise unused capacity
• Install heat recovery equipment to capture heat generated by milk refrigeration systems. Examples of such heat exchange systems have cut heating and cooling costs by 30 per cent.

Happy Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Grazing Systems don’t work: Tell the Farmer of the Year

Someone should tell the judges of all the ‘farmer of the year’ awards that Science disagrees with their choices: it has proved many times that grazing management is no better than continuous or set stocking. Nearly every time a grazier has won or been runner up in annual awards since 2007 they have nominated cell or rotational grazing management as a centerpiece of their farm plan. Yet science has been unable to confirm that they are making a difference to the health of their pastures, their animals and their landscapes.

A $1 million, four-year study funded by the MLA and CSIRO and conducted by Queensland’s Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation has found that different grazing systems delivered nearly indistinguishable results. The study found no statistically significant differences between the systems with the choice of system relatively unimportant for land health and productivity.

But despite the constant stream of studies that ‘prove’ grazing systems are ineffectual, the practitioners of grazing management fill the top spots in the annual awards.

· Norm Smith, NSW Farmer of the Year for 2011 pioneered planned grazing management on Glenwood, near Wellington. Norm has encouraged greater diversity of desirable species with rotational grazing enabling short graze periods and long rest periods.

· 2011 Runners up, Liz and John Manchee, Narrabri, have increased rotational and cell grazing techniques and have concentrated on smaller paddock sizes.

· Runner up in 2009 Andrew and Megan Mosely, Cobar NSW take a holistic farm business management approach to ensure the business balances social, environmental and economic outcomes. They believe that increasing soil carbon is the key to overcoming the challenge of Climate Change and prospering in dry times.

· The 2008 winners, Nigel & Kate Kerin, Yeoval, own and manage a cell grazing operation at Yeoval in the state’s Central West with his wife Kate, holistically managing the operations enterprises including sheep, wool, cattle trading and pasture cropping.

· The 2007 Young Farmer of the Year joint winners were both devotees of grazing management: Stuart Blake manages a mixed livestock and cropping enterprise near Walcha. Sheep and cattle are rotationally grazed, promoting continual groundcover that also helps make the most of available water.

· Joint winners in 2007 Ben and Liarne Mannix manage an 18,000 hectare property Gumbooka north east of Bourke in the western division. They use the principles of Grazing for Profit and Holistic Resource Management in their farm management.

· Queensland’s Jack Banks took out the title of 2011 Wool Producer of the Year as part of the Australian Farmer of the Year Awards. Jack implemented a rotation grazing strategy which has resulted in improvements to ground cover.

Apart from awards judging panels, Catchment Management Authorities have handed out millions to farmers for ‘wire and water’ projects across Australia under Caring For Our Country funding, despite “the extensive evidence base that indicates stocking rate management, and not grazing system, is the major driver of pasture and animal productivity.” (Trevor Hall, - Investigating Intensive Grazing Systems in Northern Australia, MLA Project code: B.NBP.0353 a)

Why is it so? The gap between farmer experience and scientific experimental results has been acknowledged by scientists. Professor Ben Norton (formerly of Curtin amd Utah State Universities) told a WA Department of Food and Agriculture workshop in 2002, that the majority of published research studies of rotational grazing find that continuous grazing is better than or comparable to rotational grazing in terms of either animal or plant production. Yet “hundreds of graziers on three continents claim that their livestock production has increased by half or doubled or even tripled following the implementation of rotational grazing…” In the McClymont Lecture in 1998 he said: Science, based on 'hundreds of studies' concluded that planned grazing is not cost effective. (Norton, BE., "The application of grazing management to increase sustainable livestock production," Animal Production In Australia, Vol. 22 1998).

Professor Norton concluded that the root cause of the discrepancy between on-farm reality and the artificial ‘pots and plots’ approach which means that there is a methodology problem. The decision in one set of trials to simulate a grazing management situation by using 15ha to test 5 separate grazing systems was typical. All sheep in the trials were confined in small areas which forced them to graze evenly. In the real world, continuous stocking would lead to ‘patch’ grazing, where animals avoid the less palatable species and over graze the more palatable, leading to bare earth and colonization by weeds. Naturally the researchers concluded that there was no effect on herbiage mass from rotational grazing. Therefore, they concluded 'recipes' (exotic grazing management systems) don't work. This study’s findings were unreliable.[1]

The Queensland study of grazing systems also has a flawed methodology: The study failed to observe the basics of scientific method in several ways:

• There were too many variables operating to allow the systems studied to demonstrate their capacities. The properties selected were not representative of any one of the 3 categories of grazing system, but were required to operate at least 2 of the systems at the same time. Instead of clearly defining each category, the properties were graded on a continuum ranging from intensively grazed (cell) to extensively grazed (continuous).

• Animal production data was made meaningless as “livestock were often grazed across different systems within a year”.

• There were too few properties studied to provide enough data to make the results reliable. Only a total of 9 growers were involved across north and south Queensland.

• There was not enough variety in the management style of the growers. Even the continuous grazing practitioners used rest (spelling) and stocked according to the capacity of the landscape.

Despite the ambiguity of the study, several definitive statements were made based on the findings:

• “There was little or no impact of grazing system on pasture attributes or soil surface condition.”

• “Diet quality was generally lower in the more intensive systems, especially during the growing season.”

• “There was no consistent difference in grazing days per ha due to grazing system.”

• “The intensity of the grazing system had no consistent effect on soil surface condition, pastures or carrying capacity when compared to less intensive systems on the same property.”

The science community has a track record of finding difficulty with farmer-driven innovation. The same resistance from science was encountered by the no-till movement, according to Bill Crabtree, who was scientific officer with the West Australian No-Till Farmers Association and the leading light of the no-till movement. The adoption was farmer driven. Much of the scientific data being presented during the time of explosive change, during the early 1990s, was negative towards no-tillage.” He says that there are too few progressive researchers: While no-till has been rapidly adopted by farmers, many researchers are still negative about no-tillage. This has restricted the amount of useful research that has been done.”

The purpose of the recent MLA/CSIRO study was stated as ‘to assist beef producers make decisions about the most suitable grazing systems for their properties by providing accurate and impartial information.’ The danger is that growers will act upon the results of this flawed study."After they saw the study results, one property said they were looking at pulling up every second fence to minimise the labour needed for stock movements," Mr Hall told The Land. The more intense the system, the more invested in fencing and water.

An important part of the scientific method is the “Does it make sense?” test. If the results of trials defy expectations, it is advised that they be subject to scrutiny. In this case, the results confounded initial expectations, the lead researcher said. "We'd thought there would be massive changes, and that's what we'd be quantifying.”

It is hard to conclude just what this study proved.

What did the readers think?

'I setup our cattle to strip graze perennial pastures and or annual fodder crops year-round. Prior to this method, when using set stock rate practices the carrying capacity was up to 3.33 acres/head. While using strip grazing the carrying capacity was up to 1.11 acres/head. However, strip grazing requires more effort, with those results, I'm happy to put in the effort.'

Posted by Intensive Cattle Grazier,

[1] Lodge, G.M., Murphy, S.R., and Harden, S., “Effects of grazing and management on herbiage mass, persistence, animal production and soil water content of native pastures”, Australian Journal of Experimental Science, 2003, 43, 891-905

Thursday, December 01, 2011

“Get out of the way” - World Bank

“Farmers need policies that remove obstacles to implementing climate-smart agriculture, and create synergies with alternative technologies and prac­tices.”

Among the millions of words being uttered at COP 17 this week, these are the most potent. They come from the World Bank.

The Bank believes it is time that the 194 nations attending the Durban meeting got serious about Agriculture – the life and death issue:

‘The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) places a high priority on agriculture. Article 2 of the treaty states that the “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations .......... should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient ensure that food production is not threatened......” It is thus surprising that a detailed treatment of agriculture has yet to enter any of the Agreements. The negotiat­ing text proposing an agriculture work program under the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) was already available for COP 15 in Copenhagen but has yet to be adopted.

‘Addressing agriculture is critical to achieving global climate change goals, both in terms of adaptation and mitigation. Agriculture will be significantly impacted by climate change, and is crucial for global food security, rural development and poverty alleviation. It can also contribute significantly to meeting mitiga­tion targets. Food security, adaptation and mitigation can and should be dealt with in an integrated manner — thus the need to incorporate agriculture in future climate change agreements.

‘Key deliverables for COP 17 include:

• An agriculture work program under SBSTA that covers both adaptation and mitigation. It should be informed by science to enhance the role of agri­culture in achieving synergies between adaptation, mitigation and food security

• Text that makes crops and pasture eligible under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol

‘Placing agriculture in a global agreement would help provide a policy framework for fully incorporating agriculture into adaptation and mitigation strategies. Further work on numerous technical issues (e.g. moni­toring methods, identification of new technologies and approaches) and institutional issues (e.g. how to make sure benefits reach poor farmers) would be stimulated by such an agreement.’

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


The first soil carbon methodology submitted to the Domestic Offset Integrity Committee (DOIC) has reached first base! Submitted only 8 weeks ago, it has been analysed and an issues paper written in response. We should get it in a few days. Stay tuned...

What's in the Carbon Farming Initiative for you? 1-Day Workshop NEW TRAINING DATES ANNOUNCED

BUNGENDORE 7/12/2011; DUBBO 15/12/2011; BENDIGO 27/2/2012;
WARRAGUL 1/3/2012; TARANG 5/3/2012; WAGGA WAGGA 12/3/2012

To register, call (02) 6374 0329 or


What Is Carbon Farming? Why is it so important for the future of your community?

What is the Carbon Farming Initiative? What does it mean for you?

How will it change the way you farm?

What activities are covered?

What new opportunities for additional farm-based revenue are likely?

What risks are involved?

Farm emissions: what are they; how can they be reduced?

Decision-making tools for Carbon Farmers.

Soil Carbon – What is it? How does it benefit agriculture?

Soil health, nutrition, production, and water efficiency…

Planning tools and options to maximising carbon soil sequestration.

Growing Soil Carbon:

the role of the farmer, their animals, their plants, and

the microbial communities.

Trading Farm-Based Offsets:

What markets are available for Australian farmers?

Opportunities and risk management.

Safe, ethical soil carbon trading.

To register, call (02) 6374 0329 or


Carbon Farmers of Australia

• Campaigned since 2005 for farmers’ rights to sell farm carbon credits.

• Conducted the first study tour of the USA soil carbon industry in 2006

• Secured first order for Australian soil carbon from Chicago Climate Exchange 2006.

• Made first sales of Australian soil carbon credits in March 2007

• Organised the first “Soil Science Summits” between scientists and farmers 2007.

• Staged the world’s first Carbon Farming Conference, Mudgee 2007.

• Launched the first formal training program on soil carbon 2008.

• Helped secure $26 million in funds for research to soil carbon for trade 2009.

• Invited to FAO rangelands and conservation farming events USA 2008/9.

• Consulted by both Government and Opposition about farmer take up rates, 2010

• Invited to give evidence as expert witness to Senate Inquiry 2011.

• Methodology Proponents under the Carbon Farming Initiative 2011.

To register, call (02) 6374 0329 or






To register, call (02) 6374 0329 or


Banking on Climate-Smart Agriculture

“We need agriculture that can contribute to sequestering green house gas emissions and capturing carbon in the soil, agriculture that can move from being part of the problem - agriculture currently emits about 14 percent of global green house emissions and indirectly another 17 percent - to part of the solution,” says Andrew Steer, Special Envoy for Climate Change at the World Bank.. He calls it Climate-Smart Agriculture. It is “agriculture that will strengthen food security, adaptation and mitigation where farmers use proven conservation agriculture techniques together with innovative technologies such as drought and flood tolerant crops, improved early warning systems and risk insurance, We need climate –smart agriculture, which can provide a triple win for farmers by creating higher yields and increasing climate resilience, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and storing carbon in plants and the soil.” Last month, leading scientists from 38 countries agreed. Gathering in the Dutch town of Wageningen, to share research findings on this phenomenon, they were united in calling on the negotiators in Durban to recognize and support the potential that Climate-Smart Agriculture offers. In September, the Government of South Africa hosted a meeting of African Agricultural Ministers who noted the crucial opportunity of a "triple win" for African farmers, and called for support from the international community to incorporate Climate-Smart Agriculture into existing regional and national agriculture plans.

COP 17 and the Supermarket Delusion

There have been 16 glorified gabfests called Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – where the leaders of the world meet to talk about saving civilisation from environmental destruction - and at not one of them has the ability of the world to feed itself been considered as part of the main agenda. And still, at COP 17 in Durban, 20,000 delegates will discuss every trivial detail of an imaginary accounting system for emissions that has a death wish, but Agriculture is relegated to a little side event. Nothing demonstrates the distorted values of the Kyotocrats more dramatically than their refusal to give their attention to the centrality of food production to the human tragedy of Climate Change and the potential solution that resides in the soil beneath our feet. Urbanites, most of them, suffering from the Supermarket Delusion, they see Agriculture merely as an inconvenient source of emissions, not as the difference between peace and war as mass migration of millions in search of food and water create conflict.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A question of confidence

If you can believe yesterday's Australian Financial Review, the Carbon Farming Initiative will be rorted like the Pink Batts scheme; will not deliver genuine reductions in carbon emissions; and will put at risk the brands of any emitters who buy its offsets. It claims that this is because the CFI will not verify the actions of farmers that earn offsets and will allow farmers to claim offsets for actions they would have taken anyway because it would cost too much to prevent them.

These remarks are astonishing. Their source is an article in the Australian Financial Review based on an interview with a member of the the body responsible for ensuring that none of the things mentioned above happen. Rob Fowler is a member of the interim Domestic Offsets Integrity Committee (DOIC). The role of the DOIC is to assess offsets methodologies and work with the people putting them forward to build the safeguards into the system. The checking - physical or otherwise - is dictated by the DOIC. It has the last word.

We applaud Rob's stated aim of not burdening farmers with the expense of a what he calls a 'rort-free' system, but he seems to be saying that the operation of the CFI is impossible because of the cost of measurement and verification. This is an old objection. It overstates the problem and underestimates the impact of innovation on reducing costs. But the Government, while it will be less than impressed with the way he raised the issue, must urgently address Rob's concerns to restore confidence in the CFI.

If those of us spending thousands of hours working for free on methodologies to give farmers access to offsets can't be confident in the integrity of the process, this could deter further submissions and make Rob's prediction self-fulfilling. We are sure he wouldn't want that.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pig farmers hit the jackpot with Poo Power

Australian pork producers have been cleared to start earning Carbon Credits under the Carbon Farming Initiative by cutting emissions from manure. They can also slash their power costs by turning the emissions into fuel. Capturing methane at the point of release, farmers can burn it by ‘flaring’ or they can go further and use it to provide on-farm energy to run equipment and heating.

Burning Methane (CH4) produces CO2 that is emitted instead. Methane has 24 times the Global Warming Potential of Carbon Dioxide. The farmer earns 24 tonnes of CO2 offsets for every tonne of Methane captured and burned.

The manure management methodology that makes these opportunities possible is the first released under the Carbon Farming Initiative and was launched yesterday by Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig and Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency Mark Dreyfus. The project involves retrofitting an impermeable cover and sludge management system to an existing unheated anaerobic pond at a southern Queensland breeder unit piggery.

The cost of installing basic methane capture infrastructure is likely to range from around $75,000 to $200,000 depending on the size of the piggery. The Australian pork industry suggests that by using the methodology, producers could increase the return on each finished carcass by around $3.45. Preliminary trials suggest the payback period for this infrastructure ranges from 18 months to five years in smaller operations. 680 commercial piggery operations in Australia stand to benefit from the CFI via this process.

A trial was conducted at a piggery in Grantham in Queensland. Project manager Alan Skerman said the methane released from ponds of swine waste could be used not only to heat a piggery's sheds, but also to create usable energy through an electrical generator. "There's the potential there to reduce the farm's use of LPG by about half, substituting biogas for the LPG that's used for heating the piggery sheds," he said. "As well as those financial benefits, the owner can get extra income through carbon credits…. But there's the potential for the widespread roll-out of this technology in the pig industry."

The methodology was developed in collaboration with the Australian Government, the pork industry and Queensland DPI scientists, and assessed by the independent Domestic Offsets Integrity Committee..

Carbon Farmers of Australia have a soil carbon sequestration methodology before the Committee which could deliver benefits to 130,000 Australian farmers.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Day dream believers

"There would be no Carbon Farming Initiative were it not for the work of Michael and Louisa Kiely." Greg Hunt is an unusual man: an intellectual, an environmentalist, and a member of the Abbott Shadow Cabinet. We met him when he was visiting Rhonda and Bill Daly's compost operation in Young. In his speech, Greg quoted Lawrence of Arabia: "Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that all was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, and make it possible."

He described Bill and Rhonda as 'dangerous people' for their vision of the future of soil health. And we are dangerous people, he said. How dangerous can a couple of day dreamers believers be?

9t/ha/yr? True or False?

You know who your friends are when someone tells you what everyone else has been thinking. A friend who happens to be a highly regarded soil scientist recently raised an issue about an assertion in one of our press releases, ie. Col Seis's rate of increase of soil carbon at 9t/ha/yr, as follows:

"Using photosynthesis alone and growing plants alone this would be very, very difficult. Just to grow 9t/ha/yr of above ground biomass would be a good effort in many areas, let alone convert that to soil carbon. The only possibility is to bring in a carbon source from outside as a mulch or compost. Then it would probably require large additions of mulch or compost to get increases of this amount."

Our response:

Re 9t/ha/yr, you're right - incorporation of litter is not enough to explain this rate of soil carbon sequestration. As I said in the press release, the nature of carbon farming is such that multiple techniques of soil management are applied at the same time. In the case of Col Seis's well-studied soils, he has used/is using several techniques such as grazing management, pasture cropping, and compost teas. He has been managing his soils this way for 10 years. He doubled his soil carbon in 8 years then doubled it again in 2 years. We have other data from experienced carbon farmers - none as dramatic as 9t/ha/yr, but much of it significantly different to that measured by scientists. There are several possible explanations for this:

1. Science has yet to study the impact of multiple soil management practices.

2. Science has yet to study these combined techniques over the time period required for maximum response.

3. There are phototrophic and autotrophic bacteria that do not need organic matter to create energy, capable of photosynthesis.

4. Soil microbial activity is stimulated by practices that encourage root zone action, including exudates and nutrient fixing.

5. The combined effect of the techniques triggers a compounding or multiplier effect in the soil.

6. Soil carbon could have emergent properties which impact on sequestration rates. (Ie. properties that emerge as soil carbon levels increase – such as increased biodiversity in soil microbial communities – that can drive these increases faster and wider).

I suspect many non-farmers would favour one or other of the following:

7. Carbon farmers routinely misreport their soil carbon results.

8. Carbon farmers are not competent to take soil samples.

There is so much we don't know. We do know that the science is not in on the use of combinations of sequestration practices and won't be for some time. Meanwhile we must do what we can with what we have.




PS. We would not expect that rate of increase to continue. Some farmers have noticed that there would appear to be a tipping point at around 7 years when changes in soil management really kick in, at least with grazing management. Soil carbon levels appear to bounce up and down in an upward direction - like a basketball bouncing upstairs. Which is why a system of averaging over 5 years is a sound approach.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Only Diamonds Are Forever: Sequestration, Permanence and the Carbon Cycle

Soil Carbon faces institutional barriers to being traded as an offset, despite its potential role as a bridge to a low carbon future and the many co-benefits for which it is famous. These barriers can only be understood in the light of history: The creators of the Kyoto Protocols were more at home with the concept of avoiding emissions than sequestration. Agriculture was seen through the lens of emissions to be a major source rather than as a potential sink. The science used to establish the Australian National Greenhouse Gases Inventory focussed on the ways in which soil lost carbon after clearing, ie. emissions. Sequestering carbon in soil was not a process much studied by government departments (a) because it isn’t a problem and (b) because ‘Carbon farming’ was a fringe activity, not expected to become mainstream.[1] Therefore the National Carbon Accounting System did not recognise that Carbon Farming existed and the view developed that Australian soils were too ancient and degraded to sequester carbon in significant amounts.

To be included in the cap and trade system – which was designed for ‘avoided emissions’ – biosequestration was made subject to a set of “integrity standards” to bring it into line with ‘avoided emissions’ as a quality offset. These standards are based on a false interpretation of the permanence of ‘avoided emissions’ and a false view of the nature and role of soil carbon sequestration.

[1] AUSTRALIAN GREENHOUSE OFFICE, “Estimation of changes in soil carbon due to changed land use” (National Carbon Accounting System technical report ; no.2) November 1999

How Permanent Is Permanent?

The farmer must guarantee to keep the carbon in the soil for 100 years, under the Permanence Principle, an “Integrity Standard” enshrined in the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Act 2011. (Part 7, Div. 1, clause 87 (1); Part 9, Div. 3, clause 133 (f)). The Permanence Principle was developed for biological sequestration on the grounds that some or all of the carbon removed from the atmosphere may ultimately return to the atmosphere. This has led to the idea that offsets based on ‘avoided emissions’ are of superior quality to those based on sequestered carbon because buyers can be more confident that the abatement they represent is ‘real’. But a close look reveals that ‘avoided emissions’ offsets are no more secure than soil carbon offsets.

“Avoided emissions” usually involves reduced use of fossil fuels. It is assumed that if a tonne of fossil fuel is not used, its emissions are avoided forever.[1] [2] However that unburned fossil fuel may still be mined and burned later. In fact, a tonne of new emissions avoided today will almost certainly mean higher emissions in the future because the price of fossil fuel will be lower than renewable energy and these inexpensive resources will still exist. Unless their use is banned, which is unlikely, they will be available. The idea that avoided fossil fuel emissions today are avoided forever is therefore based on a fiction.[3] Either the Permanence Principle applies to avoided emissions – the seller guarantees that the coal or oil will not be burnt for 100 years – or the requirement should be removed from soil carbon sequestration.

Throughout 25 workshops with Australian farmers on the subject of offsets trading, conducted by Carbon Farmers of Australia during 2010 and 2011, not one farmer was willing to commit to 100 year contracts. Therefore, to deliver the co-benefits that soil carbon offers, soil carbon offsets cannot be evaluated by the same criteria as used for avoided emissions.

Soil carbon offsets represent real abatement: they are purpose built to play a unique role in the global strategy to manage Climate Change for least impact. They also represent a significant value proposition for buyers in terms of the co-benefits they generate.

[1] “Once savings of fossil fuels have been made, those savings are permanent even if fossil-fuel use patterns revert back to those before savings had been made.” Kirschbaum, M.U.F.: 2006, ‘Temporary carbon sequestration cannot prevent climate change’, Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 11(5-6), 1151-1164.

[2] “Many LUCF activities alter C fluxes to and from the atmosphere several decades into the future, whereas fossil-fuel emissions avoidance has immediate effects.” Fearnside, P.M., Lashof, D.A. and Moura-Costa, P.: 2000, ‘Accounting for time in mitigating global warming through land-use change and forestry’, Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 5(3), 239-270.

[3] Herzog, Howard, Ken Caldeira, and John Reilly. "An issue of permanence: Assessing the effectiveness of temporary carbon storage." Climatic Change Aug. 2003 Vol 59, Iss. 3. 29 Oct. 2008 “Conventional wisdom associates avoided emissions with reduced use of fossil fuels (e.g., from improving energy efficiencies, increasing conservation, shifting to non-fossil energy sources, etc). It is argued that if a ton of fossil fuel is not used, its emissions are avoided forever. However… the idea that a ton of fossil emissions avoided today is avoided forever is not necessarily an accurate characterization of the problem because that unburned fossil fuel may still be mined and burned later. In fact, economic considerations lead one to conclude that a ton of avoided emissions today will, absent an absolute quantity constraint on emissions in all regions through time, mean higher emissions in the future. The simple reasoning is that the price path of fossil fuel will be lower in the future because these inexpensive resources still exist and therefore the future use of fossil fuels and carbon emissions would increase. Thus, there will be leakage into the future from avoided emissions that is analogous to the leakage of carbon from sequestration reservoirs. The temporal leakage from a carbon policy is analogous to well recognized spatial leakage that occurs when only part of the world undertakes a carbon policy. In other words, the idea that avoided fossil fuel emissions today are avoided forever is in error.”

Precedents other than 100 years

Various accounting systems for carbon sinks have entertained periods other than 100 Years before this. Carbon accounting methodologies have been devised especially for sinks projects, taking into account the technical differences in relation to other types of emission reduction projects,” according to a 2002 Winrock report for the US EPA.[1]. “The treatment of permanence, therefore, influences and is influenced by the choice of carbon accounting methodologies, the timeframes chosen for carbon accounting, and the approach chosen for dealing with liabilities (i.e., the need to return or replace carbon credits if carbon is released to the atmosphere.”)

There are IPCC precedents for accounting periods of 20, 30 and 60 years. The Milan conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change established two types of emission offsets under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), valid for afforestation and reforestation activities. ‘In order to account for the non-permanent nature of carbon storage in forests, these credits expire after a predefined periods, after which the buyer needs to replace them.

The Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), the most widely used carbon accounting standard among projects issuing credits in the voluntary market, allows for a period of 25 years. Redd Forests, the Australian based carbon project developer, has achieved validation of its Tasmanian Improved Forestry Management projects that avoids the emissions of greenhouse gases resulting from the logging, chipping and pulping of the timber into short-lived paper products. Instead the forests will be protected and managed by their owners for 25 years.[2]

[1] Louise Aukland and Pedro Moura Costa, Review of methodologies relating to the issue of permanence for LULUCF projects, Winrock International/EPA, October 2002

[2] Redd Forests, PROTECTING THE DEVIL’S FORESTS, Tasmanian forests saved and private landowners rewarded, Press Release, 4 April, 2011

Alternatives to 100 Years: The Equivalence Method

An IPCC Special Report on Carbon dioxide Capture and Storage reveals another example of such an approach in the “tonne-year alternative for accounting” that defines an artificial equivalence so that capture and storage for a given time interval (for example, t years) are equated with permanent storage. Typically capture and storage for one year would result in a number of credits equal to 1/t, and thus storage for t years would result in one full credit. A variety of constructs have been proposed for defining the number of storage years that would be equated with permanent storage. “Despite being based on scientific and technical considerations, this equivalence is basically a political decision.”[1]

[1] IPCC Working Group III, Mitigation of Climate Change, Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage.

100 Years: a political construct?

This 100 year timeframe is a policy-determination, not a technical one,” reveals an EcoSecurities report.[1] It is a period chosen by the IPCC for calculating the Global Warming Potential of each different Greenhouse Gas compared to CO2. For instance, Nitrous Oxide has a GWP of 298 (ie., one tonne of N2O is equivalent to 298 tonnes of CO2).

Some believe that 100 years is the time it takes for a tonne of CO2 to cycle through the atmosphere. It is not. This takes only 4 years, according to an IPCC Report. “The turnover time of CO2 in the atmosphere, measured as the ratio of the content to the fluxes through it, is about 4 years. This means that on average it takes only a few years before a CO2 molecule in the atmosphere is taken up by plants or dissolved in the ocean.”[2] However, it can take far longer for the atmosphere to adjust to the new levels of CO2, up to 200 years.[3]

The EcoSecurities analysts calculate that removing a tonne of CO2 and holding it for 55 years is sufficient to counteract its effect on Global Warming. The IPCC uses 20, 100 and 500 year periods in much of its analysis. “The Kyoto Protocol set the time horizon against which [GWPs] are to be determined at 100 years (addendum to the Protocol, Decision 2/CP.3, para. 3).[4] To be consistent, it can be implied therefore that the Protocol also requires the benefits of sequestration in counteracting the radiative forcing effects of CO2 emissions to be evaluated over a 100 year time horizon. Any uncertainties derive from both this choice of time horizon, as well as future scenarios of atmospheric CO2 concentrations, are not technically driven but rather are a natural consequence of ‘arbitrary’ policy selections.”[5]

[1] Pedro Moura Costa and Charlie Wilson, An equivalence factor between CO2 avoided emissions and sequestration – description and applications in forestry, Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Volume 5, Number 1, 51-60

[2] Watson, R.T., Rodhe, H., Oeschger, H. and Siegenthaler, U. 1990. Greenhouse gases and aerosols. In IPCC Report No 1, World Meteorological Organization and United Nations Environment Programme, Cambridge University Press.

[3] “This short time scale must not be confused with the time it takes tor the atmospheric CO2 level to adjust to a new equilibrium if sources or sinks change This adjustment time… is of the order of 50 - 200 years, determined mainly by the slow exchange of carbon between surface waters and the deep ocean.” ibid

[4] Reaffirms that global warming potentials used by Parties should be those provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its Second Assessment Report (“1995 IPCC GWP values”) based on the effects of the greenhouse gases over a 100-year time horizon, taking into account the inherent and complicated uncertainties involved in global warming potential estimates. In addition, for information purposes only, Parties may also use another time horizon, as provided in the Second Assessment Report.” IPCC, REPORT OF THE CONFERENCE OF THE PARTIES ON ITS THIRD SESSION, HELD AT KYOTO FROM 1 TO 11 DECEMBER 1997, PART TWO: ACTION TAKEN BY THE CONFERENCE OF THE PARTIES AT ITS THIRD SESSION, 25 March 1998, P. 31, Decision 2/CP.3


“Functional Permanence”

Clearly, there is no definition of Permanence for Biosequestration that is dictated by Scientific Fact. The periods quoted range from 4 years to ‘forever’, with points of 20, 50, 55, 100, 200 and 500 years in between. The choice of 100 Years appears to have been a function of the need to find a scale on which to compare the Global Warming Potential of various Greenhouse Gases. Its choice as a time horizon took place as part of the negotiations around the Kyoto Protocols and was based on functional considerations. One function – the engagement of farmers in soil carbon sequestration activities – was overlooked. Several other functions are considered in the following “Time Horizon by Function” table.

Time Horizon 5 Years


1. Time required for excess CO2 to be taken up by plant or ocean. 2. Most acceptable compliance period for farmers. 3. A minimum reporting period. 4. A renewable contract period.

Time Horizon 25 Years

Function 1. Approximate period at which soil reaches theoretical saturation point, ie. “Steady State”. 2. Period covered by 5 renewable 5 year contracts.

Time Horizon 50 Years

1. Period in which removing 1tCO2 from the atmosphere and storing it counteracts the radiative forcing effect, integrated over a 100-year time horizon, of a 1 t CO2 pulse emission. (See "100 Years A Fiction" below)

2. Period in which soils and vegetation in the world’s agricultural lands can draw down the equivalent of 50ppm, stalling Global Warming for long enough for the shift to a low carbon economy can be made. (See "Bridge To The Future" below.)

3. Period in which the culture of Australian Agriculture is changed by two generations of farmers being incentivised by tradable offsets and stewardship payments for maintenance of carbon sequestered in the landscape.

The Act allows for periods less than 100 years


The Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Act makes provision for a period other than 100 years to be specified in the regulations. The Minister can make regulations to set the period at any length:

"Part 7, Div. 1, clause 87, Maximum potential relinquishment period (1) For the purposes of this Act, the maximum potential relinquishment period for an eligible offsets project is: (a) 100 years; or (b) if, at the time when the declaration of the project as an eligible offsets project was made, a greater number of years was specified in the regulations—that greater number of years. (2) However, if: (a) the regulations specify a number of years that is less than 100 years; and (b) those regulations are made after the time when the declaration of a project as an eligible offsets project was made; then, despite subsection (1), that lesser number of years is the maximum potential relinquishment period for the eligible offsets project.

Part 9, Div. 3, clause 133 Offsets integrity standards (1) For the purposes of this Act, the offsets integrity standards are as follows: (f) a method specified in a methodology determination in accordance with paragraph 106(1)(c) or (d) in relation to a sequestration offsets project should provide for adjustments to take account of significant cyclical variations that are likely to occur in the amount of carbon sequestered in the relevant carbon pool on the project area or project areas during: (i) a 100‑year period; or (ii) if, at the time when the methodology determination was made, another period was specified in the regulations—that other period…”

Recommendation on Permanence

It is recommended that various periods be included in Regulations attached to the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Act 2011. These ‘other periods’ should include 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, 25 years, and five year periods up to 55 years. The choice of a period should be justified on the basis of a demonstrable connection between the period and a function directly related to the objectives of the Program: mitigation, abatement, restoration, etc.

100 Years a Fiction (Part 3)

In operationalising the Absolute Global Warming Potential concept, the Kyoto Protocol sets 100 years as the reference time frame over which cumulative radiative forcing is to be measured. Over this 100-year period, the decay curve integral is equivalent to the forcing effect of approximately 55 tonne-years of CO2. Hence, we can infer that removing 1tCO2 from the atmosphere and storing it for 55 years counteracts the radiative forcing effect, integrated over a 100-year time horizon, of a 1 t CO2 pulse emission. Under the terms of the Kyoto Protocol, the AGWP100 of CO2 represents the radiative effect of a pulse emission which any sequestration-based activity is designed to counteract (or indeed, any emission reduction activity is designed to avoid or delay). In effect therefore, as understood by the Protocol, carbon sequestered at t=0 and stored until t=55 is directly equivalent to an avoided emission at t=0 and could be credited accordingly. Any new emission from the subsequent release of the stored carbon at t=55 would not be deemed to have caused any additional radiative forcing effects to those which characterized the start point of the project, measured over the 100-year reference period from the point of emission/sequestration. This timeframe of equivalence between sequestered and emitted CO2 is here called the ‘Equivalence Time’ (Te). The re-emission of sequestered carbon after its storage for t=Te does not affect this equivalence.”[1]

[1] Pedro Moura Costa and Charlie Wilson, An equivalence factor between CO2 avoided emissions and sequestration – description and applications in forestry, Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Volume 5, Number 1, 51-60