Farmers have always been paid for what they produce from the land. Now, as Lorraine Gordon from the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance tells AgriWebb, they can earn money for what they put back into it.
Carbon farming involves agricultural practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester carbon, storing it in soil and vegetation.
Ways farmers can reduce greenhouse gas emissions include:
- Savanna fire management
- Reducing methane emissions from cattle using feed additives
- Improving herd management for more efficient production, with techniques such as turning cattle off at a younger age.
Ways farmers can sequester carbon include but are not limited to:
- Reforestation or revegetation
- Protecting native forest that would be cleared for cropping or grasslands to allow for forest succession
- Correcting mineral deficiencies in the soil
- Time controlled grazing methods
- Adding compost
- Converting from continuous mono cropping to multi-species pasture cropping and cover cropping.
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Carbon farming can increase a farm’s productivity and profitability, and the government will reward land managers for the practices. Farmers using approved methods can earn Australian carbon credit units (ACCU) through the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), which can be sold on the carbon market to either the government or corporates.
The Clean Energy Regulator outlines how land managers can become part of the ERF scheme, and the CSIRO has developed a tool to help farmers decide which options suit their situation.
As Lorraine, founder of Southern Cross University’s Regenerative Agriculture Alliance, puts it: “It’s time farmers were rewarded for their efforts in caring for the environment.”
Increasing Soil Carbon Through Land Management
Aside from her academic work, Lorraine also runs beef cattle on her 3000-hectare property at Ebor. She’s practised holistic management and time control grazing for some 25 years. Today, she is using a number of methods to sequester carbon in her soil.
Stocking density is being increased, with livestock grazing over a smaller area for a short amount of time. “By only shaving the top off the grass, it increases photosynthesis and gives deeper root systems to the plants,” Lorraine says.
Multi-species pasture cropping will see plants with deep taproots, such as tillage radishes and chicory, sown into dormant pasture. Livestock manure will be composted, and gypsum applied to the soil.
All these practices add up to greater soil health, and better carbon sequestration. “They’re the four things I’ve chosen for my farm,” Lorraine says. “It will increase my productivity, whether I choose to trade in carbon or not in the future.”
From Carbon in the Ground to Money in the Bank
To be eligible for ERF carbon credits, farmers must register through the Clean Energy Regulator before they start a project. Lorraine warns against rushing into carbon farming without registering your project and baselining your soil carbon.
“You’re going to kick yourself if you haven’t registered and down the track you find you’ve actually increased your carbon by one per cent,” she says.
“You don’t have to lock in anything, because the price of the carbon is only going in one direction and that’s up, but you have to make sure you’ve got the right system in place.”
The process has its hurdles, with a lot of paperwork and rigorous audits. Lorraine recommends doing plenty of research on both carbon farming and carbon trading. The Emissions Reduction Fund website is packed with info, while the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance plans to run workshops on the subject. “We’ve got a massive role to educate farmers in this space,” she says.
For a lot of farmers, carbon farming sounds like an offbeat idea. For Lorraine, it’s the future of Australia. “We will be carbon farmers,” she says with confidence. “I won’t be saying I’m a grazier. I’ll be a carbon farmer that uses hoofed animals to sequester carbon. The byproduct of that is that we’ll be producing beef.”
Want to learn more about carbon farming? Watch a free webinar by AgriWebb, featuring farmers who are already seeing benefits from carbon farming and are passionate about what they do.