Benchmarking Soil Carbon for Carbon Neutrality

Last year, our Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitator, Peter Clifton (who has since been promoted to Sustainable Agriculture Program Manager!), brought together a group of eight beef farmers interested in understanding the carbon footprint of their operations. They received funding from Landcare Australia to produce individual carbon accounts, which broke down the emissions arising from energy, fuel, supply chain, fertilisers and, most importantly, the livestock!

Carbon stocks held within existing trees were also calculated, though at this stage they can’t be included in carbon accounts for Carbon Neutral certification through the Australian Government’s ClimateActive program. The carbon accounts were used to identify opportunities to reduce emissions or offset emissions by planting trees or increasing soil carbon to generate ‘carbon credits’.

Following on from the carbon footprinting project, Landcare Australia invited SWCC to develop a project to help these farmers reduce their footprints. Participating farmers were keen to understand more about how to measure and sequester carbon in the soil, particularly as increasing soil carbon has been linked to higher agricultural productivity.

Research suggests that, in the SWCC region, the top 10cm of soil is already saturated with carbon and most gains are likely to be made in the 10-30cm subsoil range. However, most livestock producers only measure to 10cm, which represents a critical knowledge gap for farmers investigating soil carbon farming projects.

Working with Western Beef and 10 livestock producers, SWCC has kicked off a Landcare Australia-funded project aimed at benchmarking sub-soil carbon and establishing sampling protocols for the southwest region. It will design and demonstrate a practical protocol for soil sampling to a depth of 30cm, so farmers can confidently record change in soil carbon over time and compare across soil types.

An introductory workshop in June 2022 featured Western Beef’s Jeisane Accioly, consultant Richard Brake and SW WA Drought Hub’s Regional Soil Coordinator, Jen Clausen. The workshop outlined some of the opportunities and challenges in reaching carbon neutrality, along with the principles of soil sampling.

A second workshop with Future Food Network on 18 August introduced project participants to carbon farming in more detail. Catherine Turnbull and Carla Swift from DPIRD explained how soil carbon farming can be used to generate carbon credits through the Australian Government’s Emissions Reduction Fund. They also explained the additional funding for ‘cobenefits’ that will become available through the State Government’s Carbon Farming and Land Restoration Program Round 2.

Daniel Hester of Pedaga Investments provided an overview of a collaborative project with Future Food Network and Meat & Livestock Australia which is testing the use of biomineral fertilisers for soil carbon sequestration. Regional Soil Coordination Jen Clausen introduced some of the principles behind building soil carbon, while the team from CarbonWest provided an overview of the steps involved in planning a carbon project and undertaking compliant soil testing.

Next steps for the project will include working with soil scientists to establish a sampling protocol and collecting soil samples from each participating farm by February 2023. Individual results will be categorised into soil type to compare results and the potential for  carbon sequestration, which tends to be higher where levels are below average for the soil and climate. A final workshop in 2023 will present results to the public – watch this space for further details!

“Knowing your carbon footprint is the first step to reducing emissions. Farmers are looking at how they can increase management efficiencies and the potential for farm offsets. Knowing their emissions has made it easier to see what investment would be needed in trees or soil carbon to reach carbon neutrality.” Peter Clifton, Program Manager Sustainable Agriculture


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