Carbon farming needs to return more than just credits

Main points:

  • Carbon projects should be able to integrate with the farm business and provide benefits other than carbon credits.
  • Risks can be shared with carbon service providers.
  • Credits can be monetised or used to offset farm emissions and help achieve carbon neutrality.
  • An event will be held in Cowaramup on June 10 to explore carbon neutrality and carbon farming.

 

Like anything new, carbon farming can sound confusing when you don’t know how it works.

It is understandable that farmers are cautious of new opportunities because of the failure of some managed investment tree planting programs in the past.

At the same time, some may worry that they might miss out if they don’t engage.

So, when a carbon service provider comes knocking, how should farmers proceed?

According to Dean Revell, former CSIRO agricultural scientist and now CEO of the carbon service provider Select Carbon, farmers shouldn’t start by focusing on carbon markets, and instead should consider whether building carbon is practical and can enhance their farm business.

“I think farmers should be exploring carbon opportunities when they see there are broad benefits to their farm business. If a carbon project can help their underlying productivity, risk management or profitability, then it’s worth serious exploration.”

“If you just do it to produce carbon credits, you’re kind of missing the point.”

Select Carbon helps farmers to scope opportunities and projects, looking at what is possible and worthwhile and how it links to the farm business.

For carbon sequestration projects involving planting, Dean thinks farmers should first consider whether plants will provide other benefits such as shade, shelter, reduced evaporation or managing the risk of dryland salinity. In terms of building soil carbon, they could consider potential benefits from things like increasing water and nutrient holding capacity in sandy soils.

A risk with soil carbon is the lack of data around the degree to which carbon levels can be increased. Dean says that like farmers, carbon service providers can’t afford to assume or “hope” that a soil carbon proposal will be successful. However, with proper scoping of the potential to build carbon, combined with ongoing discussions, risk to both parties can be managed under the right circumstances.

“Our model is that we share in the costs and returns – we are responsible for the measuring, monitoring and reporting, and the farmer is responsible for the on-farm activities agreed upon to increase carbon ‘stocks’ in the soil or vegetation.”

Both the farmer and the carbon service provider need to be comfortable in working together – it’s a shared investment.

“If a land manager is motivated to make informed changes, we keep discussing the potential for a carbon project and thoroughly work through all of the possible pros and cons. However, if the manager feels that a carbon project conflicts with other farming business goals, it’s best for all parties if this is identified up-front.”

If the farmer and carbon service provider agree to proceed, the latter typically conducts all monitoring and reporting requirements, except for soil carbon projects where sampling must be conducted by an independent third party.

Assuming carbon credits are generated from the project, farmers can consider whether to monetise the credits as a commodity, or “retire” them to offset their own emissions and achieve carbon neutrality, a goal which is gaining more and more industry support.

Dean Revell will be in Cowaramup on Thursday June 10 as part of the Road to Carbon Neutral event for livestock producers. To register for this event, follow this link. Please note that spaces are limited.

This article was produced by South West Catchments Council’s Regional Agriculture Landcare facilitator, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

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