Given the many, and often bold, claims made about the potential for carbon farming to improve productivity, add new revenue streams and mitigate climate change, you may be surprised discover that only 1 per cent of Australian farmers are actively participating in the carbon market.
Panellists at the Digital Agrifood Summit discussed what is required to overcome barriers for producers and enable them to take advantage of opportunities in the emerging carbon economy. Integration, partnership and quality data were identified as key to helping all players navigate the intricacies of carbon management and markets.
Guy Webb from SoilCQuest suggested that carbon initiatives must offer farmers four things to facilitate adoption and enable practice change: a clear understanding of the opportunity or problem; an attractive proposition; easy implementation; and a satisfying outcome. While there is growing recognition of the potential benefits of carbon sequestration and the need to reduce emissions in agriculture, participation in schemes may require a long-term (25 year) commitment as well as potentially complex monitoring, reporting and verification.
There is also uncertainty around what is required to improve carbon sequestration in different geographies and agricultural systems, which can undermine the value proposition of carbon projects. Fortunately, there is strong interest from government, financial institutions, industry, agtech and other organisations to address these issues and improve participation in carbon farming for public as well as private benefit.
Naomi Wilson from Australia’s largest beef producer, AACo, identified a lack of data and knowledge of effective practices to facilitate carbon sequestration as key barriers for producers to undertake projects. While the cost of soil carbon baselining tends to be a significant part of any Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) project, for large northern producers like AACo the cost becomes prohibitive. Scalable and affordable methods of estimating carbon in soils and vegetation, like the ones being developed in Food Agility’s Rangelands Carbon project, could support farmer decision making as well as verification of outcomes both for ERF projects and non-ERF activities.
Trusted, reliable and integrated data will also be needed to support new ERF methods, like the integrated farm method, according to Climate Friendly’s Skye Glenday. Additional datasets and measurement/estimation methods will allow differentiation of carbon credits and potentially attract premiums for carbon sequestration that is associated with biodiversity or other environmental gains. Examples of government programs in this space include the federal government’s Carbon + Biodiversity pilot and Queensland's Land Restoration Fund.
With this focus on integrating farming practices as well as production and environmental datasets, we need to build systems not just individual solutions to enable successful participation in carbon farming and carbon markets, as highlighted by Rob de Ligt from The Mullion Group. For example, Mullion Group’s FlintPro system integrates different models as well as data sources to help businesses understand their own impacts and opportunities in the carbon space.
Finally, the rise of emissions reduction targets along supply chains and the development of the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosure have focused attention on the relative merits of insetting – retaining credits on farm or in supply chains to support low/zero carbon claims – compared to offsetting or selling these credits to companies outside the value chain. Whichever option farmers choose, as Naomi noted, there is no doubt that they “need to be thinking about how to prepare for a world that places much stronger importance on climate credentials.”
About the author
Dr Madeline Mitchell is the Science Lead of Food Agility's Carbon & Natural Capital Pillar. She is a plant scientist with broad interests in the social, economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture. While at CSIRO and the University of Cambridge, she collaborated with industry and community partners as well as diverse researchers to understand plant growth and to develop novel food, fuel and fibre crops for the benefit of farmers, consumers and the environment.
Dr Mitchell is a member of the Riverine Plains farming system group’s Research Advisory Council and a Director of Cambridge Australia Scholarships as well as Chair of their PhD selection committee. She is an advocate for gender equity, diversity and inclusion in STEM and an alumna of the global leadership initiative, Homeward Bound. Her skills in science communication have been recognised by an ACT Young Tall Poppy Award and selection in the Superstars of STEM program.