Angus beef and merino wool farmer Fiona Conroy aims to be carbon-neutral even as she doubles stock levels, but is wary of carbon credits. Carbon accounting will be part of farming in the future, but what will be required is a work in progress, and that brings risk, Ms Conroy tells an agriculture industry conference in Canberra. “I’d rather die than sell carbon credits, I’m very, very wary,” she says. “We need those credits within our business.” Ms Conroy urges farmers to start by knowing their emissions profile and to use science to understand the potential of storing carbon in the soil and trees. Most know their yield, stock levels and soil characteristics, but don’t have carbon literacy, she tells the final session of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) conference. She has been managing the mixed farming enterprise for 30 years in Victoria with her husband, agronomist Cam Nicholson - since their wedding day. For them, soil carbon is about growing pasture and productivity. The angus herd and fine-wool merino flock is run with a strong environmental and scientific focus on the 400ha farm on the Bellarine Peninsula near Geelong. “We’re nerds when it comes to data,” Ms Conroy says. The couple have extensive science-based records on soils, pastures, productivity and livestock performance, but carbon and biodiversity are also front of mind, with 10 per cent of the farm put under trees. “We’ve got better shade and shelter, better animal welfare, and better lamb survival,” Ms Conroy says. “We’ve got this carbon bank, but we’ve got a much nicer environment for people to work in as well.” However, upping the stock levels also increases emissions. Some 97 per cent of their emissions come from livestock, and 88 per cent of those emissions are methane. “There’s not much we can do about it, because we want to run lots of livestock,” Ms Conroy says. “The tricky thing is that the goalposts keep moving,” she adds, referring to changes in international assessments of emissions. The global warming potential of methane compared with other greenhouse gases has been revised upwards, which affects claims about being carbon-neutral. The farm also supplies a feedlot trialling edible and low-cost seaweed, asparagopsis, as a feed ingredient proven to slash methane emissions. Troy Setter, CEO of the Consolidated Pastoral Company, says cutting diesel emissions has been their big focus. He expects feedlots to be able to cut emissions over the next five to 10 years, but says pasture is the longer-term challenge. Ms Conroy agrees, saying low-emission technology needed for grazing pastures isn’t here yet. She says climate change will affect carbon farming, as trees grow less in dry years and soil carbon breaks down. “If we get drier and drier climates, we’re going to reduce our ability to sequester carbon,” Ms Conroy says. She urges farmers to know what they are signing up for in the carbon market. “I’m almost 60. I don’t want to be dumping something on my kids that commits them to managing that paddock for someone else for the next 25 years,” Ms Conroy says. “That paddock might have become more profitable for cropping, or new technology may emerge to support low-emission meat and wool. “We need to get reliable, credible information without vested interest, in an easy-to-understand format.” Alexandra Gartmann, chair of the Victorian Agriculture and Climate Change Council, says there is a role for government in carbon literacy and showing what’s available. “Many of the technology solutions are not there as yet, but adaptation options are,” she says. Elizabeth Rose, from consultancy EY, says the national safeguard mechanism, using technology and carbon offsets to cut emissions, brings another income stream for farmers. “With an estimated carbon price around $75, there’s a fairly good margin to potentially be made through these types of activities,” she says. Agriculture is also a sector that holds knowledge to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss. “Climate change is obviously a high-stakes game for our farmers, being the businesspeople who are most impacted by the physical impacts of climate change,” Ms Rose says. This includes extreme temperatures, droughts, changes in rainfall patterns, storms and cyclones. “There is no such thing as a zero-emissions agricultural sector, and we definitely have to continue to provide high-level, high-value food and fibre to the global market,” Ms Rose says. But she says there will also be a key role to play in decarbonisation. “Decarbonisation is something that the agriculture industry can achieve, and it is practical,” Ms Rose says. In the meantime, heavy industries are looking to the land sector to generate offsets for hard-to-abate industrial emissions. “That creates an opportunity to participate in carbon markets, to be selling those carbon credits to the heavy hitters who are going to need them for compliance reasons,” Ms Rose says. Farmers can’t claim carbon neutrality and sell it off as offsets, but they can make portfolio decisions to do a bit a both. “Carbon credits that don’t just deliver high-integrity emissions reductions but also environmental and social co-benefits are commanding a premium,” Ms Rose says. “So there’s definitely an opportunity for the sector to be creating those high-value credits and getting an additional benefit.” But Mr Setter says the federal regulator needs improvement - in deadlines set for carbon farming methods, and the quality of data - to support low-emission agriculture.