‘Flaw’ in the logic — WA grain growers capture more carbon than they emit, despite label as major emitters

Email Shannon Verhagen
The area around Esperance is experiencing a fantastic year for crops thanks in part to a huge amount of rainfall which is in stark contrast to areas up north around Geraldton. Pictured is local farmer Mic Fels in a crop of Barley on his farm in Wittenoon Hills east of Esperance.
Camera IconThe area around Esperance is experiencing a fantastic year for crops thanks in part to a huge amount of rainfall which is in stark contrast to areas up north around Geraldton. Pictured is local farmer Mic Fels in a crop of Barley on his farm in Wittenoon Hills east of Esperance. Credit: The Sunday Times, - Justin Benson-Cooper. The Sunday Times

Farmers have slammed the naming of agriculture as a major cause of global warning in a damning new climate report released this week, claiming the industry’s contribution to reaching green targets and its role capturing carbon has been overlooked.

Agriculture industry leaders say Australia has some of the “most progressive” growers in the world and other sectors needed to “step up”.

In it’s Sixth Assessment Report handed down this week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated it was “unequivocal” that human influence had warmed the atmosphere, leading to climate extremes “in every region across the globe”.

It could lead to a 2°C increase in Australia as early as 2050, creating extreme heat which would “exceed critical thresholds” for agriculture and increase droughts.

Agriculture was listed as one of the top three sectors contributing to warming, behind fossil fuel production and distribution, with waste management third.

WAFarmers grains section president Mic Fels said there was a “flaw” in the logic, and a distinction between geological and biotic carbon needed to be made.

“Geological carbon has been sitting stable in the ground for 100 million years, then with fossil fuels they dig it up and release it — that’s new carbon,” he said.

“Biotic carbon, we take it out of the atmosphere and put it back into the ground when we grow crops.

“Farmers are capturing CO2. We do use some geological carbon to do that, but we are one of the few sectors working to reduce that. And the fossil fuel emissions related to agriculture are pretty much completely used in extracting CO2 from the atmosphere.”

He is calling for Grains Research and Development Corporation and CSIRO to include carbon captured by grain growers in calculations.

“We capture seven times the amount of carbon than we emit,” Mr Fels said.

“Every year, Australia’s grains industry actually captures the same amount of carbon as the total emissions of Australia’s economy.

“It’s incredibly important for the integrity in this discussion that the carbon captured in counted.”

National Farmers Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said while farmers would play a role in reducing emissions, other parts of the economy needed to step up.

“Farmers made a significant contribution to over achieving Kyoto targets, and we didn’t get any compensation for doing so,” he said.

Mr Mahar said the NFF supported an economy-wide net carbon neutral 2050 target with two important caveats — an economic pathway was determined and farmers were not “burdened by unnecessary red tape”.

“Farmers are on the frontline of climate change,” he said. “They are also the lifeblood of our rural communities and a powerhouse of the national economy.

“Agriculture is committed to continuing to be part of Australia’s climate change solution. It’s essential farmers are assured of the economic sense of any national policy solutions and that, as with all industries, the sector is is given adequate time to transition.

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