Carbon venture marks new era

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Peter MilneCountryman
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Pastoralist David McQuie on Bulga Downs Station 340km north-west of Kalgoorlie.
Camera IconPastoralist David McQuie on Bulga Downs Station 340km north-west of Kalgoorlie. Credit: Victoria McQuie

David McQuie’s 647,497ha Bulga Downs cattle station will soon add carbon farming revenue to its bottom line as one of 13 WA pastoral projects set to produce $45 million worth of carbon credits.

The Sandstone station, 340km north-west of Kalgoorlie, will be paid for increasing vegetation that absorbs carbon dioxide, as well as for its beef cattle, after its success in the recent Emissions Reduction Fund reverse auction.

Mr McQuie said the two income streams were compatible because the cattle would enjoy the grass and shrubs, and the trees would soak up the carbon.

Bulga Downs partnered with Australian Integrated Carbon Financial Services to clinch the 50-year deal recently.

AIC director Tim Moore said the agreement with the Clean Energy Regulator kickstarted an initial 25-year crediting period when income from revegetation to store carbon is received.

As part of the agreement, vegetation has to be maintained and protected from fire for a further 25-year permanence period during which no payment is received.

AIC aggregates properties into carbon deals and monitors the vegetation with satellite remote sensing and on-site inspections. After an independent audit carbon credits are issued that can be sold in Australia or internationally.

Bulga Downs has not sold all its carbon credits to the Emissions Reduction Fund. Others will be sold on the open market and some kept in reserve to meet contract commitments for carbon storage after fires or dry years.

Mr McQuie estimated that up to 20 per cent of his station would earn him more if cattle were excluded permanently.

Stocking of the rest of the land would be managed to balance cattle production and tree growth. “I have a philosophy that if cattle are eating the trees, it’s too late, they should have come out 12 months ago,” he said.

He said the scheme would be a massive boost to borderline pastoral businesses that can now be rewarded for giving their county a long-term break.

Mr McQuie has been improving the vegetation on his station for years by fencing areas according to the type of country and spelling at least a third of the property at one time.

The station uses total grazing management yards that surround strategically placed water points with fencing and controlled entrances and exits.

In an area without big rivers as an alternative water source, the yards help control feral animals and allow three people to muster the station in four weeks.

Dr Moore said Bulga Downs would not receive any credit for revegetation before the auction but even the best rangelands properties were a long way from historical vegetation levels so had significant carbon farming potential.

Mr McQuie said carbon credits had to be managed like any other commodity a farmer produced.

“If you want to be serious and long-term about this you have to be able to cover the lows as well as the highs,” he said.

“We’re all taking a little bit of a jump in the dark ... but the world's governments are legislating that big carbon emitters have to be able to offset the carbon ... it will only go forwards.”

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