Field days help clear confusion

Rebecca TurnerCountryman

The introduction of the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) in March has created more questions than answers for many WA farmers.

Last week, they were able to voice their questions at carbon farming field days in Geraldton and Moora.

Mullewa farmer Euan Beamort said it was important to keep an open mind to the opportunities being made available through the CFI.

“I want producers to understand carbon,” he said. “If we can understand it, we can manage it. For example, I want producers to know how much carbon they use to put in an acre of crop.”

Mr Beamort said the CFI provided farmers with an opportunity to get paid for looking after the environment. He said being involved in reducing carbon emissions was not only about growing trees.

“The CFI is about how we can do a better job at farming while reducing emissions,” he said.

“About 70 per cent of agricultural emissions are caused by livestock. Manure management in the form of capturing methane and converting it to bio-energy is one way to manage emissions.”

Reducing fertiliser emissions or increasing carbon sequestration in agricultural soils could also earn carbon credits through the CFI.

Mr Beamort said CFI projects fell into two categories — storing carbon or reducing carbon emissions.

He said no-till cropping would have been a great project that demonstrated reduced carbon emissions. However, because it was “business as usual” for most farmers, he said it could be used to earn carbon credits through the CFI.

“Any offset project needs to be additional to business as usual,” Mr Beamort said. “Any project must also demonstrate permanence.”

Mr Beamort said all CFI projects would go before the Domestic Offset Integrity Committee (DOIC) to determine if their predicted offsets were legitimate.

Approval by the DOIC would be required at the starting period of any project.

Australian Carbon Traders managing director Ben Keogh said carbon trading was happening on a global scale.

Mr Keogh said the current debate in Australia over introducing a carbon tax was “bizarre”.

“In 2009, Reuters reported the voluntary carbon market was valued at $136 billion. By 2020, if the United States becomes involved, the market will be worth $2 trillion,” he said.

“Large companies (investing in carbon credits) are going through a bit of a trial phase that is strongly tied to marketing campaigns.”

Mr Keogh stressed that the CFI was separate and voluntary to a carbon tax, but believed it could assist farmers who were open about incorporating it into their current property management.

“The CFI is about setting up a framework that unlocks the creativity of landholders,” Mr Keogh said.

“Farmers need to get their carbon glasses on, because there may be real opportunities.”

Mr Keogh said carbon assets were either in the form of sources or sinks, with projects producing carbon credits that were accepted globally being in greater demand.

These projects included reforestation, manure management, fertiliser management, avoided deforestation and livestock emission mitigation.

He said most landholders would not find managing their own projects and resulting carbon credits difficult.

Another option was carbon pooling where a company sets up a project on a farmer’s land for which they are paid, either as rent or a percentage of the carbon credits created while the project is in operation.

Mr Keogh said farmers needed a great deal of capital to invest up front, which made it important to view carbon farming as part of their business and long-term management objectives.

“Carbon farming needs to be incorporated into the whole farm plan. You need to identify the long-term risk and obligations and what limitations to farm management the project might incur,” he said.

“Consider whether you may need insurance for the potential loss of carbon, what your contractual obligations may be or the effect the project could have on property price.”

Mr Keogh said farmers should seek independent legal advice before signing contracts to supply carbon.

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