Group puts carbon trading on agenda

Claire TyrrellCountryman

Carbon sequestration and input efficiencies were key topics at the Liebe Group 2011 trials review day.

Held in Buntine on February 13, the day attracted about 30 growers and industry representatives.

Australian Carbon Traders managing director Ben Keogh addressed the audience about the realities of carbon trading.

Mr Keogh spoke about the ways farmers could capitalise on the Federal Government's Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI).

"The Government is looking to source 52 million tonnes of carbon over the next three years from the CFI," he said.

Mr Keogh said by 2015 the amount of carbon sourced from the CFI would be uncapped. He said farmers could create carbon credits through carbon 'sources' or 'sinks'.

Ways to generate credits through carbon sources include reduced fertiliser use or crop residue management. Carbon sinks include vegetated land or carbon accumulated in the soil.

Mr Keogh said some sequestration measures were not deemed Kyoto Protocol-compliant, such as soil carbon.

He said farmers could still receive money for sequestering carbon in their soils, but it was an uncertain market at this stage.

He reminded farmers to not replace food production with the accumulation of carbon credits.

"The benefits of farming on prime agricultural land will always outweigh the benefits of carbon sequestration," he said.

Mr Keogh also spoke about the heavy administrative burden that Government-approved carbon sequestration activities carried.

He said with all the approvals required, it could take landholders up to 60 months before they could begin carbon trading.

"It is not a get rich quick scheme," he said.

"Food and fibre production are always going to be valuable. Carbon farming is an alternative land use and should be a complementary activity."

He said the potential to create carbon credits varied greatly across the State, with growers in southern areas more likely to generate profits.

Mr Keogh quantified the amount of carbon credits farmers could generate through various activities.

He said permanent environmental plantations could generate about $20 per hectare per year and mallee plantations could make up to $300/ha/year. He said numbers were still being crunched on soil carbon, but farmers could potentially earn $10/ha/year from this practice.

"You have to make sure the management burden does not exceed the carbon benefit," Mr Keogh said.

Trials covered on the day included the use of tillage to overcome non-wetting soils, the use of variable rate technology and the link between soil biology and carbon.

Department of Agriculture and Food WA research officer Stephen Davies spoke about the benefits of mouldboard plough and claying for water use efficiency.

"Changing your seeding system can have a dramatic effect on your outcome," he said.

He said farmers with non-wetting soils in Mullewa achieved a 700kg/ha yield increase on wheat by using a mouldboard plough at seeding.

Mr Davies also spoke about the benefits of adding clay to the soil and switching from knife points to discs.

CSBP Dalwallinu area manager Luke Dawson spoke about the benefits of breaking down farms into zones according to their productivity.

CSBP trials conducted in the Buntine area last year showed a saving of $12.46/ha across the farm by adapting fertiliser rates for different areas.

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