Carbon Farming and Net Zero

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There is a lot happening in the agriculture industry in the aftermath of COP26 and Australian Government Net Zero 2050 announcements. Industry is moving towards a Net Zero emissions target by 2030 and there are pressures from global markets and financiers for emissions accountability. 

Holbrook Landcare’s role in this space is:

  • Being a  provider of objective information on the topic
  • Identifying and acting on the research needs, demos and trials that are needed to get producers on the path to CN
  • Contributing to improving the adoptability of technology and innovations that contribute to CN
  • Awareness raising, extension and facilitating ‘first step’ assessments for producers

 

Agriculture is responsible for 16% of Australia’s GHG emissions, with livestock and agricultural soils being the largest sources of the potent GHGs methane and nitrous oxide.

Agriculture contributes to GHG emissions through:

  • Cultivating soils can increase the breakdown of soil organic matter, resulting in higher emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
  • Applying nitrogen fertiliser results in emissions of nitrous oxide, a strong GHG; while alternatively growing legumes can assist with storing both atmospheric nitrogen and carbon in the soil.
  • Grazing livestock releases emissions of methane from rumen digestion, and both methane and nitrous oxide from manure.

Our agricultural landscape also has the ability to capture and store carbon by:

  • Planting trees which store carbon dioxide through growth. Carbon is stored in the living parts of plants (stems, branches, leaves & roots), in leaf litter, woody debris and in soil organic matter.
  • Increasing soil organic carbon not only removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but it improves soil health. Although there is a limit on the amount of organic carbon that can be stored in soils, the large losses in the past means that many Australian agricultural soils have the potential for large increases. Many management practices that are effective in increasing soil organic carbon are also effective in improving crop and pasture yields.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Fact Sheet Series:

The ERF will support Australian landholders and farmers to take practical, direct action to reduce emissions and improve the environment. Through the ERF, the Government can purchase carbon credits (ACCUs), providing incentives for landholders to proactively reduce their GHG emissions by adopting new carbon farming practices on farm.

To participate in the ERF you must develop a project that follows the rules set out in an approved method, to measure the abatement it delivers. Projects are awarded one ACCU for each tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent of sequestered carbon or avoided emissions.

For more information on approved methods and how to participate visit the Clean Energy Regulator website www.cleanenergyregulator.gov.au

In the aftermath of COP26 and Australian Government Net Zero 2050 announcement, there is a lot in the media about the role of agriculture and the move towards CN30 championed by MLA.

The carbon and environmental accounting space is very busy and confusing at the moment. Some HLN members have recently been through a Carbon assessment as part of a Landcare Farming Project, and some have been introduced to a method of biodiversity accounting – Accounting for Nature that is in early development.

Here is what we have learned from the 10 enterprises so far:

  • Being a high rainfall, highly productive region with med-high stocking rates, most enterprises will have a net positive emissions account
  • Current recommendations for lowering emissions are already being implemented widely in our region:
    • practices related to efficiencies in herd management, including lowering intensity of emissions by lowering weaning age, turning off stock quickly, culling unproductive stock etc
    • Practices relating to improving soil carbon like implementing rotational grazing and maximizing groundcover
  • The ‘magic bullet’ of feed supplements to reduce emissions are not yet commercial but may contribute down the track
  • For the same reasons as emissions are high, vegetation is the most effective tool to ‘offset’ those emissions with sequestration. However, the type and age of vegetation on a farm does matter and the opportunity for vegetation needs to be balanced with production goals.

See the Summary report for the ten producers here

Next steps

For Carbon, there are a number of online tools that can help you get an overall picture of your emissions profile. The one we have most experience in so far for livestock producers, is the University of Melbourne’s “Greenhouse Accounting Frameworks (GAF).” Note there are several tools designed for different enterprises which can be found at: https://www.piccc.org.au/resources/Tools

Carbon Neutral Accreditation

After an initial assessment using the tools mentioned, there are  few pathways for farmers to ‘accredit’ as Carbon Neutral at the moment, but they will develop. The Australian Government certification method which can be seen at: https://www.climateactive.org.au/be-climate-active/certification

There are opportunities through private commercial providers too – it’s unclear of the actual methods and systems for some of them, but generally they relate back to the Australian Government standard. They may be brokers who offer “carbon neutral’ but are really wanting to buy credits you may generate.  Its very likely that there will be other mechanisms available in the near future as industry invests in it.

If you are looking to produce carbon credits, through the establishment of a carbon project on farm, then that is a different thing and another set of pathways again. You must baseline according to the relevant methodology before you undertake the works.

It is worth mentioning that some producers that have gone down a carbon neutral pathway are not necessarily carbon neutral through their own practice changes – some of them are buying carbon credits from elsewhere for their account as they transition their enterprises. So don’t beat yourself up!

Our key message to producers at the moment is:

  1. Consider investing in a preliminary assessment (hopefully Landcare may be able to help you with that soon). Benchmarking yourself now before any changes to your enterprise are considered is recommended.

 

  1. Once you know where you sit, to take it any further, you need to think about the longer-term goals for your business.

For example, are you thinking of Carbon as a future income stream? Do you just want to know your status for your own peace of mind and to contribute to the industry target?  Are you likely to need to be meeting a requirement for marketing accreditation?   The pathways forward will be different depending on what you want to do.

 

  1. Recognize that there will be a myriad of new tools and programs coming online in the next few years. Early adopters lead the way and may realize some early (maybe bigger?) benefits from that, but if that’s not your appetite it is unlikely that you will miss out completely by waiting for the situation to be clearer.

 

What Holbrook Landcare Network is doing

We are looking at organising some training for using the Greenhouse Accounting Framework tools in the new year and if this is something that interests you, please get in touch.

 More information about carbon accounting and getting started can be found at:

https://www.mla.com.au/news-and-events/industry-news/creating-a-carbon-account-for-your-business/#

The Farmers for Climate Action ran a webinar recently and the second speaker provided a really clear and succinct summary for what this means for farmers – recommend a watch.

https://youtu.be/Fq_DRWMJxg0

Everyone can make a contribution to reducing GHG emissions through the management choices they make. For individual farm businesses there is a two-stage process involved when embarking on an assessment of a farm’s carbon footprint:

  1. Estimate what your emissions are (it is recommended you use a GHG emissions calculator)
  2. Investigate opportunities to reduce and/or offset those emissions

HLN carried out on-farm GHG snapshots on eight farming properties across the Holbrook region, with the aim of establishing a GHG emissions baseline for each farm business.

The case studies were developed using the Greenhouse Gas Accounting Framework (GAF) calculator for Australian Dairy, Sheep, Beef or Grains farms. The calculator was developed by the University of Melbourne and uses the Australian National Greenhouse Gas Inventory method to estimate the source and scale or GHG emissions from agricultural enterprises. The calculator was used to determine the current GHG emissions on the property and scenarios were modelled to determine emission reduction options.

The three gases carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) were accounted for and expressed as tonnes of CO2 equivalent (t CO2-e). Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e) is a term for describing different GHGs in a common unit, with regards to their global warming potential. For any quantity and type of GHG, CO2-e signifies the amount of CO2 which would have the equivalent global warming impact.

These three gases are emitted in the normal course of agricultural production, including livestock enteric fermentation, wastes, diesel machinery and fertilisers. Importantly the amount produced is influenced by farm management decisions.

HLN is currently updating the Case Studies and factsheets produced under the Carbon farming for Your Business Project to include revisions of the calculator.

Revised information will be available soon.

Carbon Videos