Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Soil Carbon Sequestration Benefits for Land Managers - a Possible Way Forward

Graziers practising best management principles may be missing-out financially under current arrangements, as they store additional carbon in their soil, according to NSW Central-West Catchment Management Authority soil carbon expert John Lawrie.

A recent Sustainable Grazing Forum speaker at Broken Hill, New South Wales, Mr Lawrie explained the potential of soil carbon credits for landholders.

He outlined five major best management principles to benefit soil carbon increases, which included increasing groundcover, increasing perennial plants, increasing biodiversity and decreasing soil disturbance and compaction.
"These principals will also help the CMAs to achieve one of its major goals, which is to improve the health of their soils," he said.

Management practices that might qualify included stock exclusion areas, conservative stocking rates, better distribution of water supplies, time control grazing strategies, rabbit ripping and baiting, goat trapping, contour furrowing, water spreading or ponding, and tyne pitting. These are well established practices used for improved land management.

Mr Lawrie said graziers should be rewarded for adopting best-management practices by accrediting them as carbon positive farmers and provide them with the opportunity to receive funding for storing additional carbon in their soil. "By providing accreditation to suitable graziers, this would be an ideal way to improve soil health across the catchment, meet catchment targets, and provide graziers with an opportunity to access external sources of incentive funding for soil health improvement," he said.

Farmers willing to participate would need to provide a farm plan, soil tests and evidence of adoption of the best management principles.

"The scheme would allow CMAs to be favourably positioned when any international greenhouse gas abatement scheme is proposed," Mr Lawrie said. "This program could provide the opportunity to charge brokers a fee for being an experienced and independent accreditation organisation."

Mr Lawrie was one of many experts on-hand during the three-day forum, attended by about 45 participants from NSW's Far West Division, and hosted by the Western CMA, with support from the Lower-Murray Darling CMA.

The system proposed does offer a way forward for pastoralists to be able to gain some benefit from any proposed carbon credit scheme, by developing and implementing carbon accumulation schems on land they manage. It would have application across much of the pastoral zone of Australia. Fire management was not mentioned, but that factor is critical.......reducing fire will definitely improve, or reduce emitted carbon. The current West Arnhem project has demonstrated a very successful management plan, which works --http://www.hreoc.gov.au/social_justice/nt_report/ntreport07/chapter12.html

BUT.....currently agriculture [as broadly defined] is excluded from the concepts around carbon management, as it seems to be unfolding in Australia. It would be critical to have agriculture involved as soil accumulation of carbon has enormous potential for carbon capture while improving soil. There is a range of scientific and technical literature supporting soil carbon capture, and this concept as outlined does seem to offer a sensible range of tasks and issues that could work.

[partially sourced from media reports on the conference]

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