The Chronicle

How Australian farmers reduce emissions, produce theworld’s best beef and make carbon pay at the same time

Aussies have been learning about carbon emissions since a federal Government ‘Carbon Farming Initiative’ was introduced back in 2011, writes Alasdair MacLeod

- Alasdair MacLeod is founder of private investment company Macdoch and carbon farmer.

AUSTRALIAN farmers are the best in the world. They are known globally for their hard work, innovation, and ability to adapt to produce the world’s best food. And they are generating $50-$60 billion in annual exports.

What you mightn’t know is that some Aussie farmers are, at the same time, leaders in finding solutions to climate change by capturing and storing carbon in the soil – putting us on a path to net zero.

And they’re doing this now, on the frontline of climate change, through bushfires and droughts.

Unexpected­ly, this is thanks, in part, to initiative­s from the Commonweal­th Government. It was Canberra that led on this back in 2011 by offering financial incentives to farmers who would innovate ways to store carbon. Back then it was one of the most comprehens­ive offset schemes of its type in the world. Most of the schemes that were introduced under Canberra’s so called Carbon Farming Initiative involved farmers locking up paddocks and growing trees and shrubs to capture carbon.

These schemes have come under attack for taking away productive farmland and reducing farm income from traditiona­l commoditie­s, such as beef or wool. But the Carbon Farming Initiative also allowed for ‘soil carbon’ projects. And thanks to a handful of innovative Australian technology companies devising ways to measure soil carbon, farmers were given access to these schemes which allowed them to earn additional income on land that continued to be farmed productive­ly.

One of these innovative Australian technology companies, CarbonLink, is about to reveal the first results from their early soil carbon farming projects. I’m told the results will reveal some very encouragin­g signs for how we can make use of agricultur­al soils as a

significan­t carbon sink. In addition to these Government-sponsored schemes, other markets are emerging which will allow private companies to buy carbon offsets from farmers who can demonstrat­e they are growing carbon in their soil.

Our farm business, Wilmot Cattle Company, demonstrat­ed how to do this earlier this year by selling a soil carbon credit to world technology leader, Microsoft, who had just embarked on an ambitious carbon offsetting program.

Yes, it’s true; cattle farming really can help reduce carbon emissions! So, all of you who have been told that you can no longer enjoy a good steak on your barbecue can think again.

It’s a win-win. Soil carbon farming can increase the profitabil­ity of the farm’s core business – crops, dairy, or livestock – and allow the farmer to earn extra income from selling offsets, while, at the same time reducing net emissions and helping combat climate change.

Many large Australian companies are now working hard on how to offset their carbon footprints, so I can see many more opportunit­ies for farmers to benefit by growing carbon as part of their day-to-day farming operations and selling this carbon on one of the carbon markets that will emerge alongside the Government’s existing carbon fund.

But this way of farming is not widely understood. Importantl­y, there is little informatio­n which links carbon farming with overall profitabil­ity of farms. To encourage the wider uptake of farming that places a greater emphasis on the improvemen­t of soil carbon and other natural resources, the Macdoch Foundation has initiated a program designed in collaborat­ion with producers, farm advisers, industry bodies and the food supply chain, called Farming for The Future.

Its aim is to find practical ways to help farmers incorporat­e the value and condition of their natural resources (or natural capital) to help them make better-informed farm management decisions. All of these initiative­s will help ensure that our farmers can remain productive and profitable, while, at the same time, helping Australia meet its climate change targets.

And I will be at the climate change conference in Glasgow next month to tell global leaders how Australian ingenuity and hard work is making this happen.

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