The Chronicle

Soil carbon solution

New tests on how to accurately measure soil carbon have opened the way for farmers and suburban backyard owners to help the planet.


AUSTRALIAN­S mowing their lawns could be the secret weapon in the quest for net zero, with a farming pioneer saying that cutting carbon emissions is literally as easy as watching grass grow.

Agricultur­al guru Terry McCosker has just received a groundbrea­king revelation of how much carbon can be captured in soil which proves both farmers and suburban householde­rs can physically pull carbon out of the air with a few neat tricks for their turf.

For those of us slaving in the burbs, instead of on the land, the solution is almost too easy.

“Mow that lawn longer, don’t shave it,” Mr McCosker said.

“Let it grow up to, and keep it, a couple of inches long rather than half an inch long. That will put more carbon into the soil.”

For 20 years Mr McCosker has been trying to figure out the best way to work grazing properties so that they absorb as much carbon as possible and also produce the best outcomes for stock – plus plenty of cash for carbon credits.

Now the results have blown even his wildest expectatio­ns. Quadruple his expectatio­ns, to be precise.

“We’ve now worked out how to measure soil carbon accurately – much more accurately than we could even a year ago – and at a lower cost,” he said,

“We’ve done a trial on a place we measured in 2016 and measured again last year and it’s taken us a long time to be able to work out what the change in soil carbon is. But it’s averaged four tonnes of carbon per hectare per annum. That, we still think, is nearly too good to be true. It’s four times what we thought we’d be able to do. And that was including two years of drought.”

The preliminar­y findings of research conducted by Mr McCosker’s company Carbon Link are a potential game-changer for Australia’s all-important agricultur­al sector, which is now beholden to demands by industry powerhouse­s from McDonald’s to McCain’s for sustainabl­e and renewable produce.

“There will be a time in the future where if farmers are not producing regenerati­vely, or at the minimum sustainabl­y, they won’t be able to sell their products. And if they’re not doing it renewably or regenerati­vely they won’t be able to finance what they’re doing,” Mr McCosker said.

“That shift is accelerati­ng like I’ve never seen in this year alone. It’s amazing.” And it is the big players and their consumers who are driving the change.

“So you have an organisati­on like McCain’s, whose head office has come out and said by 2030 we want to be buying all our potatoes from regenerati­vely produced farms.

“You have the big restaurant chains like McDonald’s requiring basic guarantees of sustainabl­e production systems, otherwise they won’t buy the product. There’s more and more of that happening.”

As for the rest of us weekend warriors, Mr McCosker has some simple gardening advice. “Have more greenery, more lawn and less concrete,” he says. “Go and plant a few fruit trees in the backyard – they’re also going to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.”

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