Farming carbon - it's here

Farming carbon - it's here


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Amid the wreckage of other greenhouse gas abatement plans, the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) has passed through Parliament and looks secure as any legislation can.

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Amid the wreckage of other greenhouse gas abatement plans, the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) has passed through Parliament and looks secure as any legislation can.

With bipartisan support - the Coalition has said that should it gain power, it will make modifications to the scheme, but not throw it out - the CFI is a platform with the potential to deliver a new source of income to landholders.

How that potential will be realised is still uncertain, as the National Farmers Federation noted in its acknowledgement of the legislation.

“We have long said that voluntary, market based mechanisms, using a carrot rather than a stick approach to carbon abatement, is the best way to engage with farmers in this challenge," said NFF president, Jock Laurie.

"The CFI fits this description."

“The NFF has also been consistent in saying that Australian farmers are under no illusions that the CFI will transform farm income, especially not in the short- to medium-term."

“However, with a continued focus on productivity-based research and the development of methodologies underpinning abatement projects, we hope that the CFI can mature to draw a meaningful contribution to Australia’s carbon mitigation effort.”

How landholders will engage with the CFI depends on the range of government-approved methodologies, which lay out guidelines for various methods of greenhouse gas abatement. Any abatement activity under the CFI must comply with an approved methodology.

Under current consideration are methodologies for savanna burning, capture of landfill gas, feral camel management, piggery manure management and environmental plantings.

"The real Hallelulja moment for those who believe farmers should be paid to restore the nation's soils to health will come when a methodology is approved for soil carbon," said Michael Kiely of Carbon Farmers of Australia.

"That should be soon. Carbon Farmers of Australia is 'sponsoring' a soil carbon methodology which will be submitted in a matter of days."

"Then we will see if those scientists cautioning farmers not to expect to increase their soil carbon levels much are right or are they like the experts who predicted that Columbus would sail off the end of the Earth because it was flat. They could only say that because they hadn't been there."

Other methodologies related to soil carbon are understood to be in the planning stage.

Ben Keogh of Australian Carbon Traders, one of the few carbon trader survivors of the policy backflips of the past few years, said bi-partisan support for the legislation gave it a solidity that has been missing from past efforts at creating a carbon trading platform.

That is reflected in a strong surge of interest in tree-based sequestration, Mr Keogh said, coming from "some big operators".

However, he warns landholders to beware "carbon sharks" who might pressure them to quickly sign up for long-term deals that prove to be of little value.

The carbon market and its business models are still in the process of being formed, Mr Keogh said, and the accounting framework for the CFI is still a couple of months away from being established.

Until landholders have a clear idea of the different business models on the table, and an understanding of what they want to gain from carbon sequestration on their land, Mr Keogh suggests they keep their hands in their pockets.

Ultimately, he believes, the CFI will prove to be a unique opportunity to diversify farm income streams.

"Just don't, on any account, sign up with the first offer that comes your way," Mr Keogh urged.

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