Stewardship reward could break deadlock

Native veg, carbon and climate change


Editorial
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Littleproud's stewardship program potentially has a lot to offer both sides in the carbon, native vegetation and farming camps.

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Australia's national soil advocate, chair of Soils For Life and former Governor General, Major General Michael Jeffery, said this week that the Four Corners Monday night program on climate change "neglected an important element in the debate about solutions to Australia's annual emissions of 550 million tonnes of CO2".

Frustrated that the focus remained on curbing emissions, he pointed out the program ignored that "Australia's soils represented our largest carbon sink".

At ground level soil carbon goes hand-in-hand with rainfall capture and therefore erosion and resilience from dry seasons, as well as biodiversity and drought - all of which are critical conversations right now, but all being talked about in isolation.

This includes Labor's policy announcement of rolling out Queensland's native vegetation and biodiversity rules Australia-wide. 

However, shouldn't this discussion also include the carbon capture, productivity and biodiversity potential of these systems?

By just locking up country and leaving it, we will continue to miss opportunities to be more effective at capturing carbon while also generating new income streams.

Everything Labor does in this space devalues vegetation and makes it a hindrance, rather than something of a benefit that can be managed for the good of all.

This approach also excludes farmers and land holders as effective participants, who are instead held to ransom.

The $30 million pilot Agriculture Biodiversity Stewardship Program announced my federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud last month is a more attractive option because it puts a monetary value on the vegetation, plus it presents a system that is about more than just locking up scrub.

As a stewardship program, it has the potential to also take into account things like soil carbon and biodiversity - factors which are neither recognised nor rewarded under native vegetation legislation, but are important for both a productive farm and healthy ecosystem.

The rush of Australian farmers on the Southern Cross University's Environmental Analysis Laboratory in February for free soil carbon testing that crashed its systems is a good example of the growing interest among farmers.

However, they need the right legislation in place to develop this, and that isn't going to come from Labor.

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