The Land

Let the era of Carbon Farming commence

Lorraine Gordon is Southern Cross University's Director of Strategic Projects and the Program Director at the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance as well as the Farm Co-operatives and Collaboration Program.

This is sponsored content for Regenerative Agriculture Alliance.

"Farmers who continue to cultivate soil rather than use no till, will perish," a quote from Andrew Trotter, Latevo Famers Mutual.

Interesting comment coming from an insurance firm, so what does this mean for farmers? The time has arrived where both financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies will value a property or base the insurance premiums on how it stacks up under climate change.

The challenges ahead are enormous, however, at the same time, exciting. How do we put a value on our natural assets? It won't be long before those farmers who have invested in their landscape's environmental assets will see those assets sitting on the balance sheet of their farm.

In fact, already we are seeing properties with tree belts, fenced off waterways, mixed pastures of both improved and native species attracting a premium in the market place. Welcome to a new area of agriculture. Welcome to the era of carbon farmers.

I highly recommend the Australian Farm Institute's Changes in the air; defining the need for an Australian agricultural climate change strategy report supported by Farmers for Climate Action as very considered and well-presented.

According to the report, what is needed is "a successful natural strategy for climate change and Australian Agriculture must be underpinned by research development and extension to enable systematic adaption and identify the priority gaps where action and strategic policy are needed."

In other words we need a triple bottom line approach around the following actions: Strong research, development and extension, a transition to clean energy and to invest in the capture and storage of carbon.

If the recommendations of this report are taken up by our leaders and decision makers, we have a chance not only to save our landscapes but deliver real returns to farmers. So far what has been the norm is reactive policy rather than pro-active policy, working in silos rather than working collaboratively, having an internal focus rather than an external focus.

This mindset has not served us well and is greatly responsible for where we have landed. The sustainability ship has sailed, we are now responsible for repairing/regenerating for the benefit of future generations.

As Peter Mailler of "Sittara" Goondiwindi so aptly put it: "This conversation around productivity is shortening our natural capital - we will end up crashing the system".

From my point of view, consider it crashed! From the financial institutions point of view, climate change is increasing their risk and threatens their own balance sheets.

The work being undertaken by the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance based out of Southern Cross University is focusing on measuring carbon techniques, natural capital accounting and what is referred to as co-benefits through a collaborative approach with other organisations and researchers.

This is an exciting space for farmers and the Alliance coupled with the Farming Together capacity, is focused on assisting them to get there. NFF's Tony Mahar comments that "Farmers are at ground zero in regards to dealing with extreme weather events and climate change."

I'm not sure how we put a value on the likes of clean water, fresh air and quality food from healthy soils and landscapes, but together with the Alliance and NFF, I'm keen to make a start.

So the situation as I see it is as follows: whilst agriculture is responsible for 13 per cent of global emissions, it will be 100 per cent of the solution.

Baselining carbon isn't an exact science and it doesn't come cheap. An effective government strategy would have to be to pay farmers to do the initial baseline measurements or at least cover the cost until the farmers start to receive an income from carbon trading in the future (a bit like a HECS loan).

Overnight we could see real impact in the carbon capturing space and instil hope for our farmer's futures through being a market for offsets for the big polluters.

Let the era of Carbon Farming commence, let the economics drive that change for the benefit of our planet and future generations.

No one will play a more important role in the future in addressing climate change then farmers.

If two-thirds of the non-frozen planet is in the hands of farmers according to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature's (WWF's) Ian McConnel, it will be farmers that will save the day.

Finally, congratulations to both Meat and Livestock Australia and the NFF for signing up to carbon neutral beef by 2030. Given we waste 40 per cent of the food we produce - creating a shocking equity issue around the planet - we have much work to do, so let's get cracking.

Lorraine Gordon is Southern Cross University's Director of Strategic Projects and the Program Director at the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance as well as the Farm Co-operatives and Collaboration Program. She is also Associate Director at SCU's Centre for Organics Research.