A two-day deep dive into the intricacies of carbon sequestration, and proven profits to be made in livestock production while building biodiversity, inspired more than 300 mostly farmers at the Maia Grazing field days held at Wilmot, Hernani last week.
The how-to of creating a more resilient farm was explained, and land managers in attendance were given a clear insight into how badly the corporate world wants Australian Carbon Credit Units, or ACCUs, rigorously verified and managed.
The best news for farmers was the numerical proof of increased livestock growing capacity as part of a program of management that allows for the growth of all things.
This was the fourth annual event held by Maia Grazing, whose paddock prediction and management program was developed on Wilmot properties, and in that time the carbon market has grown beyond all prediction.
Right now a tonne of atmospheric carbon sits at $AUS60 for the rigorously proven Australian product, up from $16 a year ago. Proponents of carbon marketing CarbonLink say the return to the landholder is about $50/ha after expenses, with one tonne of soil carbon equal to 3.66t atmospheric carbon.
Of more relevance to the farmer is the figure of $100/ha improvement in beef production when management allows rested paddocks and mob grazing, with the impact of animals keeping vegetation in its green growth phase absolutely critical to the process
At the moment deals are being made involving the upper 30cm but when testing proves the presence of active subsoil carbon sequestration - and that data has been obtained, but not yet verified - then another two-thirds worth of income per hectare may be realised - provided soil tests probe to 1m. The key to carbon growth is to grow pastures with long roots, like the fescue, phalaris and coxsfoot permanent pastures of the Northern Tablelands, and summer legumes like Desmanthus in the dry sub-tropics, which can deliver root exudates at depth. For that reason Wilmot has tested its soil to a depth of 1m.
The techniques have proven to work at Brewarrina where Graham, Cathy and Harriet have transformed their dry country at Bokhara Plains to better than set-aside landscapes. At Danthonia, near Inverell, methodical management and a empathy for country has resulted in ever increasing kilos of beef while lifting farm resilience.
Changing a farm's grazing practice has positive outcomes on an enterprise balance sheet, as shown by new data at a regenerative farming conference at Hernani last week.
The key to success, said a variety of speakers, involved a management move towards pasture rotation and mob impact, with significant rest, while slowing the flow of water and allowing all plants to grow.
"If you're going to kill a poisonous weed, then at least understand what it is trying to tell you before you remove it, said Stuart Andrews, now from Gympie, Qld, whose father Peter pioneered these methods at Tarwyn Park near Rylstone in the Hunter.
Maia Grazing CEO Peter Richardson said those working in the data industry can now measure the progress of change through numbers that weren't there before even last year, as the swelling demand for ACCUs from corporate polluters like Qantas, outstrips supply.
"Carbon credits are a capitalised dividend of good management," Mr Richardson said, "There is short term gain and long term gain. When we measure soil carbon that is a lagging indicator.
"But we need to look for lead indicators and react to adjust our paddock rest period, stocking rate and density.
"Without measuring we are just gambling on outcomes."
Head of research, development and application with MLA, Michael Crowley, said farming as part of a beef industry carbon neutral plan could actually "create value across the supply chain".
Warwick Ragg, National Farmers Federation, said the importance of an internationally recognised framework around natural capital and carbon sequestration had to involve "pull through for profit and philosophy."
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