CHANGING FARMING PRACTICES CAN DELIVER MAJOR BENEFITS
Congratulations on your editorial ('Views on ag's role in carbon neutrality vary', Stock Journal, February 18) and most particularly in noting that excluding agriculture from carbon neutrality is likely to be already disadvantaging farmers and will do so even more in the future.
The fact is that we already have good data and evidence showing that changes to farming systems can have major benefits not only so far as reducing emissions are concerned, but also in improving sustainability, productivity and profitability indices of our major broadacre agricultural industries.
One particular example lies in the difference between intensive cropping regimes and more conservative and sustainable ley farming rotations using pasture legume phases between crops.
The latter results in soil carbon sequestration rates that are in net terms thousands of kilograms per hectare per year (CO2 equivalent carbon or CEC), higher than even the best intensive cropping systems.
Further, data indicates all intensive cropping systems fail to even maintain soil carbon and organic matter levels.
Related reading: Carbon market options grow in pastoral zones
Aside from reversing the consequent gradual but inexorable soil degradation, these ley farming systems are also fundamental to reversing the real productivity problems and sustainability issues that are clearly and increasingly evident since we moved away from them and into intensive cropping.
This is shown by the fact that despite the many billions invested in research and development, and the increasing technical capacities and competence of our crop farmers and their industry support, yields of our primary crop, wheat, have stagnated.
Yet at the same time, global wheat yields/ha have increased by almost 40 per cent, so that we have gone from being global leaders in dryland farming to global laggards.
The opportunity to use this new knowledge about soil carbon to the advantage of farmers who do wish to break out of this spiral of decline and adopt such improved farming practices has been cruelled by politics.
This is because the calls for reducing net emissions are primarily and by far most strident from the populist Green left; which has a long history of visceral antipathy to modern agriculture and ag industries generally. Unfortunately, that has meant that the Nationals have reacted negatively to these calls, rather than seeing and using the opportunities this push can mean.
A demonstration of how this push for net emissions reduction has been usefully and profitably exploited throughout urban Australia lies in the tens of billions that have been ploughed into support for renewable energy technologies such as rooftop solar.
Related reading: Time for farmers to get inside the tent on emissions
In installing our solar array, we received a subsidy which across 10 years amounted to an advance payment on emissions reduction of the equivalent of more than $50/tonne of CEC. If the same principal and price were applied to changes in farming systems, then a switch to ley farming for just a decade would attract an up-front subsidy or payment to farmers of at least $500/ha.
And just as all of the additional savings on my electricity bills is extra money in my pocket, so too would be all of the additional profit generated by having the higher crop yields that flow from having soils with higher levels of both organic carbon and nitrogen.
Given the Green left's antipathy to very large sections of rural and regional industries generally, I can understand the Nationals' and many farmers' knee-jerk negative reaction to this push for agriculture to play a role in emissions reduction.
But, they need to take a leaf out of the books of many of their urban cousins who are likewise far from being of a left political persuasion; to use this populism to support and subsidise introduction of beneficial technologies for themselves, their families and their businesses.
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