Carbon Farming is Smokin'
Peter and Christine Forster are Carbon farmers, amongst other things. Their "Bullock Hills" block is at the summit of the Great Dividing Range near Ararat. Its fine granitic sandy topsoil, most of which was blown over from the other side of the Range, requires careful management to limit erosion.
During the relative dampness of the 2012 summer one of the 300 year old river redgums seeded and, rather than poisoning the resulting seedlings in his wheat paddock, Peter built a fence around them. He is in the process of adding the resulting 1.8 Hectares paddock to his Carbon Farming folio.
The Forsters are one of the first farming families to become registered generators of carbon credits in Australia, which allows them to sell their credits to companies that are seeking carbon offsets to meet pollution targets. However, Peter cautions that future swings in the price of carbon will probably not allow this form of farming to reliably put food on the table.
He believes that planting trees and pastures must have a purpose other than carbon farming. So far at "Bullock Hills" his folio consists of tubestock plantings amongst the rocks at the top of the property, as well as a disused sand mining pit and an adjacent wetland.
Recent direct seeding of 20 metre wide windbreaks have also been added to the register and Peter is working on a plan to restore the less productive and unstable higher ground back to its original - 20% canopy cover, by directly seeding trees at wide spacings in amongst native pasture. The Carbon farming rules allow for such areas to be grazed.
The end result will see an amazing transformation of a block which Peter describes as follows: "At the time of purchase the block was overgrazed, especially the tops of the hills which were devoid of any vegetation. Rabbit warrens covered most of the upper rocky areas. Dryland salinity triggered by local clearing (was) a major issue."
Most of the hurdles in front of Peter and Christine were identical to those faced by many, many farmers today. What makes their efforts so remarkable is that they have, with the exception of the volunteer regrowth of the redgums, tackled the tough bits first - the areas of low productivity - the rocks, the erosion and the swamps. Their commitment to Carbon farming has obviously been a key motivator in structuring and carrying out their plans.
There are many rules relating to trading of carbon. In a nutshell the Forsters sought registration with the Canberra-based Carbon Credits Administrator to be added to the Australian National Registry of Emissions Units. They submitted map references for the area concerned and described the vegetation. After approving the job, Canberra then put the data into their computer models and calculated how many tonnes of Carbon the area would sequester. The Forsters are then issued carbon credits which they can choose to trade when they feel the price is right.
Following registration, the area is audited twice in the first 10 years and is continually checked by satellite.
Since Agriculture is the only industry that can generate carbon credits, Canberra is very interested in encouraging farmers to be involved in Carbon farming. The size of the areas involved don't seem to matter and aggregation of several sites on different properties is allowed.
Brent Rodden was invited on a 2 day carbon farming tour of the Western Districts, in April 2013, organised by the Corangamite Catchment Authority and sponsored by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. Notes from the tour are available on request.