3 simple concepts to help you understand carbon farming
Get the jump on understanding carbon with this guide for primary producers, including links to local resources to learn more.
Carbon farming is a broad term used to encompass different ways of managing land to increase carbon storage. It is often used in the context of increasing carbon on the land in a way that is measured so that the enterprise can claim that carbon for carbon neutral certification or to sell as carbon credits.
Three important concepts to understand are:
- managing soil and vegetative carbon
- carbon neutrality
- carbon credits
There is a lot to know about carbon if you’re a primary producer but understanding the difference between these three basic concepts will be a good start:
1. Managing soil and vegetative carbon
Managing carbon on farms is about continuing, building on and adopting farming practices to increase the amount of carbon captured across your property.
The main ways to do this are by increasing carbon stored in the soil, or carbon stored in vegetation such as trees or biodiverse plantings.
This is called carbon sequestration, where carbon is removed from the atmosphere and captured in the soil or trees.
Soil carbon is carbon derived from plants and soil biology which has become part of the soil system.
Increasing carbon in your soil improves soil health, which is good for productivity and the environment. The amount of soil carbon that can be stored depends on soil type, climate and management.
Increasing soil carbon can be profitable through increased productivity, reduced inputs and better drought resilience.
Vegetative carbon is carbon that is stored above ground in trees, shrubs, or grasslands. The amount that can be stored depends on the area, soil type, climate, and the type of vegetation that can be grown.
Increasing carbon stored ‘above ground’ on your property is good for the environment and productivity. For example, productivity can improve when trees provide windbreaks for stock and crops.
Managing carbon on your farm can progress into carbon neutrality and/or carbon credits.
2. Carbon neutrality
Carbon neutral certification for farming or other enterprises involves analysing the enterprise to identify the amounts of carbon emitted – for example, fuel, electricity, animal emissions – versus the amount of carbon sequestered – for example, in tree planting or accredited carbon sequestration activities.
Watch Carbon sequestration and emission reduction explained (4min 55 sec. animated video from the Limestone Coast Landscape Board) for a simple overview.
An enterprise can look to reduce emissions (abatement) and/or increase sequestration to achieve carbon neutral status. Carbon credits can also be bought to offset emissions if needed.
Get sequestration and abatement practices working well and you are on track to a carbon-neutral farm.
Jigsaw Farms in Hamilton, Victoria, is a great applied example of what this looks like.
A carbon-neutral farm reaps productivity and environmental benefits, as well as the profit that results when consumers preference products from carbon-neutral suppliers. Certified carbon neutral enterprises may have marketing advantages.
Each farm with a carbon neutral balance sheet helps to reduce the impact on climate change and meet our greenhouse gas reduction targets.
3. Carbon credits
The carbon market enables businesses to trade carbon credits. Businesses that can sequester more carbon than they emit can earn carbon credits, which can then be traded to other businesses looking to offset their emissions.
A primary producer can increase carbon storage on their farm or become certified carbon neutral without taking part in the carbon market. However, for land managers with a large amount of excess carbon sequestered, selling carbon credits may be a way of generating added income.
Depending on your enterprise, you may be able to run a project that generates Australian carbon credit units (ACCUs or carbon credits). You can do this by following specific carbon farming methodologies for both soil and vegetation that reduce emissions or store carbon.
Each carbon credit represents one tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas emissions stored or avoided.
You can sell carbon credits but keep in mind that sold carbon credits can’t then be counted in your farm’s carbon neutrality balance sheet.
For information about taking part in the carbon market make your first stop the Australian Government’s Clean Energy Regulator, an independent statutory authority responsible for administering legislation to reduce carbon emissions and increase the use of clean energy. The information on its site is detailed but well laid out in plain English.
For more information and how landscape boards can help
Landscape boards are here to help with advice about sustainable land management practices. Some boards have specific carbon farming resources and pilot carbon projects underway.
Information about carbon farming, including carbon farming benefits and opportunities, is available on the PIRSA website.
The Australian Government’s Clean Energy Regulator website is a good, independent source of information. The Clean Energy Regulator administers schemes legislated by the Australian Government for measuring, managing, reducing or offsetting Australia's carbon emissions.
The Limestone Coast Landscape Board Carbon Explainer video series includes animated videos about the carbon cycle and carbon sequestration and emissions reduction, as well as videos featuring local farmers talking about the importance of soil and becoming a carbon-smart land manager.
The South Australian Arid Lands Landscape Board has a range of fact sheets and resources about carbon farming in the Rangelands.
Information for this blog was sourced from:
- Department of Primary Industries and Regions, South Australia (PIRSA) May 2022
- Clean Energy Regulator Clean Energy Regulator - Home May 2022
- Landscape South Australia - Limestone Coast May 2022
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