Central West farmers and the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) climate unit have been working on Australia’s first soil carbon sequestration pilot project. The five-year project explored the use of a market-based scheme to sequester carbon in the soil.
‘The Catchment Action Market Based Instrument (CAMBI) project delivered an average of 2.66 tonnes of carbon (CO2-e) per hectare, per year across the project area,’ said DPI climate unit director, Jason Crean.
‘In 2009, a team of policymakers, economists and scientists asked a key question – could we implement a soil carbon trading system, if government implemented this as policy?’
Ten landholders in the Lachlan River catchment were contracted through the pilot scheme to sequester carbon in the soil.
The Australian government subsequently introduced new carbon schemes, including the Carbon Farming Initiative and Emissions Reduction Fund.
‘CAMBI confirmed that in the right conditions landholders can achieve a substantial rate of soil carbon sequestration,’ said Dr Crean.
‘In exploring soil carbon as a sink for the mitigation of climate change and as part of Australia’s greenhouse response, CAMBI sequestered 9,951 tonnes of CO2-e.’
CAMBI examined the relationship between land use, management practices and soil carbon levels and offered alternative contract designs to suit farmers.
The project examined cropping types, yield, stubble management and tillage, pastures, livestock enterprises, stocking rates and grazing practices, rainfall, and fertiliser and soil conditioners.
Results revealed a clear preference for outcome-based contracts, where payments are made for the amount of soil carbon stored, rather than action-based contracts paying for the adoption of specific practices.
‘A lot of interest stemmed from farmers managing their own enterprises and seeing results firsthand,’ said senior Local Land Services officer, David Trengove.
‘Now they are reaping extra benefits from increased soil carbon content, which improved moisture retention rates, groundcover, animal health and production.’