Pragmatism needed on carbon

IT’S FAIR to say most Australian farmers aren’t elated at the prospect of a carbon tax.

In particular, energy intensive industries such as dairy have real concerns abut impacts on competitiveness.

However, its passed the Lower House and its likely to pass the Upper House when it comes up.

Like the GST, once it is enshrined in legislation, it will be a logistical nightmare to repeal – so the hard facts are that a carbon tax is likely to be here and its likely to be here to stay.

So the onus is now on the Australian agricultural industry to do what it does best – adapt to change.

Rather than sending out a prayer to Saint Jude, patron saint of lost causes, and staging a glorious, but ultimately futile attempt to stop the legislation getting through, I hope farm leaders can accept the news and work to get the best deal possible for agriculture.

Let’s compare recent examples. The dairy industry saw the writing on the wall with deregulation and accepted a $1.74 billion adjustment package.

The wheat industry fought tooth and nail against the removal of the single desk and came away with nothing.

Sometimes its best to pick your battles, and its clear that a carbon tax is something no amount of lobbying is going to remove.

So where to in the new farming landscape?

First of all, there will be opportunities available, as there are during any period of change.

In the grains industry, for example, farm groups should be working as hard as possible to win government funding for upgrading rail.

It would look bad from a government supposedly looking to cut emissions to continue to allow more and more grain to be carted by road, rather than investing in the far more environmentally friendly and efficient rail system

Surely the time is ripe to work for some much needed funding for rail improvements that will allow more grain to go by rail, which will ultimately result in more money in growers’ pockets through cheaper freight rates.

There will also be government initiatives that could benefit growers, such as a 15pc off-set for all purchases of no-till seeding equipment, which has been deemed to be a low emission option, compared to conventional cropping systems.

And onto the carbon farming initiative.

Professor Richard Eckard, speaking at climate change workshop at Daylesford recently, said there would be a significant amount of money flowing into the agricultural sector, so there’s no doubt there’s opportunities there.

The challenge is to ensure this massive cash investment flows through to grass roots farmers.

Prof Eckard has already predicted that it will be unlikely that independent farmers will participate directly in the carbon market, and that it is more likely to be the sphere of third party carbon offset aggregators.

It will be a long and tedious process researching the ins and outs of a carbon market – but farmers need to learn the ropes if they are to share in the benefits of the CFI.

The last thing the industry needs is to feel the pinch from rising costs on one hand while seeing potential earnings end up in the pockets of savvy carbon marketers.

In terms of the way the initiative is set up, I’m always leery of industries that don’t function without government support. A case in point is the ethanol industry in America which sinks or swims on the stroke of a pen, even the Aussie irrigation is subject to the whims of regulators.

Carbon sinks, either Kyoto approved or not, will require a long-term commitment from farmers and they must be certain of what they are getting into, especially given the science on what constitutes a carbon sink or not changes so frequently.

Storing soil carbon requires a 100 year obligation, so I’d caution against devoting entire paddocks to plantations or the like.

Instead, opportunities present themselves in things like waterway management, native vegetation regeneration in marginal parts of the farm or the establishment of shelter belts doubling as carbon sinks.

It’s a major and scary change to the agricultural sector – but at least there are opportunities there. The task now is to identify them and make sure we get the best out of it for rural Australia as a whole.

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READER COMMENTS

EricH
29/10/2011 4:13:27 AM

Perhaps one of the blandest arguments supporting the carbon tax I have yet read. Flip flopping at its best. Regulation ironically overlaid with support for direct action. Not convinced! Yours a pragmatist.
Will from Bordertown
29/10/2011 8:30:08 AM

Gregor, can I interst you in the porcine aviation industry? Your comment that carbon will become the "sphere of third party carbon offset aggregators." roughly translates to -Ring ring- , "Herro, Meester Greegor are you the owner of the business? How would you like to make hundreds on moneys for Carbon?' I imagine that most of the poor b's that fall for it will be those that haven't mastered the "long and tedious process researching the ins and outs of a carbon market" And as for no till planters- we've already got them. Regional rail, forget it. Having just closed them, they'll stay shut
Ken
30/10/2011 8:12:02 AM

Capitulation to adversity is an easy option for any coward but when there is a problem that needs fixing, the best thing to do is to develop a strategy to do so and be the last one standing on the battlefield when everyone else is sick of the scrap. The carbon tax is a popularist phenomenon designed to negate the guilt of those who over indulge in fossil fuel consumption, it’s a regressive, destructive tax that doesn’t quick fix the issues of emissions or equity, the solution is to be there in opposition when everyone else has gone sour.
dunart
1/11/2011 2:42:50 PM

why do we need a carbon tax? every regulated pay rise is a message to increase carbon consumption. try buying something with no carbon footprint? a carbon tax with compensation, what planet are they from? Someone tell me how that works? Blame business, they only exist because you, me and others buy there carbon laden product. Turn of the main electric switch and the bad coal business will stop producing carbon.
dunart
1/11/2011 2:43:33 PM

The real reason for a carbon tax is the guilt of the socialists who keep demanding wage rises to cover energy cost increases, then blaming the business’s that supply the products they buy.
hirsch
2/11/2011 10:38:15 AM

In the last few years we've increased our soil carbon from 0.2% ave. to 0.8%. If we can do the same rise again and get paid for it we'll get a payout of $600/ha (if we can keep it there). Not bad when your land is valued at roughly $1000/ha Bring on the carbon tax!
Will from Bordertown
3/11/2011 7:01:50 PM

hirsch, if you have increased the soil carbon in the top 10cm by .8%, you would have only added 6 tonnes of C which is $138. Then you have to have it audited every 10 years or so, at what cost? I've heard $$$thousands. And then you have to gaurantee that it will stay there for 100 years, and run the risk of having to buy the carbon credit back on the open market at whatever the ruling rate is if your neighbour starts a fire with his slasher, in which case its a man made fire, not a natural one. Sorry mate, I do not share your enthusiasm.
mark2
9/11/2011 1:21:13 PM

I'd like to know how "hirsch" has increased soil carbon from .2% to .8% (effectively 400% increase) in "a few years". There was some work going on at the Condobolin Research station over about 25 years comparing different farming systems side by side (growing Wheat) and as far as I'm aware one of the most obvious statistics was that there was no increase in soil carbon at all in all of the systems trials. Most cropping soils in Oz have low soil carbon levels and the trade off may be lowered Ph levels, so it's going to be an expensive exercise.
Farmer Greg
9/11/2011 1:48:32 PM

We are already running our farms at maximum production, as low energy consumption as possible, least amount of water etc. etc. There is nothing of value for us in Carbon pricing. Carbon sequestration is balony it has to be measured! Europe has just gone through the whole process and shut that side down due to rorting. How more plain can it be... let's farm trees that will fix it... what about food? I run cattle and "Green" farming cattle has been found to be more energy intensive, polluting and requires more land to do it. Where do we win?!?!?! That's right I am expected to become a vegan!!!
Been there done that
10/11/2011 6:03:58 AM

A tax,it's that simple,no more no less,gillard overseas giviving away billions of Australian tax payer $$$.the worst government Australia has ever had, putting future generations into debt forever.roll on elections however the debt will be massive in 2 years time.
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