AUSTRALIA’S red meat industry has been one of the first off the blocks to make the emerging carbon economy pay dividends, with operations the nation over now building emissions abatement measures into management plans.
The consensus so far seems to be that where these measures can be incorporated into productivity-boosting strategies, the additional income to be made from government funds set aside to lower emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) warrants involvement.
Livestock operations have scored well in the first allocations of the Federal Government’s Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), with around $600 million in contracts handed out for work such as controlled Savanna burning, avoided deforestation and soil carbon sequestration.
However, new methods for livestock producers to use to apply for Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs) under the scheme are now coming online and they are even more aligned with lifting the profitability of beef businesses.
The whole beef herd management method approved by the government late last year was developed by Meat and Livestock Australia in partnership with the Australian Agricultural Company .
It is consistent with long-standing beef industry productivity messages such as reducing the number of unproductive animals, higher weaning rates, younger joining ages, higher average daily weight gains and reduced turn-off ages at the same weights.
Dr Tom Davison, MLA project manager for the sustainable feedbase project, outlined the challenges and opportunities of the ERF at an MLA-organised beef industry breakfast in Brisbane, Queensland, this week.
In line with the global strategic push to reduce GHG, the Australian Government has set aside $2.55b for contracts to reduce GHG using approved methods that allow use of new technologies and practices and measurement of these changes over time.
The first ‘reverse auctions’ to buy carbon credits from businesses reducing their GHG emissions through approved methods was held last year.
One ACCU is earned for each tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent stored or avoided.
Dr Davison said in the two auctions, 275 projects were contracted with the average price per tonne of abatement at $13.12.
Projects on red meat properties accounted for about half the carbon credits.
“Livestock centric methods under the ERF are relatively new to carbon markets but there has recently been an increase in the number beef can consider,” Dr Davison said.
The whole beef herd management method is based on avoiding emissions from cattle by changing practices.
“Emissions intensity - that is kilograms of GHG per kilograms of beef - is governed by feed efficiency,” said Dr Davison.
“Improved herd productivity equals improved herd feed efficiency, which equals reduced emissions intensity and more beef per cow.
“These practices are all consistent with industry extension messages.
“This won’t drive your business but if you are making changes to improve productivity, it is an option for additional income if you have good record keeping.”
Dr Davison said while the best opportunities existed for larger herds in Northern Australia, smaller herds could participate via aggregation.
The biggest opportunities also existed where performance was lowest, for example annual weaning rates less than 60 per cent and average daily gains less than .4kg/day, he said.
Extension of pasture renovation gains
FOR progressive Northern Australian beef operation Consolidated Pastoral Company, the opportunity for alternative income presented by carbon farming fits in perfectly with management strategies to facilitate productivity gains in renovating pasture.
CPC, which runs 5.7 million hectares over 20 stations across Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia with a carrying capacity of 375,000 head of cattle, secured a contract in November for a savanna burning project it hopes will lead to an incredible 800,000 tonne reduction in emissions over ten years.
The idea is to use cool season controlled burning to minimise the extent and impact of the higher greenhouse gas emitting late, dry season hotter fires, which are mostly wildfires.
In the process, that strategy will protect the northern pastures, a mix of tussock grasses and different types of woodlands, across CPC holdings, creating significant production benefits.
CPC Commercial Operations Manager Tracey King said the exact timing of early-season fires would depend on each station’s management schedule and the season.
At the same time, it would be relative to retaining flexibility for production demands, she said.
A baseline of emissions had been determined by modelling under the Emissions Reduction Fund scheme and each year, abated emissions would be calculated using fire scar mapping, she said.
Making a positive contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions was something CPC wanted to be involved in, Ms King said.
“It also provides an opportunity to access an alternative income source in line with our management plans,” she said.
“This is an extension of productivity gains we are making in managing our pasture resource.”