A VISITING American soil scientist has backed up wool industry calls for more research to define the carbon lifecycle benefits of grazing animals.
Dr Paul Hepperly at Glenormiston College this week said livestock grazing industries were getting a “bad rap” under current carbon accounting methods.
Most ruminant animal research on burped methane was done with cattle in feedlots on grain-based diets, while grazing animals emitted much less methane, he said.
Dr Hepperly said the amount of carbon sequestered by soils in a grazing situation with ruminants was much greater than the amount of methane emitted through livestock burping. Carbon accounting on farms needed to consider all sequestrations and emissions involved to get a net holistic analysis.
The Wool Carbon Alliance last week resolved to reset the carbon agenda and get the role sheep play in the natural carbon cycle recognised under current carbon accounting protocols.
WCA members this week said more research was needed to define the role of sheep and wool in the carbon cycle. Alliance chairman Chick Olsson said consumers should be encouraged to rethink their views on sheep and greenhouse gases.
Australian farmers grew 370 million kg of greasy wool in 2009, equating to about 500 million kg of CO2 equivalents captured and stored from the atmosphere, as each kg of greasy wool stores around 1.3 kg of CO2, the WCA said.
Dr Hepperly said carbon stored in wool that did not decay could be considered in carbon accounting, he said.
“People haven’t been looking at the animal system for its potential, only for its liability.
“We need to level that playing field and get the education and science to give conclusive information.”
Mr Olsson welcomed the Federal Government’s commitment this week to its Carbon Farming Initiative as a step in the right direction. WCA member and ultrafine wool grower John Ive said it was important to get recognition of the whole sheep/wool lifecycle.
WCA member and manager of Australian Wool Innovation’s market intelligence and trade reporting division, Dr Paul Swan, said there was a lot of research yet to be done to ensure the assumptions Australian carbon models are based on are sound and not just based on European-based lifecycle analysis and research.
“One of the critical issues we have is making sure that we have a clear understanding of the agriculture system as it applies in Australia – what the true dynamics are.
“Because it is not reasonable to assume that a European farming system model will apply perfectly in Australia.”
The National Carbon Offset Standard, that underpins the Federal Government’s Carbon Farming Initiative, is based on European-based lifecycle analysis standards.
Dr Swan said research is needed on the “fate” of greenhouse gases released by livestock.
“Do they reach the upper atmosphere?” he asked, citing recent research into naturally-occurring soil bacteria – methanotrophs – that are “hoovering up” methane.
“The big issue is the fundamental assumptions on which the pricing systems and models are based,” he said.
“So are we counting enough positives in terms of our livestock species or in the case of wool – the fact that atmospheric carbon is being converted into a durable form (wool)?” he said.