Question a catalyst for carbon challenge

Question a catalyst for carbon challenge

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Corrigin farmer and AgZero2030 founder Simon Wallwork at UWA's Institute of Agriculture Industry Forum 2020 last week.

Corrigin farmer and AgZero2030 founder Simon Wallwork at UWA's Institute of Agriculture Industry Forum 2020 last week.

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"There's a lot of work to be done in terms of climate literacy..."

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A SON who wouldn't stop pestering him about what he was doing to ensure his childrens' future helped inspire Corrigin farmer Simon Wallwork to tackle the challenge of carbon neutrality.

The story was told at The University of Western Australia's Institute of Agriculture Industry Forum 2020 last week, providing a farmer's motivation for focusing on climate change.

Mr Wallwork was raised in the city and working as an agronomist, but his wife is the oldest of three daughters and with her two sisters both marrying farmers, he was given the opportunity to go farming in 2003.

That first year was a good one and despite knowing nothing much about farming, apart from the technical side of agronomy, he put the crop in dry and very early.

Good rainfall and no frost had the rookie farmer questioning why farmers were always complaining - but that all changed in 2004.

"I did the same thing, dry sowed the entire program, half of it to wheat and when it got cold in September the whole lot got frosted and only yielded 300 kilograms per hectare," Mr Wallwork said.

"In 2005 we got frosted again, but side-by-side, barley versus wheat, the barley went 1.4 tonnes per hectare whereas wheat went 0.36t/ha - it was then that I began to understand that my two key profit drivers were frost and dry.

"That was the first fundamental shift in our business, we started to increase our barley area and got up to 90pc at one stage but have dropped that back a bit now."

Over the past 17 years Mr Wallwork has witnessed climate variability and declining rainfall first-hand, initially leading to him investigating adaptation practices before also looking into mitigation options.

In 2010, Mr Wallwork went through the driest season on record in the South West Land Division which was a bit of a wake up call.

"We were leasing a farm east of Corrigin and only had 73 millimetres of growing season rainfall and the barley out there only yielded 100 kilograms a hectare," he said.

"At home on the lighter soils we got 103mm of winter rain and were able to still achieve 1t/ha mainly because we sowed into moisture from 37mm of rain in March.

"That year had a really fundamental effect on me and I wanted to understand more about climate variability."

Mr Wallwork got involved with the Climate Champion Program, which was founded by Meat and Livestock Australia and the Grains Research and Development Corporation, to share stories with other farmers, interact with scientists and talk about climate variability.

That was the language used at the time, but once they got beneath the surface they were really talking about climate change and the shocks that farmers were experiencing were similar all around the country.

This year has been a dry one on the 3700 hectare property, fitting into the bottom five years of rainfall that the property has ever received - and three of those worst five years have occurred in the past decade.

"I've broken up our totals more and I'm beginning to understand that it is really the autumn and early winter period that we're seeing our biggest decline, up to 34pc, in the 2000 to 2020 average compared to the 1910 to 1979 average," Mr Wallwork said.

"The strategy of moving to predominantly barley did work and continues to work, particularly in frosty years, but just adopting barley wasn't going to fix all my problems so I had to continue to adapt.

"I've been involved in the Corrigin Farm Improvement Group for a long time, we've done a lot of on-farm trial work and we're always testing new ideas and trialling things to see where we can make the next improvement."

Mr Wallwork has looked into using grazing crops as a strategy to manage frost risk, soil amelioration through ploughing and chemical fallow.

"We started sowing barley as a fodder in early April and now sow the whole farm, so we no longer rely on regenerative pastures which has been a game changer for us and in the past three years sheep and cattle have produced higher gross margins than crops," he said.

"You need moist soil to do mouldboard ploughing so you can get a nice flip, so we experimented a few years ago with ploughing in September and sowing fodders as a cover and grazing that with cattle.

"Typically in the first year we get a 900kg/ha yield response and I've got plots this year which I estimate will produce an extra 500kg/ha six years after ploughing, so it's a sustainable improvement."

While the adaptation strategies were helping, Mr Wallwork's family knows the trends, accepts the science and his son wants to know what more they're doing for his future.

"We can see a steam train coming our way, we don't want another live export situation where we're unprepared for what consumers want and expect," he said.

"We grow a lot of barley in our business and from a quick Google search I can see that most of the large brewers in the world are either carbon neutral or heading in that direction.

"They're going to want carbon neutral barley from us and in order to supply that we need to understand how much carbon we're omitting and to do that we need carbon calculators to be as accurate as they can be."

According to his own calculations, Mr Wallwork's farm emits 1200t carbon equivalent per year.

He believes that is achievable to become carbon neutral on a purely offset basis with 120 hectares of tree plantings and, if combined with emissions reductions, it's definitely achievable.

"About a year ago, through the power of social media, I posed the question as to whether other people were concerned about the issue of not just adaptation but also mitigation for the agriculture industry," Mr Wallwork said.

"The response was incredible and a few of us, along with some industry organisations, got together and held a forum which provided some information on risk and mitigation which a lot of farmers had not come across before."

From that day, the movement or organisation AgZero2030 was founded, the main goal of which is to help promote a positive response from the agricultural industry to climate change and to be involved in the solution.

"We have an aspirational target of moving our industry to carbon neutrality by 2030, whether that's achievable or not, I'm not sure, but unless we adopt carbon calculators we won't know," Mr Wallwork said.

"We want to share the positive stories, not just for our own sake, but also for the consumers sake, so they understand we are part of the solution and we want to contribute to a positive climate change policy."

Since starting one year ago, AgZero2030 has opened the conversation, spoken at industry events and is discovering farming organisations that are either carbon neutral or aiming towards it.

It also ran the #2030moves campaign to raise awareness of the movement and its goals and is working with CSIRO to develop an explainer about emission reduction possibilities for WA agriculture.

"There's a lot of work to be done in terms of climate literacy - the average farmer doesn't understand the jargon so we need to simplify that language and bring the farmers along," Mr Wallwork said.

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