What does a carbon neutral farm look like?

What does a carbon neutral farm look like?

Agribusiness
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"Large investment funds have become too large to let the climate fail."

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Speakers on the panel discussion on climate change were WA Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan (left), independent consultant Richard Brake, Corrigin farmer Simon Wallwork, CBH Group quality and sustainability manager Jane Wardle and Goomalling farmer Christie Kingston.

Speakers on the panel discussion on climate change were WA Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan (left), independent consultant Richard Brake, Corrigin farmer Simon Wallwork, CBH Group quality and sustainability manager Jane Wardle and Goomalling farmer Christie Kingston.

IN the past decade Corrigin farmer Simon Wallwork's farm has endured its three driest years on record.

He's noticed more heat stress events and ironically, more severe frosts and less rainfall leading to a water shortage.

Mr Wallwork is also the chairman of AgZero2030 - an agriculture-led movement aiming for climate change solutions and spoke with other industry panellists recently at the Rural Edge Inspire Summit, at Burswood, about the importance of the agriculture industry responding to climate change and shared how he and wife Cindy Stevens have implemented changes.

The couple farm a mixed cropping, sheep and cattle enterprise of more than 3700 hectares.

"We are doing everything we can to adapt to climate change - whether we can keep up, I guess that's the big question," Mr Wallwork said.

"Being involved with my local grower group has been critical for testing ideas and innovations and sharing ideas with my peers.

"We have made a big swing to barley in our program as it tends to be a more resilient crop and we can sow it with lower frost risk.

"We relocated our land base - we got rid of a farm next to Corrigin because we were finding we couldn't produce on the drier seasons on the heavier soil types, so we focused our efforts on the lighter soil types."

They also introduced livestock into our system, which has arguably gone against the trend, "but we found that livestock coupled with early sown barley fodder crops with livestock prices in the last three to four years, the gross margins of those enterprises have actually beaten the crop, so it takes away some of the frost risk".

Other practices they've implemented include introducing chemical fallow, growing summer fodder, almost mouldboard ploughing their whole farm to manage non-wetting soils and investing in water catchments.

"And with the assistance of our adviser (Richard Brake Consulting principal consultant, Richard Brake), we have reduced the cost structure of our business," he said.

"However there are a whole range of new issues we face - market access concerns, complicated emerging carbon markets, how much we should help the gas sector as they're looking for offsets in our agriculture lands so how much food-producing land should we substitute for trees, and climate change risk criteria in financing and insurance."

Following Mr Wallwork's presentation, Mr Brake spoke about what being a carbon neutral farm business actually looks like and what impact it has on the business' bottom line.

He said there are three key questions to consider:

- How much carbon are you producing?

- How can you reduce it?

- What impact is that or what will that have on your business?

"Looking at your carbon emissions from one year to the next, what has changed and have discussions around the impact that management decisions have had," Mr Brake said.

Referencing the carbon emissions of Mr Wallwork's farm, Mr Brake broke down just how much producing carbon neutral grain impacted Mr Wallwork's farm business, both in terms of productivity and profitability.

In 2020 Mr Wallwork's farm produced 200 kilograms of carbon emissions for the tonne of grain produced.

"What I'm seeing across all my clients is an average for grain produced, about 200-300kg of carbon dioxide equivalent was emitted per tonne of grain produced," Mr Brake said.

"If you are producing that and want to sell carbon neutral grain, you are going to need some of that carbon to offset itself - what impact is that going to have on your business, and what management changes are you going to make?"

And what about the financial impact?

"200kg per tonne of grain was emitted last year, the price when Simon and I did this was about $16.55 and today it's about $18.40 per tonne of CO2," he said.

"If we had to offset that, what would be the impact to the business - about $23,000-$25,000 from your bottom line.

"A premium is not necessarily going to be given, it's more about market access, so you then need to think about how you can improve that?"

In terms of the impact on the crop, Mr Brake said by looking at kilograms per tonne of grain produced, "it would cost between $3-$4 per tonne of grain - in this case it was $3.31 multiply by the price of carbon of $18.40, which equals 30 cents per tonne of CO2 permitted.

Whereas for sheep, Mr Brake said offsetting carbon added about $5-6 per head.

Then if you aim to reduce the amount of carbon produced on your farm, such as with fertilisers, supplements for livestock, different feed, soil improvement etc, he said the cost of implementing them and production and carbon benefit all need to be assessed.

"(On Mr Wallwork's property) the existing practices that we need to account for carbon sequestration instead of locking land away - no till, summer fodder crops to provide cover and building soil carbon - but how long would that take and how much would it cost?"

Understanding carbon markets and carbon credits can be complex and Mr Brake said it can also be a contentious topic, particularly for people outside of agriculture.

"Carbon emissions provoke an emotive response, so understand what you're producing so you can have a reasonable, considered argument with people that don't understand what you do on the farm," he said.

"The markets are likely to require some form of carbon mitigation - take the European Union (EU) for example - in 2023 if Australia doesn't lift its game in terms of climate policies, they have stated they will put the same cost per tonne of carbon onto the exporter of the grain as the producer in their own country incurs.

"Focus on controlling the issues inside the farmgate, there are other entities responsible for the emissions outside the farmgate.

"You can put pressure on your fertiliser company to supply you with carbon neutral products - they might not be in the market at the moment but if enough customers say they want carbon neutral products then they'll come to the party."

Also on the panel was CBH Group quality and sustainability manager Jane Wardle, who said investors have been driving companies to be more sustainable, which are known as "green investors".

"Large investment funds have become too large to let the climate fail," Ms Wardle said.

"Consumer demand for sustainable products has been increasing each year."

Mr Wardle echoed Mr Brake's sentiment on the EU's push for more direction in Australia's climate policy.

"There are opportunities for WA growers with this growing demand," she said.

WA Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan also sat on the panel and spoke briefly about how she would like to see agriculture go one step further in carbon neutrality.

"I don't think we should just talk about carbon offsets, if we do that we are not doing our jobs properly.

"I think there is even the opportunity for us to be carbon positive, we can make a huge contribution to solving climate change."

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