THE agricultural industry now has an incredible opportunity to change how it is seen in the climate change story.
That was the message from Agriculture and Food minister Alannah MacTiernan at the $15 million Climate Resilience Fund Forum, which was attended by a large group of industry leaders and stakeholders at the Muresk Institute in Northam last Wednesday.
The aim of the forum was for the State government to gain input from the industry on how to develop and implement its own tailored solutions to climate and agricultural issues specific to local conditions and practices.
Participants heard from a range of industry experts including world renowned soil microbiologist and climate scientist Walter Jehne, CSIRO agriculture and food deputy director Michael Robertson, various Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development staff and CBH marketing and trading head of accumulation Trevor Lucas.
With a hotter and drier climate making the task of farming more difficult and increasing expectations from consumers and financiers affecting how agricultural products have and will be received into the future, Ms MacTiernan said it was vital that the agricultural sector transform its practices to reduce its carbon footprint and remain competitive.
"That transformation will come from embracing farming systems that see stronger soil biology, vegetative cover in our paddocks intensified, soil carbon growing significantly and landscapes being rehydrated," Ms MacTiernan said.
"It also comes from looking at alternatives to fossil fuels for production and research and development about how we can reduce air emissions."
Acknowledging that there was a role for carbon offsets, Ms MacTiernan said it wasn't going to be the main game.
"It's not just about planting some trees so you can continue to consume carbon," Ms MacTiernan said.
"I want to explore opportunities so that the actual fundamental act of growing things and agriculture is something that, at the very least, is carbon neutral if not, indeed, carbon positive."
With climate change universally recognised to be primarily caused by an increase in greenhouse gases from human activities, Ms MacTiernan highlighted that the clearing of land was also understood to have played a role in the problem by creating a reduction in annual rainfall.
"There is some interesting research from the University of Queensland and Department of Natural Resources and Water that concluded that land clearing in the south west of WA has contributed to a four to eight per cent reduction in annual rainfall," Ms MacTiernan said.
"That's a reduction in rainfall that is not due to increased carbon levels in the atmosphere but it is from the act of clearing.
"When we are looking at the current projections which show rainfall decreasing from 1900 levels up to 15pc by 2030 and up to 20pc by 2050 - we have to look at all the possible solutions."
To deal with that aspect of climate change, Ms MacTiernan said it was important the agricultural sector start strengthening its vegetative cover.
With the agricultural industry's emissions made up of 77pc methane from livestock production, 19pc nitrous oxide from nitrogen in soils and 4pc carbon dioxide, not all of these emissions are created equal, with the global warming potential of methane scientifically proven to be 28 times that of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide 265 times that of carbon dioxide.
By creating changes based on these values, Ms MacTiernan said the industry could create consequences that would be much more significant in terms of return in reducing its carbon footprint.
With markets increasingly looking at the entire lifecycle analysis of agricultural products, Ms MacTiernan said the State government was seeking input from the industry on how carbon calculators could be effectively calibrated for WA conditions.
Highlighting the fact that 80pc of Western Australia's agricultural produce is exported, Ms MacTiernan said the industry's carbon footprint was no longer a marginal work area as it was something that was going "to the guts of international trade".
"Whatever you're producing - wool, grain, beef - increasingly the market is saying we need to understand what your inputs and your emissions are and this is happening at a very fast pace," Ms MacTiernan said.
With the European Union in the process of establishing a carbon border adjustment mechanism which will effectively place a tax or carbon price on imports, Ms MacTiernan said it was vital that WA's agricultural industry move with the times.
DPIRD trade manager I-Lyn Loo also presented at the Climate Resilience Fund Forum and highlighted international food giants that have made commitments to sustainably source their key ingredients.
This includes the likes of Pepsico which has a target to sustainably source 100pc of is key ingredients by 2030.
This target will involve scaling up regenerative farming practices across seven million acres, equivalent to the entire Pepsico footprint.
With other food giants such as Nestle and General Mills, which are massive purchasers of agricultural products, also embedding sustainability goals into their core operations, Ms Loo said it was important that WA farmers stay ahead of the curve in their regenerative agricultural practices so they can continue to access premium markets.
With agricultural advocacy groups such as the National Famers' Federation releasing its climate change policy last year and the Meat and Livestock Association setting a carbon neutral target by 2030, the world's investment sector is also embracing industries which are becoming part of the solution to climate change.
This is highlighted by the Australian Sustainable Finance Initiative which includes 80 organisations, four of the big banks, various insurers and superfunds, which have released a road map that sets out their plan to align Australia's financial system to support climate goals.
"The road map calls for the financial system participants to imbed sustainability into their organisation, purpose, strategy and leadership and to support the transition of the economy to net zero emissions," Ms MacTiernan said.
"They have a commitment that before they invest they need to understand what the carbon footprint of those people that they are investing in is."
The State government also has a $15 million Carbon Farming and Land Restoration Fund which was announced last November to help the industry respond to climate change.
"We are going to be working with farmers for carbon sequestration projects that deliver environmental, social and economic benefits and we are going to have part of that fund segmented to give a very special focus on soil carbon projects in low rainfall areas," Ms MacTiernan said.
"I think this prospect of soil carbon is really the most transformative when it comes to us building our climate resilience."