Australia's emerging carbon farming industry has reached a milestone, with the 500th soil carbon scheme, under the government Carbon Credit Scheme launched earlier in the month.
Central NSW croppers the Westcott family, 30km north of Parkes, were the 500th business to register for the scheme with their Westcott Carbon Project, covering 560 hectares of primarily cropping country.
The Westcott family produce wheat, barley and canola at Alectown.
Neil, along with his wife Alison and son Hayden, represent a growing trend of family and corporate cropping enterprises entering carbon projects under Australia's regulated soil carbon methodology in a push towards carbon negative farming systems.
As with many others dipping their toes in the carbon market the driving factor for the Westcotts in establishing carbon projects is businesses seeking diversification and future risk mitigation. By entering a project, farmers can grow their carbon, building a carbon credit asset.
Carbon projects are being seen as a practical way for growers to be prepared for the changes ahead given the Australian government's ambitious legislation to reach emission levels of 43 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
Neil Westcott believes there are a number of advantages in integrating a carbon project into his farming enterprise.
He hopes it will serve to improve his soil health and the environment as well as potential off-set or carbon credit benefits.
"We have established a soil carbon project to measure and be credited for the positive practices that we are doing on the farm," he said.
"This is a practical way that we can be paid for our good work, while improving our soil fertility."
The Westcotts have partnered with Australian company, Loam Bio, to assist in the project operations, administration and to apply Loam's microbial technology 'CarbonBuilder' as the eligible practice change.
Guy Webb, head of agronomy at Loam Bio saw the benefit in farmers stepping into a carbon project
"Over the coming couple of years we will see more and more farmers take up carbon as an additional enterprise on their farms," he said.
"To build out a carbon credit bank will become seen as insurance over time."
Loam has established a solid footprint working with farmers.
The business now is partnered with farmers who operate over a quarter of a million hectares of cropping land.
The Westcott Carbon Project is one of Loam's first growers, now with 45 farmers committing to formal projects with the Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCU) scheme, covering a carbon project area exceeding just on 100,000 hectares.
This underscores a growing trend across croppers across Australia participating in government-regulated carbon farming programs.
Traditionally carbon projects were seen on livestock properties, however more and more croppers are starting to register.
Analysis of carbon project registry under the Government's Emissions Reduction Fund offers a snapshot of recent adoption by Australian growers.
As of October 2023, approximately 80 unique soil carbon projects within majority-cropping enterprises have been registered since 2018.
Historically, soil carbon projects have been registered on grazing and rangeland properties.
Cropping projects collectively now span 103,000 hectares.
The Carbon Series was produced in collaboration with the Australian Science Media Centre with support from the META Public Interest Journalism Fund administered by the Walkley Foundation