Australia has untapped potential as a globally significant source of carbon sequestration in our soils. Improving land management practices on a quarter of Australia’s crop and grazing lands could draw between 35 and 90 million tonnes of CO₂ per annum from the atmosphere while improving agricultural productivity and soil resilience.
Offsets created by soil carbon projects can provide a valuable additional revenue stream for farmers, and provide decarbonisation pathways for new and existing industries, which will preserve jobs. Increasing the soil carbon concentration (in the form of organic material) can improve farm productivity and crop yields through better nutrient and water retention, and boost resilience to drought and erosion.
Realising the sequestration potential of Australia’s soils would deliver positive economic outcomes and exploit a powerful competitive advantage for our nation, and help position our agriculture sector to meet its aspiration to exceed $100 billion in farm-gate output by 2030.
However, the current cost of accurately measuring changes in soil carbon is a barrier to widespread adoption of practices that would unlock soil carbon sequestration on a broad scale.
Setting the stretch goal
Industry experts confirm that achieving a stretch goal for soil carbon measurement of under $3 per hectare per year would transform the economics of soil carbon projects for Australian farmers.
It would remove measurement as a barrier to participation in Emissions Reduction Fund soil carbon projects, and enable farmers to be credited for the emissions reductions these projects would achieve.
Currently, soil carbon measurement for Emissions Reduction Fund projects cost around $30 per hectare per year.
Options proposed by industry and researchers involve the expanded use of remote and proximal sensing technologies, improved national soil carbon datasets and the development of the next generation of soil carbon computer models.
If successfully developed and deployed, these measurement approaches would enable farmers and other landholders to reduce the number of direct physical measurements needed to understand soil carbon changes, while maintaining accuracy.
The Government will explore opportunities to partner with industry and researchers to improve soil carbon measurement. Based on this early work, a competitive challenge-based approach, where industry and researchers put forward proposals for meeting the stretch goal, is likely to be the best approach to revealing an effective development pathway. This will complement the actions the Government is already taking to encourage and incentivise soil carbon projects.
Incentives for soil carbon are available through the Emissions Reduction Fund, and the Government is progressing reforms recommended by the King Review to encourage greater participation. The CEFC is investing in the agricultural technology sector to build the industry’s capabilities.
Through the National Soil Strategy, the Government is exploring how it can help farmers to make better decisions about soil health and identify the productivity benefits of replenishing soil carbon on their properties.