Carbon

Soil carbon achievements should be celebrated not disparaged, industry argues

Eric Barker, 28/09/2023

AS SOIL carbon credits have started to flow to some of the burgeoning industry’s early adopters, prominent finance journalist Alan Kohler has taken aim them labelling the industry a trap.

In a climate-focused column he regularly writes for the New Daily website, Mr Kohler made three key points:

  • Farmers were being issued Australian Carbon Credit Units for activities they were always going to do, or activities they should be doing
  • Farmers taking “quick cash” by selling credits to other companies were not going to be able to sell their meat because most of the supermarkets have their own targets farmers will need to comply with
  • Supermarkets will eventually need to “get off” meat

The article has triggered a response from the soil carbon and red meat industries both arguing that important context was missing from the argument.

The first point was made in reference to a story run in Beef Central last week about the issuance of soil carbon credits to a New South Wales producer, who said he always had an interest in regenerative agriculture.

Additionality is the main underpinning concept of the carbon market and means that producers doing carbon projects have to demonstrate that they are doing more than business as usual to draw down carbon. Changes in livestock or pasture management practices are required for soil carbon.

However, additionality has been a contentious issue with soil carbon, with some scientists like University of Melbourne’s Richard Eckard arguing that rainfall is the overwhelming factor that influences it.

Many in the soil carbon industry are pointing to the recent credit issuances to reinforce the influence of management on soils, with many of those projects running over at least two years of drought. The soil carbon industry also argues that a lot of the peer-reviewed studies are very outdated.

Others like Queensland University of Technology professor David Rowlings say the question is more about how much management influences it and have urged the soil carbon industry to put its data up for peer review.

Soil carbon gains need to be incentivised

Agriprove was the company advising the project in question, its managing director Matthew Warnken said the soil carbon projects like the one that was issued credits last week were far from business as usual.

“They are long-term commitments with high requirements on reporting, measurements and verification,” Mr Warnken said.

“I certainly wouldn’t agree that the biological pathways to increasing soil carbon are common knowledge because they are big projects with a significant capital outlay. There is so much evidence that these are new practices that need to be accelerated at scale.”

Mr Warnken said achievements like the recent issuances of soil carbon credits should be celebrated rather than disparaged. He said activities that increase soil carbon needed to be incentivised and financial incentives were the best way of doing that.

“From the strategic level, we can’t see any future safe climate where actively managing soils for carbon draw-down, soil conservation and nature repair isn’t part of it,” he said.

“To be part of that you need those incentives and comments like this are almost incentivising people to not take action.”

Will carbon credits be a barrier for meat market access?

In the article, Mr Kohler points to net zero targets set by companies like Coles and Woolworths saying that producers trading away carbon credits will lose market access for their meat.

Woolworths and many other companies across the world are signed up to a program called the Science Based Targets Initiative, where they have to reach their targets by de-carbonising their own supply chains.

Work is underway to develop those pathways for them, which Beef Central recently covered in the articles posted at the bottom of this story.

Wilmot Cattle Company managing director Stuart Austin said it was hard to see supermarkets selling a completely carbon neutral range of beef.

“We are a long way from supermarkets selling significant volumes of carbon neutral beef, with the rising cost of living reducing people’s capacity to consume beef, let alone pay a premium for carbon neutral beef,” Mr Austin said.

“It’s difficult to see a situation where the income streams from ACCUs would outstrip the income stream from beef production by virtue of it not being carbon neutral. ACCUs are the icing on the cake for producers who have already realised the benefit from better management practices.

“The CER carbon market is the envy of the world because it is so rigorous. These projects create an alternative income stream directly related to and in recognition of better, more sustainable land management. That additional revenue stream will be particularly important in challenging conditions such what as we are experiencing right now.”

The company is owned by the MacDoch group, whose chair Alasdair Macleod made a recent presentation to the Queensland Rural Press Club.

Red Meat Advisory Council chief executive officer Alastair James said the idea reaching the targets by getting rid of meat was misinformed.

“Any suggestion that you need to stop meat consumption to save the climate is misinformed and overlooks the fact that the Australian red meat industry has already reduced emissions by almost 65 percent since 2005,” he said.

“Australia’s red meat producers have done more than any other industry in the nation to reduce carbon emissions and will continue do the heavy lifting as they work towards their goal of being carbon neutral by 2030.

“Consumers should be putting more red meat on the BBQ and not less if they are wanting to do their bit for the environment.”

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. David cornish, 29/09/2023

    Really disappointing to see Beef Central attacking credibility of the likes of Professor Richard Eckard. They are not attacking the beef industry what they are trying to do is protect the beef industry from the shonks using the banner of regen to pass off some really questionable analysis. The science is very clear on this. I suggest you familiarise yourselve with it before you do another hit piece

    Hi David, I don’t see how this is an attack on Richard Eckard or his credibility. It is just summarising a point he has made in many public forums before. Might also be worth reading back on the many articles Beef Central has done with Richard on these issues, like the one we ran on Friday. Just type-in Richard Eckard into our search function to find them. Ironically, people from the soil carbon and beef industries weren’t given a voice in the original New Daily article that was critical of them, which is why we wrote this story in the first place. Editor

    • Natalie Hick, 06/10/2023

      Thanks Editor for creating a semblance of balance…it is much needed.

    • David Connellan, 30/09/2023

      As an educator, David, you of all people should be aware of the need for balance in any debate around an issue like this

  2. John Schultz, 29/09/2023

    Kohler comments in his article, are sadly, a reflection of the state of journalism. A cursory review of the subject matter and you are informed enough to make a comment.

    The ACCU’s are being sold at a particular depth of soil, the top of the soil profile. Carbon deeper in the soil is not “bought” and theoretically could cover any on farm Carbon emissions…..

  3. Peter F Dunn, 28/09/2023

    This is disturbing. If experienced economists like Alan Kohler are expressing reservations, is it not time to pause and, despite the tough times, to reevaluate the dollar attractiveness?
    Many weeks ago, I warned in this forum that “none of this is rock solid”.
    The fact that Woolworths and Coles are locked into their own initiative is no surprise, because they avoid at all costs anything which might require a departure from their rigid price setting philosophy. They will not reward any carbon reduction efforts made by farmers.
    The other fact, barely mentioned by carbon reduction advocates, is that the 2030 carbon neutral goal has no hope whatsoever of being achieved, and indeed the entire race to carbon neutrality is not only physically unravelling, but also is being questioned internationally. A sensible transition, with all options on the table, is becoming the favoured objective being discussed.
    Time to replace the calls for urgency with calls for calm analysis perhaps?

    • Natalie Hick, 06/10/2023

      Alan Kohlers comments are hardly disturbing…merely lazy journalism and poor research…there are so many misleading points that are ridiculous…you would know this if you were involved in the sector.
      How very socialist of you to expect farmers/graziers to do all the grunt work to fix atmospheric carbon, pay for land amendment and infrastructure on society’s’ behalf, and not be remunerated for their efforts. Along with the insane concept to save all their credits for insetting….which feeds straight into supermarket supply chain requirements that you are scathing of…that is the worst perverse outcome ever suggested…. a free market is what is needed, with market mechanisms (supply/demand) determining the carbon price…not closed door deals by supermarkets to secure credits for their supply chain from farmers sweating on a cheque at the end of harvest….who have limited reference price points for credits.
      I am interested in what you consider “Rock Solid”…compared to what? The ASX/SPI or share market? CFD’s? Futures contracts? Options trading? Elections? Planting wheat when you don’t know if it is going to rain? Buying cattle at the moment?
      Nothing in agriculture is Rock Solid or safe….the carbon market would have to be one of the most rock solid markets to be in presently….at least there is a strong carbon price underpinned by regulatory frameworks….more than i can say for most commodities, interest rates or rainfall currently.
      Interesting that you think that Australia won’t make the 2030 target…have a look at the projections for the cattle industry….so are you suggesting that we should all down tools?
      Here is MLA’s take on carbon reductions already achieved:
      https://www.mla.com.au/news-and-events/industry-news/red-meat-industry-makes-huge-headway-in-reducing-greenhouse-gas-emissions/#:~:text=A%20new%20research%20report%20released,emissions%20by%2065%25%20since%202005.
      What is unraveling internationally? Is this reference to the Verra Projects slaughtered by the guardian? Here is the real story:
      https://verra.org/verra-response-to-guardian-article/
      Not sure who you are calling for calm? I was involved in the working group meeting for the Integrated Farm Method yesterday….the 230 odd people on that call were pretty laid back…in fact, too laid back in my opinion…the long awaited “stacking method”development timeline has been pushed back until June next year…not sure how much more calm or laid back you can get than that…..

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