Opinion: what are the reasons to engage with the carbon market?

Louisa Kiely, 18/04/2023

Louisa Kiely

In this contributed article, Louisa Kiely looks into some aspects dividing the agricultural and carbon industries and the potential benefits of engaging with the emerging market opportunities. Louisa is a founder of Carbon Farmers of Australia and a long-time lobbyist for the recognition of soil carbon sequestration and the right for farmers to be able to engage with the carbon farming markets.






Editors note: this article was submitted after Beef Central ran another article written by NSW producer and Cattle Australia board member George King titled “carbon trading – best way to lose your farm since the 80’s offshore debt debacle”


THE carbon market has been causing plenty of debate in recent times, with many landholders still sceptical of the industry.

I have been involved in agriculture for more than 20 years and I started with the carbon industry in 2005. Lately, I have been thinking about this clear division and why farmers may choose whether to engage or disengage with the carbon market and the emerging biodiversity market.

There are some things we all seem to agree on:

  • We want to leave the farm in better condition than we found it and have good generational succession.
  • We are constantly improving soils for greater productivity, food security and resilience in the face of a changing climate.
  • We are improving knowledge/understanding on ways to go into drought later, come out sooner for business continuity.
  • We are always looking for ways to keep stock protected under a changing climate. Healthy stock have more resilience.

Landholders are very good businesspeople, they know their country and they are always keen to investigate new markets.

Therein lies the problem – not necessarily that this carbon market is a scam, but that it has not been explained well

Continual evolution of markets is required to stay profitable and try ideas which suit their business and personal goals.

Farmers for Climate Action has dome some excellent work on this, with a recent report stating:

“Carbon farming in a high-integrity market can produce huge benefits for farmers, but just 10 percent of farmers are growing and selling carbon and 70pc say they don’t understand the carbon market.

“Some 38pc of farmers said they do not sell carbon because they do not know how.” (More on that paper here)

Therein lies the problem – not necessarily that this carbon market is a scam, but that it has not been explained well, or executed well.

Is that a reason to ignore it? 

Change is never easy or smooth. The pioneers of change can attest to this.

Any group who has introduced new breeds, made inroads into better livestock control, changed tillage habits or gone against ‘conventional wisdom’ will have felt the arrows of ‘this can’t be done’ or ‘tell them they are dreaming’.

However, those who persevered with their dream have often led to improvements for all.

Then the question becomes, how can the carbon market assist landholders in working through its main issues?

I understand the methodologies are complex and the market information is often not explained in “plain English”. But I want to see carbon farming become available for most farmers, not just the big ones.

Carbon farming is already operating and the biodiversity market is on its way – it may be one of the biggest market opportunities for farmers.

Should Farmers engage?

Many reasons not to engage with the carbon industry have been put forward:

  • All it means is that big polluters will be able to continue to pollute and carbon farming will not make a difference to emission reduction.
  • Methane cycles quickly and should not be counted in the same way as pollution from other sources.
  • Farmers are more likely to be sinks for CO2e, not a source of pollution, and therefore ag should not be included in greenhouse gas calculations. (Try telling that to the pollies!)

But I believe that are more reasons for farmers to engage and work with the carbon industry and make it better:

  • The world is moving on climate change, it is widely believed that agriculture contributes significantly to this. If ag does not engage with the ‘carrot’ of the carbon markets to reduce emissions, will there be a tax on emissions with no potential upside?
  • Agriculture covers more than 50pc of the world’s land mass – the largest carbon sink under human control.
  • If landholders/agribusiness does not engage, corporate Australia and overseas companies will. Do we want more buy ups of Australian land?
  • The carbon price has risen from $10 a few years ago to $39 last week – the more you know about the market the better you can use it to your advantage and lobby for the changes you want. The best way to hold ‘carbon project developers’ or middlemen to account is to know the rules/regulations.

It is for these reasons that CFA has chosen to engage and have organised and run 10 Carbon Farming Conferences and this year will ‘evolve’ with the market to host the Inaugural Nature Based Solutions conference and expo in Brisbane.  Including information and education on the new biodiversity markets.

Come along and ask the experts yourself.   “Is this market worth engaging with? Will it become easier?  How can a Landholder get a good return?



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