CFI methodology for northern cattle underway

James Nason, 15/08/2014

A Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) methodology has been endorsed which could allow northern cattle producers on extensive operations to claim carbon credits by feeding nitrate supplements to their herd.

The ‘nitrates supplements for beef cattle CFI methodology’ was developed from a project funded by MLA and the Australian Agricultural Company (AACo), and backed by science from the National Livestock Methane Program.

Carbon market adviser Phil Cohn, founder of RAMP Carbon, is working with MLA to identify techniques and technologies so producers can lift productivity and access carbon incentive schemes.

Phil said the current price of nitrate salts could initially make supplementation cost effective only for larger grazing enterprises, but all producers could benefit from seeing how a methodology is applied.

The main points of the nitrate abatement strategy are:

  • The activity is applicable to grazing beef cattle.
  • Native pastures often lack the required crude protein levels to sustain rumen function.
  • Nitrates reduce enteric methane emissions produced during digestion producers feed urea, which contains non-protein nitrogen to overcome deficiencies. • Supplements such as calcium nitrate and ammonium nitrate are alternative sources of non-protein nitrogen.

Close on the heels of the nitrate strategy is a second CFI methodology, covering early finishing of cattle in northern Australia as a way to reduce lifetime emissions. It is hoped the early finishing methodology will be available for public comment mid-year before progressing to the Government’s Domestic Offsets Integrity Committee for evaluation.

In reality

AACo’s Cameron Best said the company was considering nitrate supplementation as part of a wider commitment to reduce its carbon footprint.

“AACo sees the methodology as a brick in the wall. Feeding nitrate salts is not an independent strategy. It is part of a suite of activities including genetics, feed efficiency and herd management – all aimed at reducing AACo’s emissions intensity and increasing productivity,” he said.

While the numbers are still being crunched, Cameron said it was important to get price signals into the marketplace to ensure nitrates became a cost-effective option for producers.

“Yes, it’s a learning curve, but I think the message for the whole industry is that we can’t be left standing with no capabilities as we move towards 2020 climate targets,” Cameron said.

“No strategy should be used in isolation, so producers who develop a suite of strategies have better control of productivity and are on the front foot when it comes to emissions reduction.”

Looking to the future

Carbon markets have expanded rapidly in the past 25 years. In 1990, 20 million people were covered by carbon pricing schemes, growing to one billion people in 2013, with an expected three billion in the ‘carbon market place’ by 2020.

Phil said the endorsement of this first beef-focused CFI methodology is an important step. By thinking strategically as an industry, producers can take advantage of the future market incentives rather than wait for policy measures such as taxes and regulations.

“The CFI is an opportunity for producers to be on the front foot and demonstrate proactive steps to reduce emissions,” Phil said.

MLA is supporting this with the Farm300 program, an 18-month initiative which will help producers (through advisor coaches) reduce on-farm greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, sequester carbon and participate in the CFI.

“Consumers and the marketplace are also conscious of the environmental credentials of food, as demonstrated by the recent commitment of restaurant chain McDonald’s to use only sustainably produced beef by 2016,” Phil said.

“The risk, without accountable carbon abatement programs, is that the push from government and pull of consumers could see the cattle and sheep industry penalised through regulations or lost markets.

“When CFI methodologies are combined with strategies that improve on-farm productivity while reducing emissions, such as earlier turn-off and joining heifers as yearlings, they could provide an income stream for producers.”

Projects using approved CFI methodologies are able to generate carbon credits for seven years. Eligible producers need to maintain auditable records to ensure the carbon abatement is genuine and verifiable.

Under the Federal Government’s proposed Direct Action Plan, it is expected that carbon credits will be worth around $10-12/t of CO2 reduced. To date, 107 projects have claimed more than four million CFI carbon credits (with a value of about $80 million), mainly from the waste management industry. Dairies and piggeries also now have eligible manure management methodologies.

Phil said the cattle and sheep sector had the opportunity to continue to develop CFI methodologies to maximise the benefits of reducing emissions.

“Research shows a range of ways for cattle and lamb producers to reduce emissions and improve productivity in future – breeding programs, novel supplements and improved forages,” he said.

“When combined with emerging mediumterm opportunities such as soil carbon, grazing management and tree planting, producers will have a range of options to be rewarded for cutting on-farm greenhouse gas emissions.”

What next?

Once a methodology is approved under the CFI, producers can then utilise it to implement a Carbon Farming Initiative project. Go to the Australian Government’s Carbon Farming Initiative website for further information.


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