What is carbon farming?
The phrase ‘carbon farming’ means using farming methods that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and/or capture and hold carbon in vegetation and soils.
Carbon farming can cover small changes in land management – like introducing no-till cropping, stubble retention, agroforestry, or methane-reducing feed supplements.
At the other end of the scale, it can mean developing an integrated whole farm plan to reduce emissions and maximise carbon capture. It includes those activities that earn Australian Carbon Credit Units through the Emissions Reduction Fund.
According to the CSIRO, which is leading national research on greenhouse emissions in agriculture, there are six potential options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture, through:
- carbon sequestration in forests tree plantings and regrowth
- carbon storage in soils and degraded rangelands
- carbon storage through production and use of biochar
- changed fire management in tropical savannas
- abatement of methane emissions from livestock
- the substitution of biofuels for fossil fuels.1
Many of the techniques used in carbon farming are consistent with best practice management approaches for sustainable agriculture. They not only reduce the levels of CO2-e being released into the atmosphere, but they can lead to an improvement in farm efficiencies and profitability.
For example, NSW DPI reports that a long-term trial in Wagga Wagga NSW found that cultivation, stubble management and crop rotations had significant impacts on soil organic carbon:
- Under continuous wheat cropping with stubble burning and cultivation. Soil organic carbon was lost at the rate of nearly 400 kg C/ha/yr.
- The most carbon was conserved with wheat/subclover pasture, with wheat produced under no-till and stubble retention. Soil organic carbon increased at the rate of 185 kg C/ha/yr.2
By using the right management practices, farms can be transformed from sources of carbon to carbon sinks.
Any practice that enhances productivity and returns plant residues, such as shoots and roots, to the soil, increases soil organic carbon.3
Improved management options in cropping, tillage, pasture management and adding organic materials are proven practices that can be incorporated into existing farming systems to improve soil condition, conserve water and reduce erosion. This can also result in higher crop yields.
Adopting farming systems that can increase SOC is a win-win situation.
For more detail see win-win carbon faming practices.
For further information see NSW Department of Primary Industry’s Increasing Soil Organic Carbon fact sheet.