Report into pH, soil organic carbon improves local understanding of carbon farming

8 April, 2021

Word Count: 530

Report into pH, soil organic carbon improves local understanding of carbon farming

With many local farmers interested in the potential for carbon farming, farming systems group Riverine Plains has recently completed a region-first project looking into the viability and practicality of increasing soil carbon for trading through the Australian Government’s Emission Reduction Fund.

“To participate in carbon farming, farmers need to show an increase in soil carbon stocks over time, however this is easier said than done, with farmers facing a range of challenges in demonstrating the required levels of change” explained former Riverine Plains Project Officer and project leader, Dr Cassandra Schefe (now principal of AgriSci).

“With the support of the Cool Soil Initiative, Riverine Plains established a project in which paddocks were sampled to determine baseline soil pH and soil organic carbon using the specific methods set out in the Carbon Farming Initiative” said Cassandra.

“From this, we were then able to calculate stocks of soil organic carbon for each paddock and also used a particular paddock to work out what a 0.5% increase in soil carbon might look like in terms of the Australian Carbon Credit Unit, which can then be traded via the Emission Reduction Fund” Cassandra added.

The calculations, based on a pasture paddock near Springhurst, showed the potential financial gains from carbon farming to be relatively modest, with the returns needing to be weighed against the sampling, auditing and reporting costs of participating in the Emission Reduction Fund, as well as the long-term nature of the contract.

“The project highlighted how complex it can be to measure and validate any increase or change in soil organic carbon over time, and that trading carbon through the Emission Reduction Fund requires a thorough understanding of the process before committing” she said.

Aside from carbon farming, one of the most important take-home messages from the project was that soil pH and soil organic carbon influence soil health in a significant way, and it is important to measure changes through regular soil testing.

“While interactions between soil pH and soil organic carbon are complex, soil pH is a key parameter driving the soil’s ability to increase soil carbon, with low pH soils having reduced microbial activity and organic matter turnover” Cassandra said.

“We know that soil pH, in both the top-soil and the subsoil, is limiting productivity in a number of soils across north-east Victoria and southern NSW, and recommend that farmers use incremental soil sampling as a tool to help identify soils that require lime or other interventions” she concluded.

For the full report, visit https://riverineplains.org.au/quantifying-the-carbon-gains-from-mixed-cropping-systems/

This project was completed within the Cool Soil Initiative with partners Mars Petcare, Kellogg’s, Manildra Group and Allied Pinnacle, through the Sustainable Food Lab and Charles Sturt University (CSU), with additional funding through the Food Agility Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) and participating growers. This project was also supported by the North East and Goulburn Broken CMAs through funding provided by the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

Riverine Plains Inc is an independent farming systems group specialising in farmer driven research and extension across north-east Victoria and southern New South Wales. For more information, or to become a member, please visit https://www.riverineplains.org.au

….ends………………

More Information or Interview: Fiona Hart, Chief Operating Officer, Riverine Plains Inc on 03 5744 1713