The announcement by Minister Taylor
The Low Emissions Technology Statement announcement by Minister Taylor heralds a shift from the developmental phase to an implementation phase in the soil carbon industry, where we will see large numbers of projects being implemented and where we deliver on the strategic importance to agriculture and emissions drawdown.
- A major obstacle to the industry’s development is the cost of soil carbon measurement in the field. (Carbon is physically measured down to a metre on multiple sites on each farm.)
- It currently costs around $25 per hectare, the Statement has set a stretch goal of a 90% reduction or $3 per hectare
- The key ways to reduce these costs are through streamlining the “method” under the Emissions Reduction Fund and to develop new technologies to reduce the time and cost associated with measuring the soil carbon levels in the paddock
- The other factor is the need for a funding model to drive investment in soil carbon projects.
- By tasking the Clean Energy Regulator with the development of new methods, the government is providing an opportunity to improve the operation of the existing method
- It is unlocking funding mechanisms for soil carbon testing
- More importantly, the expansion of the remit of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to incorporate land sector activities such as building soil carbon, will create a fantastic opportunity to develop new funding approaches to implement soil carbon on-farm
- Approaches to build soil carbon like:
- grazing management
- planting mixed-species forages into existing pastures
- applying compost
- biological farming systems
So providing funding mechanisms for the sampling and implementation is great.
Setting a strategic stretch goal on reducing the cost of soil sampling will unlock a lot of innovation in the area in terms of cheaper and more cost-effective ways to measure soil carbon. This will reduce barriers to entry for farmers across Australia.
There is a lot of work to do to reach the 90% reduction in the cost of soil sampling but it is possible to achieve it as the industry scales
The benefits of getting to scale are:
- we get efficiency
- we unlock new technologies as we move from physically measuring to scanning with new scanning technologies such as near-infrared spectroscopy
- developing and adopting new platforms that incorporate satellite data as a way of tuning and calibrating changes on ground as a proxy for measuring soil organic carbon in the field
When you look at all of the opportunities currently on the table and the rate of change at which these technologies and approaches are improving Mr Warnken is supremely confident that we will achieve that 90% reduction in soil sampling costs.
Potential changes to the method
The opportunity is to take the existing measurement-based method and hybridise it with the existing model-based methodology under the Emissions Reduction Fund.
The current model-based method is extremely conservative in terms of the number of credits that flow from it and zero projects have been registered under that approach.
If we combined the two, we could go to a sampling regime where we measure once every ten years, and in the interval, use a model-based approach that incorporated other remote sensing data. This would enable a steady stream of carbon credits to be issued to reward farmers for changed farming practices and improved on-farm and environmental outcomes.
There we get the best of both worlds – the world’s best practice soil sampling and the benefit of that large amount of data flowing through, and from a practical point of view rewards to farmers would start to flow from year one.
Currently many farmers need to wait up to five years before receiving their first soil carbon credits.
The big picture
Minister Taylor’s Low Emissions Technology Statement announcement represents a tremendous opportunity for Australia to leverage its international leadership position on soils. We now have a clear pathway and mandate for getting the right measurement approaches, the right methods, and having the right funding mechanisms for implementing soil carbon projects on farm in a way that gives us the scale to be material to Australia’s national emissions.
At its heart, building soil carbon takes carbon out of the atmosphere where it is a problem and stores it in soils where it is an asset to farmers.
Soil Carbon Taskforce
The inaugural, Soil Carbon Taskforce, was formed under the Carbon Market Institute (CMI) umbrella, yesterday. This timely formation brings together soil carbon industry practitioners with CMI’s decade of experience in carbon market development to transform and accelerate the development of the soil carbon industry.
It’ll provide a focal point to engage with government on exactly these kinds of announcements. Top of our agenda is to work with the Clean Energy Regulator on improvements to the existing method for soil carbon projects, reducing costs involved in participating, and co-designing new approaches with the regulator.
The mandate of the taskforce is to then engage with ARENA and CEFC in these early stages as they start to think about what effects the change in their expanded mandate has, and how best to realise those opportunities in the real world.
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