Source: ABC Rural, 6th April 2017
Livestock production is often blamed as one of the highest carbon emitters but a new study shows livestock farmers can be carbon netural and maintain production and profitability.
The study by the University of Melbourne followed two different farming operations in their bid to become carbon neutral, Jigsaw Farms in western Victoria and a property near Yass, in New South Wales.
It calculated the carbon balance of wool, prime lamb and beef enterprises using a range of stocking rates, as well as emissions from livestock, energy and transport.
Professor Richard Eckard, director of Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre at the University of Melbourne, said the idea was to find out if high-density livestock farming could be carbon neutral.
"We'd demonstrated that a low-stocked wool operation could be carbon neutral but (wanted to learn if it) could happen on a high-stocked property," he said.
Professor Eckard said the findings showed livestock farmers could be carbon neutral and still be productive and profitable.
"The fear that carbon neutral is something that can't be obtained is not valid," he said.
"We demonstrated in two cases that it is possible."
Jigsaw Farms now carbon neutral.
Mark Wootton from Jigsaw Farms, runs a high density wool and lamb operation.
"In essence, I reckon we can say livestock production can be part of the solution for lowering greenhouse footprints (and is) not necessarily the problem, which it's always seemed to be," he said.
Despite Mr Wootton's high livestock numbers, he can say with scientific proof that he is carbon neutral.
"We always were talking about moving towards carbon neutrality with our livestock production," he said. "We just wanted to establish, in real numbers through a proper peer-reviewed study, what we were actually achieving on farm."
Since 1997 Jigsaw Farms has revegetated more than 600 hectares and the study showed that between 2000 and 2014 they reduced their emissions by 48%.
Mr Wootton said it was a positive story but he was surprised about how long it took his property to become carbon neutral.
Professor Eckard said this was because when you first start, trees are not storing all the cabon they can, but livestock start producing methane from day one. "In the initial development of the property, you probably had a positive greenhouse gas balance with more methane and nitrous oxide from the livestock than the trees and soil were storing," he said.
"But over time that turns around."
Data collection critical for credibility of study
Professor Eckhard said that the two farms were chosen because they had been diligent in collecting data from their properties.
"That was really critical in being able to make the study credible," he said. "You've got to know what date certain activities were undertaken so that we can then accurately model from there what carbon was accumulated in the landscape."
He said no-one was requiring livesock producers to be carbon neutral but even going part of he way was beneficial to farmers.
"You can do some restoration on your property and there is a carbon benefit," he said.
"It will benefit you as a producer because a soil that has a higher soil carbon or soil organic matter is just more productive."
In a previous study, Professor Eckard said they also found a benefit to shade and shelter as part of biodiversity planning. "If you design them correctly the shade and shelter benefit is actually far more valuable than trying to sell the carbon," he said. "So there are productivity benefits that outweight the possible fcarbon offset benefits."
Mr Wootton said the bottom line for his operation was profitability.
"It is about productivity but we want to make sure along the way we're not doing damage to the planet," he said.
Source: ABC Rural, 6th April