World first soil carbon project a giant leap for humankind

Photo courtesy of Adrianna Marchand

An innovative project from Australia is leading the world in turning around agriculture’s reputation as a dominant source of greenhouse gasses including atmospheric CO2, giving farmers the opportunity to be climate action heroes. Soils hold significant potential, contributing to drawdown climate change solutions, by storing atmospheric carbon removed via regenerative farming practices.

There is too much carbon in the atmosphere contributing to climate change, a portion of which is mobilised soil carbon. Through unsuitable industrialised farming practices, agriculture contributes to the emission of carbon and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.  A change in farming practices as the project demonstrates, leads to a reversal, with atmospheric carbon being stored back in soils. Regenerative farming practices also respond to reducing other harmful greenhouse gasses emitted by agriculture. Increased stable soil organic carbon is not only a win for agricultural productivity but also for food security, drought resilience and the health of the planet.

In a world first, the project has been issued ‘carbon credits’ under a national government regulated scheme, the Emissions Reduction Fund established on the principles of reducing emissions at lowest cost and purchasing genuine and additional emissions reductions with a 25 year permanence. 

Each carbon credit (or ACCU) on this project is a measure of the amount of carbon drawn down from the atmosphere into soil over time, and represents one tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2-e) stored. The Grounds Keeping Project sequestered 11t CO2-e/ha on farm land between baseline and second round soil sampling over a period of 1 year.  This level of sequestration is equivalent to what might be expected from an environmental plantings project in the same region. Furthermore, it is not taking land out of food production, meaning it is agriculture plus carbon which avoids potential adverse land use changes.

Demonstrating regenerative farming practices that have successfully reduced atmospheric carbon by storing it in soils, opens the gate to the potential for agriculture to contribute to climate adaptation by sequestering carbon in soils, providing an additional source of income over and above production. This is only limited by the number of farmers on the planet that can adapt farming practices to create carbon sinks on agricultural land. 

The project highlights that the solution to a global challenge is effective and elegantly simple and that soil carbon farming is a win/win/win. High levels of soil carbon equals high levels of farm productivity. Results achieved by the innovative pasture renovator and land management practices on the Olsen family farm in south eastern Australia have led to increased water infiltration, increased biological life, and increased nutrient availability to plants. When water and rainfall are used more effectively, growing seasons can be extended, and farms become more drought tolerant. The project relies on direct measurement through soil sampling as well as acting on the ground to increase soil carbon using innovative practices to aerate soil, build organic matter, top dress pasture and plant seed. The soil carbon story on this farm and the projects building around Australia are a set to lead the world for agriculture’s contribution to landscape and planet health.

Soils ability to play a significant role in drawdown by sequestering atmospheric carbon, improving farm productivity and providing an additional income source is now an invitation extended to all of us. One paddock at a time we can help our planet, starting with 100 hectares in south east Australia. 

Last updated April 8, 2019

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