This week the CSIRO released a research paper by Doran-Brown et al identifying plant sequestration as a significant method to offset carbon dioxide emissions from agriculture, thereby reducing the carbon balance of intensive farming enterprises. The paper seeks to meet a current research gap in Australia whereby carbon offsets for properties with high stocking rates (more than 20 dry sheep equivalents per hectare) are unknown. It should be noted that while the paper is a comprehensive study of carbon sequestration of intensive farming enterprises, it is limited in that it does not contain an economic analysis of improving the carbon balance, especially if livestock numbers are reduced in favour of planting more trees.
A carbon balance represents a crucial climate change mitigation method. Localised forms of mitigation methods represent a collective effort of reduction and assist in the likelihood of Australia meeting its international obligations of 26-28% emissions reductions based on 2005 levels by 2030. Using two case study farms in Hamilton, Victoria and Yass, New South Wales, the carbon balance was calculated by subtracting the carbon sequestered in trees and soil from the on-farm and pre-farm emissions. A 35 year time period was used to calculate the balance.
Previous mitigation measures include grazing management, improving feed digestibility, feed additives, animal productivity and health, legume use and better manure management are restricted in their sequestration capacities, limited between 1-13 per cent emissions reduction. Further, economic limitations also restrict the efficiency of these practices.
Doran-Brown et al found sequestration through trees on-site was a far more valuable localised method of mitigation. The study monitored a 35 year period to record sequestration across wool, lamb and beef produce. The study found that when 20 per cent or more of the property’s area is covered by trees with stock rates of up to 22 dry sheep equivalents per hectare, the site can remain carbon positive, that is sequester more carbon than emitted, for over 25 years. Whilst it is important to note that the sequestration capacity of land changes depending on a number of variables such as the type of soil, rainfall, and trees, including the age of trees, on the property, the study presents novel findings regarding the substantive capacity trees can play in mitigating agricultural emissions at a local level.
Source: Natalie Doran-Browne, Mark Wootton, Chris Taylor and Richard Eckard, ‘Offsets required to reduce the carbon balance of sheep and beef farms through carbon sequestration in trees and soils’ (2017) Animal Production Science [pre-publication].
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