Carbon scheme caution call as State Government announce funding to boost carbon farming projects

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Oyster Harbour Catchment Group project officer Bruce Radys.
Camera IconOyster Harbour Catchment Group project officer Bruce Radys. Credit: Laurie Benson/Albany Advertiser, Laurie Benson

The State Government has announced a $15 million boost for carbon farming projects in a bid to help WA farmers enter the carbon market.

But Oyster Harbour Catchment Group’s Bruce Radys has urged farmers to enter the schemes with caution.

Announced last week, the Carbon Farming and Land Restoration Program is the latest scheme to push for carbon market uptake.

Farmers would receive payments to develop revegetation programs, or use systems to build soil carbon in return for an agreed number of carbon credits.

Growers in the South West will be eligible for the first stream, and a second stream will target soil carbon projects in lower-rainfall areas in the division.

Mr Radys is one of the organisers of a local event, to be held next month, Opportunities in a Changing Climate, which will address the carbon market and what it means for local farmers. With the latest announcement adding to the opportunities for growers, he said there needed to be a “critical, scientific look” at the proposed carbon sequestration.

Mr Radys said his concerns included the length of agreements and the impact carbon level or price changes had on farmers.

“While we can increase carbon, it’s not actually been well tested in WA as far as how much we can build the carbon in the soils,” he said.

“The idea ... that farmers can change their practices slightly and sequester enough carbon to counteract the effects of the large global emitters is almost ludicrous.

“As far as local farmers, it is promoted as a new opportunity but the main message is that they need to critically assess any change that they are making, because they need to be agronomically sound and profitable in their own right.”

Mr Radys wants more research carried out into carbon sequestration in the local area.

“There is all this money from emitters that they want to spend to buy carbon credits, but the assumption is made that we can sequester all this carbon,” he said.

“The testing of the levels of carbon and what is required to qualify is hugely expensive, and that has not even been nailed down.

“We can sequester carbon in the soil, but it will reach an equilibrium.”

Kalgan farmer Johanna Tomlinson, the 2019 Nuffield Scholar, was part of a CarbonCare project which set out to help farmers take advantage of carbon market opportunities.

With a keen interest in how carbon can be used for local farmers, she said she, too, wanted to know more about what the schemes “actually mean” for growers. “How can we play in this space safely?” she said.

“A lot of risk is in the growers.

“I understand that the plans are quite well developed to get growers involved but I want to know what it actually means to add it to our business.”

The Opportunities in a Changing Climate event on August 6 is aimed at high-rainfall grazers and will have independent speakers talking about long-term prospects and opportunities.

“There are carbon aggregators or traders who are very keen to sign farmers up — some of those can be very pushy,” Mr Radys said.

“We have got some speakers who are independent to talk about what the actual methods are, and understanding how carbon is sequestered and what we are likely to be able to do in WA.

“The second point is to get an independent person to talk about the schemes and what it means to sign up, and whether it is suitable to a particular farmer.”

For details, visit ohcg.org.au.

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