|Carbon Positive Farming
with Peter Burton
Functional Fertiliser Ltd
Jargon is a mode of speech familiar only to a group or profession.
It’s widely used by the scientific fraternity, particularly with respect to agriculture, and its effect, whether deliberate or otherwise, has been to limit open discussion.
When you are unsure of the meaning of technical terms there’s a tendency to say nothing so as to not look foolish.
Carbon, whether lost or gained, is fundamental to the future of agriculture, not only here but world-wide.
The government has a stated aim of carbon neutrality by 2050 and those able to show that their farming enterprise is gaining carbon stand to gain financially, either through paying less tax and/or receiving higher returns for their produce.
Those losing carbon will be penalised and their future limited, and yet farmers currently have no sure way of knowing which camp they fall into.
Knowing where you stand (sidehead)
The dairy industry admits that they are responsible to some extent for the increase in nitrate nitrogen levels recorded over recent times, but are yet to explain how this issue is to be resolved.
At present the blunt tool of fewer animals seems to be the accepted next step and this alone may or may not solve the problem.
Farmers need to know where they stand and be able to plan for the future with a degree of certainty.
Banks also require this certainty for land prices to be determined allowing the current group of owners aged 60-plus to sell their properties, should they wish.
Younger folk with energy, enthusiasm, and the skill necessary to take pastoral farming to the next level are presently stymied, and without a clear pathway to land ownership will look to other industries for their futures.
Landcare Research has measured carbon on pastoral land throughout the country and I’m told that the measures show that all irrigated land in this country is losing carbon.
Whether that’s right or wrong, the findings should be freely available, because irrigating land does not necessarily result in a reduction of soil held carbon.
The loss of soil carbon results from farming practices, however which ones? As it is under permanent grazed pasture that carbon is sequestered most rapidly it must be a practice or input that disrupts this natural process.
Prioritising tests and samples (sidehead)
Animals are an essential part of the sequestration process as it is their dung, urine, and treading that contributes not only to the development of soil but also the speed at which it occurs.
An article published by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council in 2011 contains the following: “recent research has shown that in intensive lowland livestock systems (e.g. dairying), soils have lost organic matter by an average of one tonne carbon/ha/yr over the last 20-30 years while in hilly land soils, organic carbon levels have increased”.
What is unique to dairy land is the ongoing application of urea on a regular basis, and that started around 1990, so fits with the timeline, but alone may not be the issue.
With data going back 30 years the scientific fraternity can doubtless provide a hypothesis that can be readily verified.
A term that we feel should be introduced is ‘carbon positive farming’, to differentiate between systems that sequester and those that lose carbon.
If farmers were told how to sample their property and what test/s to request they could develop a benchmark against which future tests could be compared.
Any single test will only be accurate within quite broad parameters, it will be the trend over time that tells the full story.
If we are to meet the 2050 carbon neutral target it is imperative that the tests and sampling procedures are made a top priority.
For more information contact Peter on: 0800 843 809.