Transforming farming for a carbon-neutral future


Lowering costs will help thousands of farmers participate in the carbon market.

Federation University researchers will play a leading role in a $6.5 million project that aims to revolutionise how rangeland farmers measure, manage and trade carbon.

The project is being led by the Australian Agricultural Company (AACo), Australia's largest integrated cattle and beef producer, and the Food Agility Cooperative Research Centre (CRC).

The researchers from the Centre for eResearch and Digital Innovation (CeRDI) and Federation Business School, will collaborate on the Rangelands Carbon Project with Cibo Labs, FLINTpro (Mullion Group), Carbon Link, University of Technology Sydney and Charles Sturt University.

Among the projects in the collaboration is the development of a tool to accurately and affordably measure soil carbon in Australian rangelands, which make up 75 per cent of the country's land mass. This will reduce reliance on expensive soil tests, which can cost millions and are a major barrier for farmers who want to manage soil health and participate in the growing carbon market.

CeRDI director Associate Professor Helen Thompson said the project, which is worth about $1 million to Federation, expands the opportunities for the university to have a real-world impact by collaborating with private sector companies and other universities.

"AACo farms 1 per cent of Australia's land mass mainly in northern Australia and the challenge they have, like other farmers, is understanding what carbon stocks they may already hold and what are some of the management actions they can do more to become more carbon neutral in the future," Dr Thompson said.

"Because it is rangelands, precision agricultural practises like soil testing are difficult and prohibitively expensive, and this project with the Food Agility CRC is providing an opportunity for AACo to get co-investment and access to world-class research."

Federation will also be involved in a data component of the research, with a postdoctoral researcher working with the Mullion Group, which specialises in the measurement and projection of land-based greenhouse gas emissions and removals to improve the carbon estimation and forecasting models.

CeRDI Researchers are leaders in land data research, including work on the Visualising Australasia's Soils project where researchers are building a data federation – a system to make data from different sources easily available. Sharing significant data sets will be a key element of the Rangelands Carbon Project. Federation Business School researchers will be involved in the economic components of the project.

Food Agility CRC CEO Richard Norton said the data-driven initiative would help the red meat industry and the nation meet net-zero emissions commitments by 2030 and 2050, respectively.

"Working with Australia's largest landholder and red meat producer, we have an opportunity to transform livestock industries from net emitters to net sequesterers," Mr Norton said.

"Lowering the cost of measuring carbon will also open the door for thousands of farmers to participate in the carbon market and create new revenue streams that reward sustainable practices."

AACo is the oldest continuously operating company in Australia and owns and operates properties, feedlots and farms on about 6.4 million hectares in Queensland and the Northern Territory. The company specialises in grain-fed beef and Wagyu beef production.

AACo CEO Hugh Killen said standard soil carbon tests cost $20 per hectare, bringing the cost for AACo to nearly $130 million.

"This cost prices companies even of our size out of the market, let alone smaller operations, and reduces the incentive for improving soil quality," Mr Killen said.

"This collaboration will help change that."

The global carbon market is currently valued at $369 billion, and Australian Carbon Credit Units are tipped to jump from $20 a year ago to $50 by 2030.

The new tool will be driven by data models that use biomass and vegetation measured via satellite imagery as proxies for soil carbon. The team will also measure soil carbon change over time and advise industry on the highest potential carbon management and sequestration opportunities.

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