14/05/2009 - 00:00

$32m in mix for soil research

14/05/2009 - 00:00


Save articles for future reference.

SOIL carbon has been attracting growing interest in the fight against climate change due to its potential for carbon sequestration and as a means of improving soil health.

$32m in mix for soil research

SOIL carbon has been attracting growing interest in the fight against climate change due to its potential for carbon sequestration and as a means of improving soil health.

In March, the federal government committed almost $32 million to research soil carbon and nitrous oxide emissions in agriculture to boost the potential for carbon storage in Australia's vast tracts of farming land.

Biochar, a type of charcoal that results from the heating of natural organic materials - crop waste, wood chip, or manure in an oxygen-limited environment - is a major part of that research.

Biochar is receiving plenty of attention due to the apparent benefits to soil quality and enhanced crop yields, as well as the potential to gain carbon credits by active sequestration.

WA Farmers Federation climate change spokesperson Dale Park said while soil carbon and biochar could benefit farmers and the environment, further research was needed to determine the social and economic benefits associated with their production and application.

"If you can understand the 100-year rule in sequestration in the Kyoto Protocol rules, we fit well and truly into that, but I suppose what we really need to do with biochar is find out how much biochar disappears in the first 100 years, so therefore that will give us a number on what we are sequestering," Mr Park said.

"But the only way Kyoto recognises sequestration at the moment is by growing trees."

The 100-year rule refers to a demonstrated capacity to ensure that sequestration within a forest estate, equivalent to the number of carbon credits sold, can be maintained for a century.

A recent CSIRO study into biochar, climate change and soil, found that the economic value of sequestered carbon would be determined within complex carbon markets that are influenced by energy supplies and demand, the supply and demand for low emissions technologies, the availability of alternative carbon sequestration technologies and global policy responses to climate change.

"Carbon offsets will have a greater role once biochar is certified under the clean development mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol," the report says.

The CSIRO believes the uncertainty around investment in biochar production and the market for carbon offsets needs to be explored through a long-term economic and full life-cycle analysis.

The federal government will spend $20 million for soil carbon and biochar research as well as nearly $12 million to research nitrous oxide emissions, which accounted for about 4 per cent of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions in 2006.

Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Minister Tony Burke said it would be the most comprehensive research effort into soil carbon and emissions ever undertaken in Australia.

"While forests play a very important role in carbon storage, they are not the only answer,'' Mr Burke said in a statement.

"We have so much land covered by pastures and other farming systems that we could significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by boosting soil carbon storage."

Nine soil carbon research projects across the country will sample a range of agricultural systems, including cereal crops, sheep and beef grazing, sugarcane and vegetable farming, irrigated and non-irrigated dairy, and sites that have changed from one farming system to another.

A further nine national nitrous oxide research projects will be rolled-out to monitor emissions from soils in five key farming systems - sugar cane, cotton, dairy pasture, non-irrigated and irrigated cereal cropping.


Subscription Options