Weeklytimes Now August 16, 2010JULIA Gillard's Carbon Farming Initiative is big on promises, but will deliver little to farmers in the short term, say farm leaders.
The policy, announced on Saturday, commits to opening up opportunities for farmers in international carbon markets, The Australian reports.
The Prime Minister said carbon stored in soil and vegetation could be worth "about $500 million over 10 years".
But Australian Farm Institute executive director Mick Keogh said Australia did not sign up to the Kyoto Protocol on soil carbon because it would have faced a liability when drought and bushfire stripped carbon from the soil.
Soil carbon could only be traded on the voluntary carbon market, he said.
The US voluntary market dropped down to 15c a tonne, "and they abandoned it", he said.
"The most the voluntary carbon market for soil carbon ever got to was about $5 a tonne."
The institute has estimated the cost of building up soil carbon, through changed management and fertiliser application, at "somewhere above $30 a tonne".
Charlie McElhone from the National Farmers Federation argued the initiative was prudent.
He agreed the voluntary market was limited "but that is not to say the international environment may not change".
If Australian farmers wanted to capitalise on growth in international markets for carbon, "then we need to be starting the process now, making it very clear for farmers what some of these complex international rules actually mean on a practical level", he said.
Systems need to be in place for carbon sequestration to be accredited.
The initiative proposes having methods in place by December next year for reforestation, manure management in intensive livestock operations and savanna fire management.
Methods on fertiliser use and avoiding deforestation could be in place by December 2012; no timetable is proposed for soil carbon and biochar.
Tim Moore from natural resource management company Engine Room Consulting said on-farm regeneration, through methods such as changing from cropping to grazing, could offer farmers a secondary revenue stream.