Carbon positive cattle farms may be more common than we realise

Carbon positive cattle farms may be more common than we realise

Beef
FORWARD THINKING: NSW beef producer Stuart Austin and son Harry.

FORWARD THINKING: NSW beef producer Stuart Austin and son Harry.

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Key to industry's CN30 goal will be measuring

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THE beef producers behind the big private market soil carbon credit sale to Microsoft believe a significant portion of Australian cattle operations are carbon positive but lack the data to prove it.

Angus breeders and finishers Wilmot Cattle Co, in the NSW New England region, made international news last week after selling more than half a million dollars in carbon credits to the technology giant.

The credits come in the form of more than 40,000 tonnes of sequestered soil carbon and the deal, the first of its kind, has been heralded as an example of what's on offer for Australia's cattle industry from the emerging carbon market.

Wilmot is a low-cost, grassfed operation built around rotational grazing, where pasture availability is constantly measured and electronically recorded to underpin data-driven decisions and forecasts to plan future stocking rates.

Key to the program is matching stocking rates to carrying capacity with that ratio monitored every day.

Soil carbon levels across 4000 hectares of Wilmot country, covering two properties, are monitored with samples taken from the same location at the same time every year. In the past five years, soil organic carbon concentration has lifted from 2.5 to 4.5 per cent, and the operation has a goal of reaching 6pc by 2023.

Wilmot is owned by Macdoch Group and managed by Stuart Austin and Trisha Cowley.

"Our biggest strength is our data set," Mr Austin said.

"There are plenty of blokes who have been producing this way for the past 30 to 40 years but don't have the data to support it."

Mr Austin said the philosophy at Wilmot was that carbon was a co-benefit to the beef production systems used.

Productivity, and profitability, had not been sacrificed - in fact the management system had been designed with the purpose of boosting both, he said.

"For a lot of people who make a massive shift in grazing management, it comes from a catastrophic event but that wasn't the case for us," Mr Austin said.

"It was more that we could see enormous benefits of a balance between making money and looking after the landscape.

"We've eliminated a lot of risk by chasing high profitability from lower inputs and good grazing management.

"Our goal is to be the best grass managers in the country."

Recognising the gains made in terms of sequestering carbon, Wilmot started to look at how that could be monetised. The Microsoft deal, brokered through US-based company Regen Network, was the result.

But what does a sale of that magnitude of sequestered soil carbon mean to the footprint of the Wilmot operation?

"There is an element of discounting in the methodology to account for our footprint," Mr Austin explained.

"We closely monitor how much we emit, and how much we sequester, and ensure we are in the black before we even start selling.

"We've sequestered around 10,000t a year and we only emit around 2000t, so we are massively carbon positive."

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