AUSTRALIAN farmers could lead the world in reducing agricultural greenhouse gases, while at the same time significantly improving their productivity, experts say.
The Crawford Fund and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research co-hosted a conference in Canberra, focusing on how Aussie farmers are leading the international charge on reducing emissions on-farm.
Mark Wootton was among the many farmers, scientists and industry experts to address the crowd.
Mr Wootton has doubled the production and reached carbon neutrality at his Jigsaw Farm in south-west Victoria, where carbon neutral beef, lamb, wool, and high-value timber are produced.
About 600 hectares have been planted with hardwoods, mainly Spotted Gum, to act as a carbon sink.
Mr Wootton runs 22,000 ewes and 500 cattle at nearly double the district stocking rate. To offset the farm's emissions, nearly 20 per cent of the property is dedicated to agroforesty, but Mr Wootton said the average farmer could be carbon natural with just 9 to 10pc.
"You don't choose your best country, you choose your worst," Mr Wootton said.
"There are all these benefits - our lambing rate has grown from 75 per cent to 110 per cent and that is all about warmer soils and shelter."
The carbon neutral status has opened up new conscious consumer markets, which pay a premium, and the biodiversity has made the farm "healthier, robust and more drought proof" - plus there is the diversified income stream from harvesting the timber.
"Economic sense is carbon sense, the two are not separate, they are very much linked," Mr Wootton said.
A genetic breeding program and mix-species pastures have also helped lower Jigsaw Farm's methane output.
"If your methane impact is lower, it will cost less to run that animal because it will be a better converter of the feed put down its throat," Mr Wootton said.
Leading agriculture industry advisor and Carbon Link chair Terry McCosker said improving soil health through carbon sequestration was "a win in every direction", for both farmers and the environment.
"Farmers get two wins - they increase productivity by increasing the carbon, which in turn stores more water and makes the land more resilient, and they get paid to do it," Dr McCoster said.
At the moment, the start-up costs for carbon farming are a significant barrier - it costs about $30/ha to measure soil carbon, but the government is working to bring it down to $3/ha through improvements in technology and data.
Dr McCosker said the average soil carbon project could sequester one tonne of carbon per hectare per year, and could return a 20 to 40pc profit.
"That's a pretty average amount, there are people who can do a lot better than that," Dr McCoster said.
"People are getting converted very quickly. Up until now, it's just been a theory in the never-never. Now there is money hitting the table and people are realising there are really big licks on money to make out of it."
CSIRO senior research scientist Maartje Sevenster said for croppers to effectively reduce their greenhouse gas emissions - much of which comes from the application of fertiliser - their carbon footprint had to be established.
At the moment, there is no one universally trusted emissions accounting method for croppers, due to the nuanced nature of the industry that varies from region to region, making it difficult to compare notes.
"To achieve real greenhouse gas mitigation we need science as well as good accounting methods so that achievements can be reported and communicated along value chains," Dr Sevenster said.
"We are trying to develop a method that will let people build those baseline measurements."
Crawford Fund chair and former deputy prime minister John Anderson said the climate-smart future looked bright for agriculture.
"It's such a good-news and win-win story," Mr Anderson said.
"We want the community to understand just how much Australian farmers are already achieving on their farms, and also the importance of cooperation and investment in research activities to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions."
The event coincided with an international meeting of the the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural GHG Emissions, involving with 64 member countries and 24 global partners.