LIVESTOCK accounts for three-quarters of agriculture's emissions, but rather than seeing it as a burden, the industry has been encouraged to embrace the associated opportunities.
The 2021 Livestock Forum, hosted by Charles Sturt University and the NSW government, flagged the on-farm benefits of transitioning to a carbon neutral industry, including increasing productivity through soil carbon, additional revenue streams from carbon credits and increased market access from net-zero status.
The Meat & Livestock Australia has already recognised the numerous opportunities that come from reducing emissions, establishing a net-zero 2030 goal for the sector.
MLA sustainability and innovation manager Doug McNicholl said working towards carbon neutrality was an important step in the industry's goal of doubling the value of red meat sales over the next decade, particularly when it comes to maintaining consumer trust.
"Just imagine by 2030, consumers buy Australian red meat knowing it's good for the environment," Mr McNicholl said.
Carbon neutrality also allows the industry to get on the front foot for high-value international markets, stay ahead of government policy intervention and opens the door for farmers to request low-interest loans.
"There are multiple wins in this area," Mr McNicholl said.
MLA is focusing on a range of practical measures for the industry to incorporate in their daily operations, including food additives (such as seaweed) that reduce emissions and management practises that expedite the time it takes for livestock to get to market, which reduces methane emissions along the way.
Tropical legumes that increase feed and soil quality are also being investigated.
"We are the only sector to make a claim of significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in Australia, that's a fundamentally amazing statement for a sector to be able to make," Mr McNicholl said.
NSW Department of Primary Industries researcher Kathy Waters said livestock emissions - primarily methane - contributed to about three-quarters of the total emissions for agriculture. Reducing methane emissions has a tangible impact on farm productivity, she said.
"Methane produced by livestock essentially represents a waste of energy," Dr Waters said.
"Any strategies to reduce methane will not only address climate concerns, but can also improve productivity. Those strategies fall into two approaches - dietary approaches and all-of-system approaches."
Modelling indicates that while the sector can reduce its emissions to an extent, dramatically increasing the amount of carbon stored in soil will go a long way to reaching net zero.
Both federal and state governments have formed schemes that financially reward farmers for carbon farming, which many experts believe will become a normal part of farm operations in the future.
Wilmot Cattle Co is the livestock poster-child for a successful transition into a carbon-neutral livestock business, selling carbon credits to Microsoft earlier this year in a deal that netted them about $500,000 or roughly $62 a hectare.
Wilmot general manager Stuart Austin said stock density was one of the most powerful tools farmers had for landscape restoration.
"It's something we focus on quite heavily here, we're continually challenging how high a density we can manage our livestock at - fundamentally, that's what's changed our properties' landscape," Mr Austin said.
"We also increased our biodiversity. We're focused on as much diversity in our pastures as we can get, which creates diversity underground in our root systems. It's really creating a change in our soil carbon levels.
"We've planted thousands of trees - more than 50 different types of natives - and we're a long way from done yet. We're looking for diversity in all things, even in animals. We want to create an environment that's beneficial to all kinds of bugs, insects bees, birds, native animals and livestock."
The move has paid dividends - and not just from selling carbon credits the company had acquired.
In 2019, off the back of the crippling drought, two of Wilmot's three properties were completely destocked, while also being devastated by a bushfire.
"The response and recovery in the first six months of last year was absolutely extraordinary," Mr Austin said.
"The amount of biomass and grass that we grew in that first six months really demonstrated to us the decisions we'd made through the drought had paid off.
"We've built an incredible amount of resilience to climate extremes into our operation."
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