THE federal government has released a new methodology that it says will reduce the cost of measuring soil carbon by 90 per cent, removing one of the biggest barriers preventing farmers from participating in carbon projects.
Agricultural experts have urged farmers to do their research and consider the potential risks before diving headfirst into the emerging carbon market.
Currently it costs about $30/ha to measure soil carbon, but the government said with improvements to technology and data, the cost will be reduced to $3/ha.
Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said the new Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) method would significantly reduce the cost of measuring soil carbon, making it easier for farmers to generate income from increasing soil carbon.
"This is a really important step forward in the process of improving our soils and using our soils to abate carbon," Mr Taylor said.
"Under our plan, farmers will be free to choose whether they sell those offsets or use them to reduce their own emissions. The new ERF method will reduce costs and increase returns to farmers, allowing modelled estimates of changes in soil carbon for the first time."
There are currently about 140 soil carbon projects across the nation, however Mr Taylor wants to see "many, many times that".
The federal government's 2050 carbon neutral plan relies heavily on soil sequestration, with land offsets predicted to account for 10 to 20 per cent overall emissions reductions - however, the modelling has been labelled as "wildly overinflated" by experts.
Australian Farm Institute executive director Richard Heath said many farmers were interested in the carbon market, but were holding off for a number of reasons.
"Even those participating in carbon projects and acquiring credits, because there's a lot of uncertainty about the price of carbon at the moment," Mr Heath said.
The cost of measuring soil carbon isn't the only hurdle farmers face and there are plenty of other questions landholders need to consider before jumping into the carbon market.
"Lots of soil carbon methodology have a long-term commitment, so you could be locking yourself in for 25 years or more," Mr Heath said.
"If something comes along in five years time that might be better - and I'm not saying that will happen - you're already in a long-term agreement."
Natural disasters, such as bushfires and droughts, can wipe out soil carbon gains, so landholders must be mindful of "claw back provisions".
"If you lose carbon, you've got to make good on that - and that could mean rather than selling, you've got to buy to make good on the carbon you've lost," Mr Heath said.
"There is risk involved. You need to understand the extent of the risk and be comfortable with the risk you expose yourself too
There are also questions regarding land prices, as a long-term agreement attached to a farm could carry over to the new owner.
"A lot of contracts are only just being developed, as is the understanding of how this could all work, none of it has been tested," Mr Heath said.
Regardless, soil carbon is "bloody good" for farm resilience and productivity - the potential carbon market is a potential added bonus.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud also announced $2 million for Soil Science Australia to push out the latest soil research to farmers and landholders.
"The science isn't actually any good unless people can feel, touch and use it - that's the most important piece of what we're going to do," Mr Littleproud said.
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