Opinion

Op-ed: Soil carbon creating new opportunities across rural Australia

By Angus Taylor
February 16 2022 - 7:00pm
NEW INCOME STREAM: Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor highlights the opportunities for farmers. Photo: Keegan Carroll

When it comes to innovation and productivity, there's no doubt Australia's farmers are the best in the world.

Agriculture remains the economic backbone of many rural communities and farmers are some of our greatest environmental stewards.

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That is why the Morrison Government is supporting our farmers to make the most of new opportunities presented by improvements in technology and an increasing emphasis that customers and businesses are putting on reducing emissions.

Our technology-not-taxes approach means farmers will have financial incentives to help Australia meet our climate goals. But I want to be extremely clear - there is nothing in our plan that will punish or penalise the agriculture sector in the pursuit of emissions savings.

One way farmers can help bring down emissions is to increase their soil carbon levels.

By doing this, not only will they benefit through an additional revenue stream from the credits they create under the Emissions Reduction Fund, they'll also improve the condition of their soils - meaning higher yields and better drought resilience.

There's around 90 million hectares of intensive agricultural land in Australia. Increasing soil carbon levels across an area of this size - even by just a small amount - could make a sizeable contribution to reducing global emissions.

But there's a small hurdle to overcome - right now the cost of measuring soil carbon is too high and a major barrier for forward-thinking farmers who want to take part.

The Government's Technology Investment Roadmap recognises this and sets an ambitious but achievable stretch goal of reducing costs by 90 per cent, to less than $3 per hectare per year.

To help achieve our goal, we've established a $50 million National Soil Carbon Innovation Challenge.

The challenge will award up to $20 million to support innovators bring down the cost of measuring soil carbon. There are a number of solutions that are promising.

We can use new techniques for direct measurement of the soil, or indirect measurement with satellites and other remote sensing technologies.

Another area of opportunity is improved modelling of farming practices and the impact that has on soil carbon.

Ultimately, we expect a combination of these will be needed to achieve our goal and make measurement of soil carbon accessible to all farmers.

I encourage farmers, innovators and researchers to take advantage of the Australian Government's program.

Applications are open for four weeks, with up to $40 million in funding available.

A further $9 million and any remaining uncommitted funding from round 1 will open for applications for grants in round 2 in the second half of 2022.

Across Australia, the value of agricultural production is expected to increase by 25 per cent over the next 30 years, supported by the Government's Ag2030 initiatives.

The Government released the National Soil Strategy during the 2021-22 Budget, with $196.9 million in new funding to implement the National Soil Strategy and associated measures as part of an Australian Government Action Plan.

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Through our joint efforts, the agricultural sector will remain secure and continue to grow and prosper, all while playing a vital part in our emissions reduction efforts.

**Angus Taylor is the Minister for Emissions Reduction

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