Carbon farming: good for productivity and the environment
AGRICULTURE is often held up as one of the bad guys when it comes to climate change, but for a pair of forward-thinking Central Queensland graziers, their cattle grazing operation is actually helping save the planet.
Carly and Grant Burnham, whose property Bonnie Doone is located in the Rawbelle district, around 60km west of Monto, made the switch to organic farming, where they discovered a method of feeding their herd called 'time-control grazing'.
Not only has it boosted their herd's productivity and health, but it's also safely locking carbon away in their property's soil.
"Tree carbon (sequestration) has been around for a while, but soil carbon is quite a new, innovative thing,” Mrs Burnham, a fifth-generation farmer, said.
Time-control grazing involves moving large herds of cattle through small paddocks arranged into 'cells', where they graze more intensively before being rotated out quickly.
Mrs Burnham said, as the cattle don't overgraze the pasture, root growth is maximised in a way which sequesters carbon in the soil.
She said the benefits have been numerous: better quality of pasture, higher moisture retention, and the virtual eradication of ticks and other parasites in the herd.
"We've almost doubled our carrying capacity (while still retaining good pasture cover),” she said.
That's not all: the "sweet bit”, Mrs Burnham said, is that carbon is a tradeable commodity.
A baseline measurement of Bonnie Doone's soil carbon was taken three years ago by core sampling to a depth of 1.2m.
When it is measured again in two years, the carbon the Burnhams have locked away can be quantified and they will receive a payment from the Federal Government's Emissions Reduction Fund, a key plank of its strategy to meet Australia's Paris Agreement targets.
"It's a win-win,” Mrs Burnham said.
If the benefits are so obvious to the Burnhams, why aren't more graziers exploring this method?
"In agriculture, old habits become almost a cultural thing,” Mrs Burnham said.
"It can be difficult to change, it can feel risky. However, there is plenty of good stuff happening out there.”
The Burnhams hope that by telling their story, more farmers will be open to the possibilities of carbon farming.
"I can't even begin to explain how beneficial it has been for us,” Mrs Burnham said.
"It's changed the environment, our business and it's improving outcomes for the planet.”
Earlier this month, the Burnhams attended the National Carbon Farming Conference in Albury where they were recognised at the 2019 Carbon Cocky Awards, being highly commended in the Outstanding Leadership award.
"It really felt good to be gathered with like-minded people, it felt like we were on the right track,” Mrs Burnham said.
"There's such a potential for the industry to improve business and the environment at the same time.”