19 November 2019
Sustainability in agriculture is not a new term.
Arguably, however, it's the early pioneers and advocates of organic and bio-dynamic agricultural practices in Australia who identified the urgent need to restore the health of our ecosystems.
With agriculture contributing some 24% to global emissions, climate change mitigation strategies have brought sustainable land systems sharply into focus - and one world-leading soil carbon farming project is gathering momentum.
SOILKEE® Renovator: Monetising soil carbon farming a double win for farmers
Increasing carbon capture and storage in the environment, or carbon sequestration, is understood to be a fundamental lever when it comes to mitigating the impacts of climate change.
Soil health and organic farming go hand in hand, and increasing soil carbon is the aim of any organic management system.
The problem with Australian soils
By global standards, Australian soils are low in soil organic matter.
Australian soils are ancient and have inherently poor structure, fertility and low levels of organic matter. And, this was before man even started farming it.
Historical land clearing and subsequent land management practices, including an over-reliance on mineral fertilisers, aggressive cultivation, use of pesticides, monocropping and overgrazing, has compounded the problem.
Topsoil organic matter in Australia can contain as low as three tonnes of carbon per hectare equating to an average 0.5% carbon content.
Research has shown that soils need at least 4-5% organic carbon to function as a healthy ‘living’ soil, with thriving soil biology that boosts nutrient availability and plant growth.
Improved technology for soil health, soil carbon restoration
Like many organic farmers, Stephen Whitsed, a member of the Organic Dairy Farmers of Australia (ODFA) cooperative, is always seeking to improve management practices on-farm to ensure optimal soil health as the foundation for increased agricultural productivity.
In 2018, Stephen discovered the SOILKEE® Renovator machine technology developed by West Gippsland cattle farmer and inventor, Niels Olsen, after a tip-off from a founding ODFA member who insisted that he “better go have a look at this system.”
The SOILKEE® Renovator provides soil mulching, tilling, cultivation, sowing and regenerating using a one-pass system that promotes minimal soil disturbance (close to 80% of the pasture is left undisturbed). Through the use of the system, test trials demonstrated a significant increase in soil nutrient and massive increases in soil carbon.
In a world-first, and with the help of AgriProve, specialists in soil carbon farming, Mr Olsen received approval for use of the SOILKEE® Renovator as a carbon farming project under the Federal Government’s carbon abatement program (Emissions Reduction Fund).
After visiting the Olsen’s farm, Stephen was so impressed he insisted that the Whitsed farm invest in the technology – and learn all they could about soil carbon farming.
“When we looked around Niels’ farm, we were amazed, I’d never seen anything like it before!” says Stephen.
He hasn’t looked back and has since set up his own business, Global Soil Regeneration, to provide SOILKEE® contracting services, as well as advising on carbon program registration to assist other farms and land care organisations.
He hopes that all farmers can harness the benefits of the SOILKEE® system and receive additional carbon credit incentives under the Government fund.
“We are passionate about helping other farmers achieve the increased productivity that we ourselves have achieved on-farm,” says Stephen.
"We’ve only been using the system for around 8 months and we’ve already seen some great results.
Increasing soil carbon improves water-holding capacity and infiltration, nutrient availability and soil biology.
And, the potential to monetise soil carbon farming is a double win for farmers in using the system.
Test data suggests that SOILKEE can deliver 100 – 125 carbon credits per hectare per annum, with a revenue potential of $800/$1,000 hectare,” he says.
Through simple word of mouth, Stephen has encouraged a further 10 local farmers to join the carbon project with over 3,000 hectares registered.
He is now setting a challenge to register 100 farmers in the Upper Murray Valley to regenerate soils using the SOILKEE Regenerator in the local area – with a target of 100 hectares per farm. 100 Base Points. 100 Kilolitres water. 100 months SOILKEEing.
The benefits of increasing carbon content in soils
“Farmers should be getting on board because of all the benefits using the SOILKEE”, says Stephen.
“Increased topsoil organic matter, enhanced soil biology and aeration, increased pasture growth by up to 40%, soil carbon by 1% and water holding capacity per hectare by 140,000 litres.”
Reproduced with permission from the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia [NASAA].
Organic Dairy Farmers of Australia (ODFA) member, Stephen Whitsed, was a speaker at the 2019 National Carbon Farming Conference and Expo in Albury, NSW.
The National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA) plays a critically important role in supporting and promoting the adoption of organic agricultural practices that lead to safer and more sustainable food production systems.
NASAA’s subsidiary business, NASAA Certified Organic (NCO), is one of the most well-recognised certifiers of organic food production in Australia to meet all domestic and international export market requirements.