Successful five years of the Carbon Farming Futures programme

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources

The $139 million Carbon Farming Futures (CFF) Programme is wrapping up in July 2017 after five years of research, development and extension activity, that involved hundreds of farmers, researchers and extension agents across the country. The 200 projects funded under the CFF aimed to identify, trial and encourage adoption of farming practices and technologies which reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, increase soil carbon sequestration, support agricultural participation in the Emissions Reduction Fund and enable adaptation to increased climate variability. As the CFF programme draws to a close, it’s timely to reflect on achievements of the programme.

Investment under the research stream of the CFF, Filling the Research Gap, enabled a concentrated and coordinated investigation of how to reduce agricultural GHG emissions, with research projects covering agricultural emissions and soil carbon sequestration.

Carbon Farming Futures Programme researchers collecting soil cores to measure soil carbon stocks.

Amongst the many findings was that inhibiting methane production in ruminants does not affect an animal’s health and can improve the growth and productivity of an animal; that storing effluent for shorter times in ponds and covering manure stockpiles can reduce emissions by up to 88 per cent; and that the widespread use of legumes in northern grain regions could save growers up to $22 million a year in nitrogen input costs and reduce nitrous oxide emissions.

Researchers also gained important insights into techniques to increase soil carbon and made significant advances in soil carbon measurement and modelling technology. Quality soil carbon data was collected across a range of agricultural systems, often for the first time.

Soils being analysed in the laboratory.

Given the current and predicted climate impacts on production systems, adaptation became an important focus of Filling the Research Gap in the second round of projects. Options for management practices to deal with a more variable climate were identified across a range of farm business types. Sector- specific findings included that Betaine (an amino acid supplement) improved the recovery of heat-stressed dairy cows and that targeted improvement of transpiration efficiency in sugarcane breeding would assist the development of varieties adapted to drier and hotter conditions.

The farm trial component of the CFF, Action on the Ground, facilitated partnerships between research institutions and farmer groups and allowed GHG mitigation practices to be applied in the field, further demonstrating their promise.

Portable accumulation chambers used to measure methane and carbon dioxide.

The research and development undertaken through the CFF has expanded existing knowledge and provided important foundations for future work.

The final element of the CFF, the Extension and Outreach programme, funded agricultural extension providers to inform farmers, and their influencers, about how and why to reduce GHG emissions and how to participate in the Emissions Reduction Fund. Project grantees developed farmer decision making tools and communication materials, as well as undertaking extensive face-to-face engagement. In many cases, these activities delivered profound outcomes, with participants shifting their thinking, considering GHG emissions for the first time, as well as realising the productivity and profitability benefits of many GHG mitigation practices.

The CFF leaves a rich legacy, which will have enduring significance as governments and industry continue to face the challenges of GHG mitigation, adaptation to increased climate variability and improving farm productivity.

The research findings from the CFF programme are being summarised into a publication which will be available on the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources website in the coming months.

Gas sampling with automated static chambers in horticultural field trails.

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