Carbon neutrality achieved in farms without compromising productivity

A University of Melbourne study has helped farmers reduce the carbon balance on their farms.

Mark Wootton and Eve Kantor run 25,000 Merino ewes and 300 Poll Hereford breeders on 3,378ha at Hamilton, Victoria.

After being approached by researchers, they were interested to see how their wool, lamb and beef business could operate in a ‘zero carbon’ global economy.

Wootton said he had serious concerns about the risk of climate change for an intensive system like theirs.

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“We wanted to see if it was possible to produce carbon neutral food and fibre.

“The study showed us there is no silver bullet and reducing greenhouse gas emissions needs to be multi-layered, but it is possible to achieve carbon neutrality without compromising productivity,” said Wootton.

Wootton and Kantor have integrated tree plantings with grazing across their farms.

Since 1997, they have re-vegetated more than 600ha with indigenous trees and shrubs and timber species, for permanent environmental plantings and farm forestry.

Their farms’ emissions from livestock, energy and transport are being offset by the carbon sequestered in these trees and soils.

The University of Melbourne study found that with 20 per cent of the farm planted to trees, the stocking rates at were carbon positive over a 25-year period.

The trees contributed to a 48 per cent reduction in emissions between 2000 and 2014, and a 70 per cent reduction to 2020.

The carbon sink provided by the trees has also allowed the pair to participate in carbon offsetting projects, including selling carbon neutral wool to an Italian fashion label, Quatha, through The Merino Company in 2009.

Tree plantings offset 830 tonnes of carbon equivalents for 84 bales of wool.

They have also planted trees for Greenfleet, who were paid by third parties to offset their vehicle emissions.

The trees not only reduce the impact of climate change but provide shelter for lambing and, together with revegetated waterways, wetlands and well-managed pastures, contribute to an adaptive and resilient farming system.

Kantor said they had seen bird species increase from 47 to 159 species over the past 20 years.

“This biodiversity is a good indicator of a healthy production system,” she said.

Wootton and Kantor are also lowering their reliance on fossil fuel by installing solar panels at their house and sheds, solar pumps and using more efficient electrical pumps.