The Land

By Richard Fox

Scientists need to develop practical on-farm soil carbon sequestration techniques for

farmers if any potential Federal Government carbon scheme is to succeed.

That's the view of Cornell University Associate Professor, Johannes Lehmann, who says while the science behind soil carbon restoration has moved significantly in the past decade, little has been done to bridge the disconnect between scientists and landholders.

"We need to develop a mechanism where the knowledge scientists have can go to the farmer in a clear and localised way," Associate Professor Lehmann told a soil carbon forum at the University of Sydney this month.

"As scientists, we know a heck of a lot about carbon sequestration and restoration

of soils and we are now at a spot where we can apply that knowledge to real situations.

"In some soils, we have lost up to 70 per cent of the carbon and farmers want to know what they can do."

CSIRO scientist, Jeff Baldock, said the agriculture sector provided both risks and opportunities for restoring soil carbon.

"If we are to feed ourselves and keep organic matter going into the soils, we need to think about the efficiency of our soils," Mr Baldock said.

"In a lot of agricultural cultivating systems, in particular cropping, we are still

losing carbon from our soils.

"What we should be doing as scientists is trying to produce a tool that will tell farmers that a 50pc change in water use efficiency will increase carbon on their property or not."

Mr Baldock is currently leading a national research program aimed at defining the

influence of agricultural management practices on the composition of soil organic

carbon. He said practical knowledge tools were the only way of increasing the

popularity of soil carbon restoration among farmers.

"I'm sure most farmers will like to know if the likelihood of an extra 0.2 tonnes a hectare is possible," he said.

"The challenge we face is that this has to happen."

Outcomes from the forum included five-year goals to help with any potential Federal

Government carbon tax, including improving the capability to predict soil carbon outcomes; developing regional mapping and baselines for carbon and producing plant breeding programs which focus on returning carbon to soils, rather than simply increasing yields.