Improved carbon capture equals improved soil fertility

The results of a four year trial in the Upper Hunter clearly show farmers can lift farm productivity by increasing carbon levels in their soils.
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More soil carbon also equates to lower soil erosion, better moisture retention and better pasture health and resilience.

The trial was made possible by a partnership between Rio Tinto’s Bengalla mine, landholders, University of Newcastle, BDM Resources and Hunter Local Land Services (LLS).

Soil carbon is widely considered an important indicator of soil health, landscape resilience and productivity while increased levels can help drought-proof properties.

Seventeen landholders from three local government areas,Upper Hunter, Muswellbrook and Singleton, implemented carbon management practices such as rotational grazing and improved cropping techniques as part of the project.

Merriwa farmer Kim Fenley

Results from their properties show an average increase in the amount of carbon stored in the top 30cm of soil of close to 12 per cent, or 7.6 tonnes per hectare.

Merriwa district grazier Kim Fenley, who implemented the trial carbon management practices on his property, has noticed significant improvements in productivity as a result of a two-fold increase in organic carbon levels in his soils.

His property located south of Merriwa includes a range of soils types ranging from sandy to black soils.

And no matter the soil type the extra carbon captured made a difference to its fertility, he said.

“Everyone who participated in the trial saw an increase in their soil’s organic carbon,” he said.

Mr Fenley set aside a third of his 800 hectare property for the trial and used a grant from the Hunter LLS to build fences to implement a rotational/cell grazing regime on that land.

Running a Simmental based breeding enterprise on his farm Mr Fenley opted to trail rotational grazing as his preferred method to increase soil carbon levels.

“The difference between the lands I traditionally graze to the trial area is a two to three fold productivity increase due to the carbon practices put in place.

“The carbon practices included using rotational grazing to allow better use of the paddocks and using controlled improved grasses and crops to increase productivity while native grasses are allowed to come forward.

“Capturing carbon not only removes CO2 from the atmosphere but it comes with benefits such as helping to manage the impact of drought on the land. Carbon in the soil means better moisture retention and the ability to then see out a drought is increased.

“We’ll continue on this process to look at what other people are doing. Everyone involved has a better understanding of soil carbon and the benefits of better management tools.”

Mr Fenley said the extra dry matter available thanks to rotational grazing means less soil erosion.

But he laughed saying that also means less run-off into on-farm dams and water courses.

However he can cope with that because overall farm productivity is improved.

Mr Fenley wanted to thank everyone involved in the trial in particular the support from Rio Tinto.

Participants in the Soil Carbon project.

“Without their funding this trial would not have been possible. And we are planning to keep this group together and continue this work and hopefully encourage more landholders to join us,” he said.

District Coordinator for the Upper Hunter Local Land Services Steve Eccles said “The adoption of grazing rotations and innovative cropping as part of the carbon management practices during the project has resulted in an increase in carbon stored in the soils.

“This has led to increased ground cover and pasture production, with a reduction in weeds and land degradation issues. “Farmers implementing these practices have benefited from improved soil health and resilience of the properties to adverse weather such as dry conditions.”

Increased soil carbon equates to increased productivity.

Bengalla general manager Jo-Anne Scarini said “I am very proud of the partnerships and engagement with community members that has been a key to the success of this partnership.

“The project has delivered great results and the fact landholders can continue to benefit from the outcomes mean it was truly worthwhile.” The project area included approximately 1,100ha of Upper Hunter Valley land and resulted in an approximate 8,400 tonnes of additional soil carbon present in the project area.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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