Coalition’s Soil Carbon Plan Unviable

THERE will soon be a federal election in Australia. One of the issues that should be discussed and debated is ‘climate change’ and how the Australian Labor party, led by Kevin Rudd, versus the Conservative Coalition, led by Tony Abbott, plan to address this important issue.

Central to the Coalition’s policy is a Direction Action Plan [1] and central to this plan is the idea that farmers can and should be paid to sequest carbon in their soil. Liverpool Plains February 2007

This is how the plan is explained in the policy document:

“Soil Carbons – Once in a Century Replenishment of our Soils

The single largest opportunity for CO2 emissions reduction in Australia is through bio-sequestration in general, and in particular, the replenishment of our soil carbons. It is also the lowest cost CO2 emissions reduction available in Australia on a large scale.

Significantly improving soil carbons also helps soil quality, farm productivity and water efficiency, and should be a national goal regardless of the CO2 abatement benefits.

Through the Emissions Reduction Fund a Coalition Government will commit to a ‘once in a century’ replenishment of our national soils and farmlands.

Through the Fund we will support up to 85 million tonnes per annum of CO2 abatement through soil carbons by 2020 – and reserve the right to increase this, subject to progress and evaluation.”

In reality there is limited opportunity for total soil carbon increases. However, the distribution of carbon within the soil profile can be changed and farmers can work to maintain soil carbon including by not burning crop residue.

Finally, an academic has come out to say as much [2]. Rick Roush, Dean of the Melbourne School of Land and Environment, is explaining in this week’s The Land that most active soil scientists thought it would be “a stretch” for farmers to use the Carbon Farming Initiative:

“A University of Melbourne survey of hundreds of Australian studies going back three decades found that using the country’s soils to offset a significant proportion of national greenhouse gases ‘is technically limited and economically unviable at the present time’.

Published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, it suggests farmers would lose out through soil-carbon projects at carbon prices backed by both the government and the opposition…

At the current carbon price – $24.15 per tonne – farmers would stand to lose at least $12 per tonne for carbon farming under normal soil conditions, the researchers found.

The shortfall under the government’s plan would be even greater if its decision to move to a floating carbon price from next July is implemented. At Tuesday’s announcement of the plan to shift from a fixed to a floating carbon price a year earlier than scheduled, the government estimated the price would drop to as low as $6 a tonne…

Sequestering carbon would likely be restricted to the top 10 centimetres of soil, and be limited by low-nutrient levels and water scarcity. Application of fertiliser would boost the sink capacity of soils but at a rising cost to farmers, Professor Roush said.

Carbon is slow to accumulate in the soil, and the agricultural methods mostly likely to encourage it, such as no-till farming, are already widely used, he said.”

As Bob Carter writes in his new book Taxing Air pursuing expensive and futile schemes to combat the speculative, and quite possibly illusory, risks of human-induced global warming is both pointless and wealth-sapping. Instead any sensible national climate policy must primarily address the well known risks of natural climate events and change.

1. Direct Action Plan

2. Coalition’s soil carbon plan ‘unviable’, study finds.


74 Responses to Coalition’s Soil Carbon Plan Unviable

  1. Beth Cooper July 22, 2013 at 1:39 am #

    Coupla points in the article:

    ‘To stop the carbon in the atmosphere from increasing we only need to grow the biomass
    in the soil by a hundredth of an inch per year. Good topsoil contains about 10%biomass [Schlessinger 1977] so a hundredth of an inch of biomass means about a tenth of an
    inch of top soil.’

    ‘If bio technology takes over the planet in the next fifty years, as computer technology
    has taken over in the last fifty years, the rules of the climate game will be radically

  2. Luke July 22, 2013 at 8:31 am #

    Jen – Is Rick a soil carbon guru – there’s a lot going on in that space? Not convinced he’s up with the latest. Well doesn’t indicate so at least.

    And there’s a big following on this topic among many landholders, so popular in many quarters. Mainly on productivity improvements. So what about that?

    Many good reasons for increasing soil carbon – improving soil structure, water holding capacity and nutrient availability, and Australian soils are generally low in carbon and well documented declines post-development over decades.

    Long term greenhouse sink somewhat problematic though – sampling error and high field variability (so how much have you got in your paddock, sink not currently counted in international frameworks, and if the global temperature goes up do the microbes get more active and munch your carbon stocks and leave you back to square one.

    and additionality provisions on carbon sinks – if you’re doing it as business as usual it won’t count (i.e. you’d been doing minimum tillage for years anyway)

    However, soil carbon for plant growth is a good thing and that’s worth acknowledging. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

  3. Neville July 22, 2013 at 8:31 am #

    Jennifer I think we can all say that the mitigation of AGW is total nonsense. BUT the OZ electorate are totally ignorant of this fact , therefore the coalition has to have something on the table to make it appear they too are doing something about reducing co2 emissions.

    Total BS I know but the MSM have hammered the public on this nonsense for a decade or more and any major party that doesn’t have mitigation as part of it’s election campaign is either foolish or pig ignorant.
    If they want to lose the next election they would immediately give the public the sort of info that I’ve tried to highlight on this blog.
    As Jo Nova rightly says, they would be crucified. Unfortunately there is a strong base of MAJORITY opinion that thinks we have to do SOMETHING about CC. Complete BS I know, but that’s a fact.
    But at least the direct action plan can be terminated faster than the corrupt fraudulent co2 certificate idiocy promoted by the Krudd labor govt.
    I hasten to say that our OZ electorate is little different to the rest of the world. Better than some and not as good as other countries.

  4. jennifer July 22, 2013 at 9:29 am #

    I’ve just deleted a couple of off-topic posts from this thread. This is a thread about soil carbon and/or the coalition’s direction action plan. Please stay on topic. Interesting information about other climate-related and/or election-related issues should be placed at the ‘open thread’. Much thanks for your consideration and cooperation. Discussion of blog thread policy and what does and doesn’t constitute ‘off-topic’ can also be made at the ‘open thread’.

  5. Neville July 22, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    I suppose if you use minimal till for many years you must build up more carbon in the soil. But it wouldn’t ever make the slightest difference to CC or temp for thousands of years. But please don’t tell the public.

  6. Ian Thomson July 22, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

    Observed a “bio-char” crop trial recently.
    The plan is ,-
    1. Pull out all the ‘feral’ willows along the Murray River and collate them somewhere. Presumably this is not done using fossil fuel burning machinery ?

    2. Burn the willows to charcoal. Now this can be done in a very Green way using gas, I guess, but said gas is not going to jump out of the ground beside the charcoal factory.

    3. Take the crushed up charcoal to a farm and spread it on the fields. By a special magic non fossil transporter beam ?

    Am I alone in thinking that this is all part of some comedy ?

  7. Debbie July 22, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

    No you’re not alone Ian,
    As per usual we have ended up with counter productive goals and therefore a very confused almost bi polar idea about how to measure determined outcomes.
    Yes, minimum till and carbon/biomass is very good for soils and, as pointed out in the article Jen quotes, it has been around for quite some time.
    As technology re handling trash and weed control has improved, more and more of us have taken advantage of improving our soils in this manner.
    We all know that building organic matter in our soils and less disturbance of our soils is a good thing.
    However…as a means of mitigating climate and being involved in a world ETS and being paid on that basis….????
    I also question the wisdom of that bio-char chip willow project you mention for numerous reasons…not only the fact that it doesn’t really do anything much about reducing GHGs.
    Removing willows from places like the banks of the Tumut river has proved to be counter productive.
    They did need removing from some of the smaller creeks and tributaries.
    (But I won’t go into the detail of that as it would be OT at this thread) 🙂
    Suffice it to say that it doesn’t have anything to do with reducing or sequestering carbon.

  8. Bill July 22, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

    Assuming it was not too uneconomic to produce millions of tonnes of carbon, you could dump it in places like those mines down in the Latrobe valley. Cover it with 40 feet of crushed rock, a layer of plastic sealant, and it will stay put for 20 million years – just like it did before we dug it up.

    If you bag the carbon, truck it all around Australia and sow it into the top soil, that will cost billions a year extra. Most of it will just oxidise and returm to the atmosphere over a decade or so.

    Like most “Green investments” soil carbon is crazy.

  9. Luke July 22, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    Ponder rorting soil carbon measurements.

    Time 1 – take surface soil cores across the paddock but miss grass tussocks
    Time 2 – take new cores but this time preference the grass tussock clumps

    result – big “increase” in soil carbon but not really.


    Time 1 – take surface cores across the paddock
    Later lightly spread some fertiliser by hand in selected sampling areas only
    Time 2 – take cores again

    result – big “increase” in soil carbon but not really

    on top of the natural variability intra-paddock in soil carbon

  10. el gordo July 22, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

    I think we can all agree that Abbott’s DAP is a waste of money, without any advantages, so he won’t get any traction on this.

    Good comment Bill.

  11. Neville July 22, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

    EG you’re spot on about Abbott’s direct action plan. But tell me if you had to make a choice, would you choose Abbott’s DA or Krudd’s complicated EU/ Brussels dictated lunacy, including purchasing fraudulent certificates from overseas just so we can use our own coal at home?

    BTW the cost of those certificates according to treasury could be $38 a tonne in a few years. Who knows they may be $70 or perhaps $20?
    Meantime according to the bi-polar, hypocritical Krudd govt it’s quite okay to export as much cheap energy overseas all the time and not care less about their co2 emissions.

    Any of this make any sense to you? And of course zero change to climate and temp for all those wasted billions $.

  12. Debbie July 22, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

    So Luke?
    Do we throw the baby out with the bath water?
    Minimum till and higher carbon/biomass content is good for our soils.
    If people perhaps stop pretending it has something to do with climate change. . . then maybe we could be doing it for the right reasons?
    You don’t perhaps think rorting of many sorts might have something to do with available funding. . . MAYBE???
    I would also suggest you employ a much wider lens here. It is happening in other sectors with much larger dollars for absolutely no measureable result.
    At least here. . . We can measure improvements in soil health and productive capacities. . . but the CC thing is a bit comedy like . . . as Ian points out.

  13. Luke July 22, 2013 at 6:07 pm #

    Debs – I’m suggesting that it would be trivial to rort a future field sampling program so it makes assessment problematic/difficult.

    I didn’t say there was rorting now!

    It’s quite reasonable to consider soils a GHG sink if it stacks up. I don’t think it does. The Coalition only want to have it as a sop that they’re doing something. It’s mock action for little investment.

    Fortunately there’s an agronomic benefit to soil carbon research which unfortunately is a t risk of being buried in the anti-AGW sentiment. Babys and bathwater Debs.

    Given your predisposition on these matters I would have thought you’d be in furious agreement with me.

  14. jennifer July 22, 2013 at 8:00 pm #


    I’d be keen to see something peer-reviewed that is relevant to an Australian farm and that shows how much carbon is likely to be stored given a particular on-farm practice/new technique, and how to measure the additional carbon.

  15. el gordo July 22, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

    ‘Elevated atmospheric CO2 concentration, global warming and rainfall change could all alter the C balance of agricultural soils.’

    Zhongkui et al.

    So what happens if temperatures remain flat (impossible) or fall?


    Neville at this stage my vote remains informal, its a matter of principle.

  16. Johnathan Wilkes July 22, 2013 at 10:20 pm #

    ‘my vote remains informal, its a matter of principle.’

    Good stuff eg, stick to your principle, for whomever you vote for a bloody politician gets into power.

  17. Debbie July 22, 2013 at 11:36 pm #

    Good job (yet again) at avoiding the question Luke.
    The real benefit is improved soils and improved productive capacity. . . but it has been somewhat hijacked by the need to access funding via CC policy/funding. . . That daff link is a classic example.
    Anti AGW sentiment is not the problem. . . it’s actually the reverse.

  18. John Sayers July 23, 2013 at 5:15 am #

    Peter Andrew and Dr Christine Jones are the two main drivers of soil sequestration as far as I know. I posted her landline story and her interview with Philip Adams on a previous post but no one appeared to be interested as no one commented on it. Peter Andrew believes that weeds play an important role in soil condition especially the deep rooted ones that draw nutrients from the deep soil. He grew paddocks of them much to his neighbours concern and added approx 50 – 75mm of new topsoil to his paddocks in a few years.

    The Biomass story is a side track IMO. In the actual story about the living soil in the Amazon charcoal was an ingredient but the really interesting ingredient was the micro-organisms that grew the topsoil down to 60cm (2FT) – if you removed 40cm in ten years time it would be 60cm deep again and apparently anything grew in it – we’ve never heard anything more about those micro-organisms.

    As you know I believe we should do nothing about climate change but I’m a strong supporter of adding carbon to the soil. I’ve managed to turn my heavy clay soil into a light friable vege garden just by adding gypsum, horse manure and lots of organic matter (carbon)

    There was a doctor in Melbourne who bought a rundown farm in Victoria. He hired a truck and loaded tons of sawdust (that they normally burnt) from the local timber mill and piled it in rows on his property. He then convinced a restaurant grease trap cleaning company to send their full tanker to his property and promptly emptied it over his saw dust piles – he adapted the blade of a small dozer and would plough through the piles turning them over and within months he had huge piles of rich black compost fertiliser which he loaded into a spreader and covered his paddocks which immediately turned green, his cattle returned to health, his calving rates went up and his property became productive once again.

    All the land around my area in the Clarence valley has been leached and overgrazed, fed with Nauru superphosphate and generally stuffed. All it’s good for is planting harvest trees by shonky investment schemes that have gone belly up leaving farmers with plantations that will never get harvested because no one has thinned them correctly and the trees are growing in the wrong shapes.

    An action of soil replenishment would do wonders for the agricultural base of this country and I’d much rather see money spent in this direction than on gambling on invisible gases in invisible markets in Brussels.

  19. John Sayers July 23, 2013 at 5:18 am #

    I’ve also noticed that with the increase in fertiliser costs due to oil price increases farmers have started to discuss producing their own fertiliser as the doctor in Melbourne did.

  20. spangled drongo July 23, 2013 at 7:45 am #

    That sounds like Plan B John. Win/win.

    I read your link to Christine Jones and I rang her up to get some advice.

  21. spangled drongo July 23, 2013 at 7:55 am #

    Jen, this is the reasoning in Tony Abbotts DAP. More Plan B:

    Engineer Tony:

    A priest, a doctor, and an engineer were waiting one morning for a particularly slow group of golfers. The engineer fumed, “What’s with those guys? We must have been waiting for fifteen minutes!” The doctor chimed in, “I don’t know, but I’ve never seen such inept golf!” The priest said, “Here comes the greens-keeper. Let’s have a word with him.” He said, “Hello George, What’s wrong with that group ahead of us? They’re rather slow, aren’t they?” The greens-keeper replied, “Oh, yes. That’s a group of blind firemen. They lost their sight saving our clubhouse from a fire last year, so we always let them play for free anytime!.” The group fell silent for a moment. The priest said, “That’s so sad. I think I will say a special prayer for them tonight.” The doctor said, “Good idea. I’m going to contact my ophthalmologist colleague and see if there’s anything she can do for them.” The engineer said, “Why can’t they play at night?”

  22. Luke July 23, 2013 at 8:40 am #

    “been somewhat hijacked by the need to access funding via CC policy/funding”

    Debbie – no hijack – the program is explicit. You may not like the objectives but there is no “hijack”

    Fascinating all the angst about soil carbon really – as far as I am aware you can’t count it under any current sequestration rules. Highly speculative.

    John Sayers – charcoal ?! – boutique stuff – the bigger story is change in land management practices to minimum tillage, no tillage, controlled traffic and ground covers

    Additionally complementary with soil carbon is also research to minimise NOx volatilisation from nitrogenous fertiliser applications and work on C/N ratios.

  23. Neville July 23, 2013 at 8:46 am #

    John I’d love to believe your story, but I don’t think it could work on very large farms. I know a bloke who goes to lectures on carbon in soils etc and he said that it all depends on who you listen to and the size of the property involved and its location and rainfall in that area.

    Spangled that’s great lateral thinking by your engineer but he would be considered cruel and unkind by the lefty loons.

  24. Robert July 23, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    I find lantana invaluable as a companion plant for bamboo, though, obviously, the arrangement has to be temporary as the lantana dies out and the climax species takes over. (Also, it’s not legal to foster lantana.) Once the lantana has acted as protection for new shoots, I surf on it with a big board till it is bruised and flattened. Then it becomes a small and innocuous ground cover as it loses light and sustenance, then it dies.

    While lantana/moso is an almost perfect arrangement, I think there is much people can do by using weeds instead of fighting them. Why hack and dig if you don’t have to? Lantana surfing is fun, if you wear your thicker clothes. There’s no single guaranteed way with any weed, but start with an open mind. If you bruise bracken by dragging a chain and it doesn’t work, maybe you need to do it several times. Any technique needs practice.

    I am philosophically opposed to organics because I see it as another dreary green dogma which is a distraction from the main issues of thrift, food quality and land conservation. If I’m prepared to use synthetic chemicals on and in my own body I am prepared to use them anywhere else. It’s just that I don’t think bamboo which grows from zero to one hundred feet in seven weeks needs a whole bunch of nitrogen just because it’s growing fast. Maybe the bamboo was around before there were urea factories and has things worked out nicely on its own. (I suppose my place would probably be “organic” if I felt like being ripped off by some smarmy guy with a ponytail offering me a logo or some stupendously overpriced dolomite and rock phosphate.) So, for me, this is not a green thing. I’ve got nothing against Monsanto, but I’d rather do without their products for the same reason I use Linux instead of Mac or Windows, whom I also have nothing against.

    I just think we should work with weeds and let them do more of the sheltering, fertilising, aerating and digging. They don’t charge!

  25. Debbie July 23, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    Luke, 🙂
    We disagree about our metaphorical baby. What you think is the baby is what I think is the bathwater.

  26. spangled drongo July 23, 2013 at 10:24 am #

    “What you think is the baby is what I think is the bathwater.”

    Yes Debbie, it all depends on your vested interest:

  27. spangled drongo July 23, 2013 at 10:35 am #

    “I think there is much people can do by using weeds instead of fighting them.”

    Robert, our feral future being what it is, that is more Plan B.

    Feral weeds which sadly swarm over the tops of our natives can be used to enrich our soils and sequester carbon. Lantana and many of the feral legumes that have taken over “poor” country also act as a fire suppressant.

    They also often act as a resource for native fauna. Lantana particularly.

  28. Luke July 23, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    Not so Debbie. I am simply saying the program objectives are clear not hijacked. But you don’t like them That’s OK

  29. Johnathan Wilkes July 23, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    John Sayers

    In case this is the same doctor you mentioned.

    The one I’m thinking of had his property at Lauriston near Kyneton.
    That doctor was thoroughly despised by all of us for the stench his operation caused.
    Our farm was nearly ten K from his and depending on wind direction it was unbearable,
    and he eventually had to stop due to the number of complains.

    There are a lot things one can do that maybe beneficial to the soil but detrimental to the general amenity.
    A few things come to mind.

  30. John Sayers July 23, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    Johnathan – he may well be the one you mention but I gather he went to the full process as the tv program showed and I doubt he would have done it twice as he still had heaps left over after fully fertilising his farm.

    luke, if you read what I said you’d see I wasn’t interested in the Charcoal and I agree it’s a boutique trend – it’s the soil microbes that were the real story.

  31. BethCooper July 23, 2013 at 7:10 pm #

    Re Neville @22/07 8.31am …

    ‘The MSM hammering’ on CAGW … some serf once said that politics is the art of
    the possible, . Re public perception of dangerous co2 ‘pollution’ we hafta’ be seen
    ter be doin’ ‘so somethin’ why not one – off – improving – the – soil – initiative
    thereby increasin’ food production, as opposed ter the idiocy of centralist –
    authoritarian – U.N – I.P.C.C – silk – shirted – UN – elected – coteries ruinin’ economies
    on “scant” (or less) evidence of CAGW. And as adaptability has evah underpinned
    survival in nay – chur, the soil initiative ‘can be terminated faster than the fraudalent
    idiocy promoted by’ – the Rudd Labor guvuh – mint.

    Beth – the – serf.

  32. Luke July 23, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

    Gangsta rap – is sick – I can get it. and I have learnt Beth’s favourite word – coteries (which I now know isn’t a coat hanger)

    “‘so somethin’ why not one – off – improving – the – soil – initiative thereby increasin’ food production”

    that’s what soil carbon does you insolent serf – now pay your taxes and get back in line

  33. Johnathan Wilkes July 23, 2013 at 10:58 pm #

    Luke, ditto!

  34. John Sayers July 23, 2013 at 11:43 pm #

    Luke, ditto!

  35. Debbie July 24, 2013 at 7:44 am #

    Luke, ditto!

  36. Ian Thomson July 24, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    In the words of John Fogarty “I know it’s tue , ’cause I heard it in TV’, but anyone traveling through there will tell you it is.
    750,000 hectares of fruit trees have now been bulldozed into piles and burnt in the Goulburn Valley alone.
    Now that is serious carbon farming, entirely due to Canberra’s agricultural and energy policies.
    Real carbon action.
    If Mr Abbot actually voiced an opinion on that he might be listened to. The MSM, such as ‘Today Tonight’ are already pumping the story.
    750,000 hectares, that must be nearly as big as NSW, (Newcastle, Sydney,Wollongong), it is over THREE times the size of the ACT.
    Put that on top of the withdrawal by State and Federal Govts of 40% of the water in the last 15 years or so.

    C’mon , surely a politician can weep on TV at the scale of this disaster, he will get votes.
    Nah, drivel on about Northern Australia and incentives for people to move up there and carbon sequestration strategies.
    I don’t think the electorate is so thick that they will take it forever.

  37. John Sayers July 24, 2013 at 2:08 pm #

    The problem is cheap imported canned fruit from Brazil and other places. It’s the Coles/Woolies conglomerate that controls 80% of food retailing that is doing it where they sell them under their home brands – no other country would allow such a control over the food industry and it appears no government is game to take them on.

    Alan Jones has been pushing the story for months, he’s interviewed the farmers concerned. He’s hounded Abbott about it but it requires changing the Competition and Consumer Act to stop the Coles/Woolies hold on the industry.

    For example the largest supermarket chain in the UK is Tesco with 29% of the market. There are 10 major chains in the US plus heaps of small ones.

    Someone has to bite the bullet and break up the parent companies that own them and their subsidiaries in the hotel business, the liquor business, hardware etc etc.

  38. John Sayers July 24, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

    Back on topic – here’s the amazonian soil I was referring to, It’s called Terra Preta.

    t’s like finding a lost chapter from Peter Tompkins and
    Christopher Bird’s Secrets of the Soil — terra preta (literally “black earth”) is a manmade soil of prehistoric origin
    that is higher in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and
    calcium than adjacent soils. It controls water and reduces leaching of nutrients from the rhizosphere. Rich in humus, pieces
    of pre-Columbian unfired clay pottery, and black carbon, it’s
    like a “microbial reef” that promotes and sustains the growth
    of mycorrhizae and other beneficial microbes, and it has been
    shown to retain its fertility for thousands of years. In university
    trials, terra preta has increased crop yields by as much as 800
    percent. It regrows itself when excavated. It is even possible
    to produce carbon-negative useable energy (such as diesel or
    hydrogen) while making the major input (bio-char) for terra
    preta on the farm.

  39. Ian Thomson July 24, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

    Hi John Sayer,
    I assume that may be talking about the pre-Columbian people’s Amazonian civilisation , where they built their own soils suitable for growing crops and had a very, very successful society , only recently actually believed , because of satellite proof, before that the people who witnessed it were dreaming and demented.
    Stupid Spanish colonisers destroyed that , with disease, slavery and assumed higher knowledge . The locals gave up and ran into the bush.
    Off topic ? Come to the Murray Valley mate.Lots of carbon sequestration happening.
    You can blame Coles and Woolies for heaps of stuff, ( like taking advantage of it ), but the trade deals are the problem. $1.50 for Belgian flavoured milk all the way from Belgium to your local store in the Riverina ? How much carbon made that possible ?
    So what is the carbon policy?

  40. John Sayers July 24, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    Ian – the soil is still around today in the Amazon.

    here’s the doco where it was first revealed to western society.

  41. Luke July 24, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

    Terra preta is most excellent !

  42. Luke July 25, 2013 at 12:17 am #

    Neville must be just in so much pain out there – come on Nev paste a whole bunch of off topic stuff – we know you want to.

  43. Neville July 25, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    Lukey you’re kidding yourself again—-as usual. But here’s a timber plantation disaster that could cost about 5 billion $. About par for the course when govts get involved. I think this should be considered on topic here. What a stuff up.

    BTW I’ve asked a number of questions of you Lukey at the O thread but you’ve run a mile again.

  44. Robert July 25, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

    I think I get the principle of bio-char and terra preta. I like to make charcoal from bamboo, though to make it in large quantities will take some investment. Keeping the air low and the heat high, getting those gases away…all a bit of a knack, but I’d like to do more of it on a bigger scale. Charcoal and ash are good in the soil in a number of ways.

    It is certainly fashionable. People are selling bags of charcoal at hippie markets and the like, and there is talk everywhere of bio-char. I have friends who like to go to markets and who buy the odd bag of biochar…even while they have free charcoal lying about on their properties, near bbqs, burnt windrows etc!

    Here’s what I don’t get: If you had lots of bio-mass, and lots of charcoal residue and pottery shards left over from your kilns etc, it would make sense to concentrate it long-term in an area for gardening purposes. I just don’t get how this can have a general application to agriculture. It’s one thing to have all the charcoal etc on hand for a small area, but how does one achieve a serious program on a broad scale without stripping enormous quantities of biomass and then having all the headaches of processing, charring, transport and application? Maybe if you had a sugarcane industry and a plan for the bagasse which involved using more than just the char? But, really, where is all this biomass to come from? The people who buy biochar in bags and who are bothered about GHGs etc have probably generated more GHGs just by the charring and transporting of trivial (and expensive!) quantities to their gardens.

    Terra preta is the result of crafty, traditional people being thrifty in the long term. I’m worried that, like so many green things, once you take out the craft, tradition and thrift and leave in the fetishism you will end up with yet another huge green fiasco (see Nev’s link to Jo Nova above). And if you think it’s just Right Wing Death Beasts like me who are skeptical…

  45. Debbie July 25, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

    well said and interesting link you RWDB sceptical you. . .
    Baby/bathwater confusion reigns again.

  46. Luke July 25, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

    Of course the whole of system aspects of sequestration has to add up if you’re into the technology as a carbon sink but also a valuable soil ameliorant ….. maybe biochar is only suitable for small areas with high value horticulture but why not? Production plants could be local?

    Why get sooo angry – in fact why not go crop cultivars that sequester carbon into silica phytoliths – very cool IMO.

  47. John Sayers July 25, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

    Luke – if they really want to sequester carbon in sugar cane then stop burning the bagasse in “green” power stations at the mill and compost it like they used to. I could get a trailer load of bagasse and it would fertilise my garden for a year.

    They keep adding chemical fertilisers to the land when they have a huge pile of natural fertiliser sitting at the mill!

    This move to create “green” power stations was a complete disaster – they lost money after a huge investment and they just put the CO2 back into the atmosphere anyway. Both the Condong and Broadwater mills have closed their power stations.

  48. Robert July 25, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

    In short, terra preta happens when thrifty people have the charcoal on hand. In Amazonian conditions, where you have lots of biomass and sharply defined wet/dry seasons, it could well be that unburnt charcoal cannot be stored over the wet season, so it found its way into the pits, along with burnt char and other residues. Maybe the shards were essential to make such heavy soil drain. When you have too much of something, and transportation and processing aren’t a prob, you just use it, because using it is easier than wasting it.

    My point is, some thrifty folk once had a good, commonsense idea and it caught on. We don’t need the same good idea. We need our own good idea, based on the same thrift and commonsense.

  49. jennifer July 25, 2013 at 9:34 pm #

    John Sayers et al.

    Interesting comment from you about not burning the bagasse. I think they have always ‘burnt’ the bagasse – used it to power the mills. I was once told Mossman mill was deliberately made ‘inefficient’ (when it was built so many decades ago) from a power perspective to use up all the bagasse each season.

    But you are correct that bagasse could be used to improve soil condition. Of course in places like Mossman this is now happening with about 20 years of Green Cane Trash Blanketing that involves minimum tillage and the incorporation of the stubble.

    The resource that really needs to be ‘composted’ and taken back to the fields from the sugar mills is the mill mud.

    All in all, with the possible exception of the Burdekin, I think the sugar industry probably has its soils the best they have been for a very long time and generally high in carbon.

    But there are farming areas that still haven’t moved to minimum tillage proper, and are moving away from the incorporation of a legume into the rotation… areas where I image soil carbon would be very low and declining… I’m thinking the Liverpool Plains and should think about a blog post on that area and its suboptimal farming practices.

  50. John Sayers July 26, 2013 at 12:16 am #

    Yes Jen, the bagasse powers the Condong and Broadwater mills. I’ve been through the Condong and yes, it’s old steam technology driven from boilers that burn the bagasse.

    But they used to burn the cane in the paddock before harvesting hence the summer cane fires we were all used to and featured in the Gang Gajang song, Sounds of Then. Now they have stopped the fires in the paddock which had the effect of doubling the size of the biomass harvest and hence the amount of bagasse.

    A layer of bagasse mixed with mill mud over the paddock before planting could fertilise as well as stop weeds emerging as the new crop develops, which is the other curse of the cane farmer.

  51. John Sayers July 26, 2013 at 1:51 am #

    BTW – you could run a cane farm from the local pub. It’s all subcontractor work. The only work required while the cane grows is keeping the weeds down, that requires a tractor, a slasher and a roundup spray. Once harvest time comes it’s a sub-contractor to provide the harvester, sub-contractor to provide the trucks to take it to the mill.

    You may have to spend a week or two planting the next crop and that’s about it.

    I know – I’ve watched them for years.

    Compare that to a dairy farmer. 🙂

    Those guys deserve every dollar they make and it saddens me to see them ripped off by the Coles/Woolies conglomerate.

  52. Luke July 26, 2013 at 9:15 am #

    Well guys – this research doesn’t bear out your soil carbon and trash blanketing hypothesis. I’m surprised.

    See bar chart till/no till

  53. Jennifer Marohasy July 26, 2013 at 9:42 am #


    The cane farmers have to work a bit harder in regions where they irrigate. 🙂


    I can’t think of an Australian farming system likely to be returning more organic matter to the soil than green cane harvesting and trash blanketing (GCTB). Can you?

    Yet all of this contributes very little to a measurable increase in C… is that what your link says?

    So, which are the farming systems where soil carbon can be significantly increased?

  54. spangled drongo July 26, 2013 at 10:52 am #

    When they pre-burnt the trash in the manual cane-cutting days the black strips used to descend on the washing and it used to be called Bundaberg Snow.

    Later on when it was burnt in the mills it was a renewable-energy carbon reduction system.

    So I suppose it did some good and didn’t dirty the washing quite so much.

    Mulch has got to be better, though.

  55. Robert July 26, 2013 at 10:55 am #

    Hey, never burn what you can ferment. Let’s get those trash blankets spread. As for huge production of food without tillage, all perennial and self-mulching…modesty forbids I mention moso bamboo shoots.

    If you want to burn something, burn coal. Coal is tops for burning. It’s just the best. Love it. Put a tax on burning anything except Aussie coal and gas (and maybe the lumps of old bloodwood that have been keeping me warm this winter).

  56. spangled drongo July 26, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    One of the best sequestering systems for bagasse was the wallboards that were made from it.

    Masonite, caneite etc.

    Saved a lot of trees from being cut down and solved building materials shortages after the war.

    Also you could put butter and jam on it and have it with a cup of tea.

    As long as the tea was hot.

    And you were hungry.

  57. Debbie July 26, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    There are probably an infinite number of ways that carbon can be increased/sequestered in the soil.
    However they have to be cost effective and/or deliver a productive benefits.
    Too many of the programs at present:
    a) rely much, much, much too heavily on tax payer subsidies (which is not sustainable)
    b) Create more problems with inputs (as Ian’s example of willow bio-char on the previous page illustrated)…so that any carbon sequestering benefits are negated by the need to use energy to deliver the carbon to the soils.
    c) lack credible practical research and data
    d) Don’t adequately account for the necessary addition of moisture which is highly, highly variable and can completely blow out the cost structure and/or force the farmer to burn the stuff out of the way because it didn’t decompose in a reasonable timeframe and is therefore STEALING nutrients from crops rather than adding nutrients to crops or
    e) Will require the consumer to pay a much higher price for the end product….which is totally unpalatable in the current marketplace and the current urban mindset.
    I think the IDEA is fine…and we certainly do work towards minimum tillage and the retention/addition of organic matter in our soils…but if it doesn’t deliver a sensible/workable CBA then we simply can’t afford to do it!
    I will also add that our motivation has sweet FA to do with any idea that we can mitigate the weather/climate…but any decent farmer is ALWAYS, ALWAYS interested in and open to sensible, cost effective ways to improve their soils.
    However…we use nearly all of these ideas in our own personal fruit and vegie patch because on that scale it is very easy to do.
    I won’t be mass producing fruit and vegies for our highly urbanised population in this manner anytime soon…but can verify that the methods used here in the large orchards/vineyards/vegetable crops etc have definitely radically improved in this space with the advent of technology that can handle trash when planting and also improvements weed control.

  58. John Sayers July 26, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

    Durra Panel is the best wheat stubble sequestration system. It’s an Australian invention and their panels line the ceilings of large exhibition centres and stadiums plus they use them as walls in cinemas.

    They invented a method of using heat to extract the natural resins in wheat stubble then use the resin to bind the stubble into a durable panel. Nothing more is added and the panels are fire and sound proof.

  59. Luke July 26, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    Jen – Seems different under cereals

  60. John Sayers July 26, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    I think trash blanketing and adding a layer of composted bagasse are two different things.

    Trash blanketing is leaving the tops removed in the harvesting to dry on the ground and cover the soil – good management as it protects the soil from direct sun and the resultant evaporation.

    Surely returning composted bagasse is entirely different.

  61. jennifer July 26, 2013 at 8:03 pm #


    Both have the potential to increase soil carbon.

    The trash blanket will be incorporated into the soil. But mind you, when farmers first started GCTBing it was not always that easy to incorporate the trash. Once the soil is improved and full of microbes it incorporates better.

    I have the hard copy of a report written in the early 1990s by a fellow from the Australian Conservation Council suggesting that if about 70% of Mackay cane growers could move to GCTB they would be doing the environment a great service from the perspective of reducing erosion and thus runoff to the reef. He (Larry Geno was his name I think) didn’t believe it would ever be possible to achieve 100% adoption because of problems of incorporating the trash with particular soil types. In fact they are virtually at 100% in Mackay… but the ACF will always be on at them about something. And of course there was no congratulations when they got to 70%.

    I’m not sure how much work has been done about incorporation of bagasse. There are so many higher value uses for it.

  62. jennifer July 26, 2013 at 8:07 pm #


    Thanks for all the links.

    At the moment I’m very busy (with another paper on our rainfall forecasting – getting it ready for peer review) and so am resisting clicking on the links/doing the necessary research to agree or disagree with you.

    If you provide a summary of the findings from the literature as a post, I will probably read. But am not prepared to put the time in to do the research from scratch/check your link.

    Last time I had a good look (a few years ago) and then when I attended the agronomy conference in New England last year… I read and heard much about how when you properly dissect the literature… the whole idea that you can significantly measurably increase soil carbon fall away… as per the comment from Rick Roush.

    But if you want to quote us some figures…

  63. jennifer July 26, 2013 at 8:09 pm #

    Debbie, you make some good points… that are probably directly relevant to John Sayers assessment/false assessment of the value of incorporating bagasse…

  64. Luke July 26, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

    Thanks Jen. I will consider if I can recover from the pounding I’m receiving at the bottom of the Wivenhoe spillway. I know how the lung fish feel.

    On a side tack to minimum tillage or trash blanketing one wanders if there are some tradeoffs. Do disease and insect pests increase with minimum tillage. Certainly the cotton industry used tillage to destroy overwintering Helicoverpa pupae.

    So a tick

    and a cross perhaps?

  65. Johnathan Wilkes July 26, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

    ‘On a side tack to minimum tillage or trash blanketing one wanders if there are some tradeoffs.’

    Sadly I’m not familiar with the history of how tillage came about, but there must have been very good reasons for it if you think of the enormous investment in labour and machinery over thousands of years.

    Weed reduction cannot have been the only reason?

  66. John Sayers July 26, 2013 at 10:33 pm #

    Tillage aerated the soil and broke it down making it easier for roots but it’s since been found that the complex layers of microbes in the soil were destroyed by turning it over, moisture escaped and direct drill was just as effective.

    Trash blanketing is really only adding a thin layer of green leaves at the end of harvesting which quickly dry and break down to not much material.

    YOu are right Jen when you say there are so many other uses for Bagasse. I read one report that said that Brazil can generate 20% of it’s energy from it’s bagasse either as electricity or Biogas. IT’s also bleached and used in paper making.

    But I did find one research paper on the benefits of using the mill trash and bagasse as a fertiliser. It was high in N and K but lacked P. When additional phosphorus was added it became a fine fertiliser.

    As it’s use for power generation doesn’t appeared to have worked in the north coast mills and no one’s making paper in the area then it seems it could be a good fertiliser for the area.

  67. John Sayers July 26, 2013 at 10:37 pm #

    Apparently Bone Meal is one of the highest sources of phosphorus so maybe the mills could do a deal with the Casino Abattoir.

  68. Debbie July 27, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    Well yes Luke,
    it is indeed about ticks and crosses.
    There are times & conditions when it works & others when another method needs to be employed.. . mainly because the circumstances are highly variable.
    Nothing in this space is 100% certain or applicable.
    It’s called ‘adaptive and/or flexible management’. . . and I’m starting to suspect that lungfish (and numerous other species) understand that concept far better than bureaucrats who work in NRM.

  69. scott July 29, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

    Lib’s are a JOKE. they cant do anything without making taxes.

    What are the Lib’s going 2 do now?

    The lib’s just started a massive unseen tax in Australia, including trying Workchoices.

    You lib supporters are blinded of what Howard did to get so much money and run a AU market to fast.

    All lib’s did was start a massive 10% tax on just about everything we buy. That in return saved the fed Howard gov like 100 billion dollars from not having to bail out state governments. Surplus was made from massive tax on all AU peoples money, not a smart gov. Just taxes the hell out of us.

    I Also remember Lib’s / Howard saying your tax on your wages will be 40% less now ” GST”. BS it was $20 less a week, but we paid 1,000 times more then that, for everything each week.

    Lib’s Gov just saved mass billion because they made the public pay for it. So all they did was tax us. yeah grate job CHEERS.

    Also Howard cut mass gov / public servant jobs. The only reason jobs got made was thanks to china. Mass hi paid jobs got made because of china, not the lib’s. So what are they going 2 do now in every field to what you lib’s did last time?

    Second. Abbott just said the lib’s try help small business & blast Labor for the carbon tax, that Rudd didn’t want like hers. Rudd’s idea makes it much cheaper.

    Abbott and the lib’s are the reason all Australian “small business” are broke and have no cash to invest.

    If you Lib’s supporter opened up your eyes, you would know the Lib’s also made another massive massive tax. That is a small business 10% profit tax, on the biggest numbers of businesses in Australia. Small biz that is all Australian owners.

    You need to wake up, them even coming out saying lib’s stand for helping small biz is a JOKE. That 10% profit tax had taken $10k+ away from mass small business =s Australians each year. Thanks to there 10% small biz profit tax.

    Lib’s have only taxed us & that’s it. Its clear by that, that that’s all they can do and did do, is tax us with unseen AU big taxes.

    How did they save up that money?? They taxed the hell out of us, & got a massive new income? get with it.

    In the end over 10 years, the lib’s had things from good to things going real bad. The money they taxed us was needed & relied on to be used, & they could know longer save massive money up. “That’s when the next Lib’s plan will com in if they win. “bigger tax”. Know wonder why Europe now pays a 75% GST tax”.

    As for a first home grant, they just got everyone to buy a house that could. 8 years later everyone just about did and the housing market was pumped way to fast.

    Lib’s just pumped the housing market so fast, it was bound to go bust in 8 years and messed up the housing market. As it did & as we seen interest rates got way out of control. The lib’s could not stop the out of control interest rates, something Rudd did.

    A responsible GOV would not get everyone to build a house within 8 – 9 years, but keep it at a nice steady rate. So they would let a limited amount of people build a house each year, and get the grant. There for keeping a steady & very good housing long term housing market.

    You lib’s supporters are blinded from the truth. Lib’s just tax us with a unseen AU tax.

    The only way lib’s will save money up / get a surplus, it by upping a tax. No not a GST tax, as they don’t bail out state governments anymore, but a tax on wages or a profit tax. They will never get surplus without just taxing us / getting AU money.

    Its Australians that got us a surplus, not lib’s.

    Thank’s to them libs taxes, the cost of living has gone up. That 10% GST tax we pay everyday thing, & 10% small biz tax, is money that would let all Australian pay bills easier, & have a better life without the stress.

    Open up ya eyes, They can only tax us, then its f us over with things like workchoices.

  70. John Sayers July 31, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

    I can see they have wasted my taxes in Labor education schemes. Oh dear!

  71. Debbie July 31, 2013 at 8:49 pm #

    Oh dear indeed
    Not off topic much?
    If Scott actually took the time to read Jen’s post and most of the comments. . . he would perhaps realise his accusations are way, way, WWWWWAAAAAYYYYY off the point.

  72. Johnathan Wilkes July 31, 2013 at 11:44 pm #

    Doubly Oh dear, looks like an elections is looming and Getup is scraping the bottom of the barrel.

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