The West: Carbon farming a path to replenish rangelands

Opinion by Kent Broad, published in The West Australian, 31 January 2017.

Last month a peer-reviewed study revealed that carbon farming could provide a new billion-dollar industry for WA and help rejuvenate land suffering from more than 80 years of intensive grazing in the Mid West and southern rangelands.

Carbon farming is managing soil, vegetation, water and animals to increase carbon storage. The report found that WA was in the unique position of being able offer millions of hectares of depleted lands for revegetation and the restoration of grasslands. 

In doing so, there is the opportunity for pastoralists and other land managers to earn income by selling carbon credits to offset the emissions of large companies, who are hungry to do business with us as large-scale emissions trading partners.

The revelation confirmed what people in the industry had suspected for many years, but it has now for the first time been possible to show the millions of dollars landholders could earn while breathing life back into the southern rangelands and helping Australia lower its carbon emissions.

Now all we need is for our politicians to stand behind the industry and make sure policy settings are correct to allow the industry to thrive.

As a former pastoralist coming from a fifth-generation farming family, I am proud of having been part of the industry. Equally, as a person bearing witness to the negative change of the landscape over a long period of time, I also understand that working the land has come at an environmental and productivity cost. For pastoralism to continue into the future we need to put back what we have removed and this includes grasses and vegetation.

My family has been farming in WA since 1852, when my ancestors worked as shepherds in the Mid West. As a boy growing up on the edge of the outback and then owning a pastoral station of my own in later life, I developed my convictions as I witnessed large areas of land degrade under the burden of land clearing, grazing pressure and climate change.

As a boy playing football in the small country town where I grew up, it was very competitive. It was an era of vibrancy and bustle in the town. Now, the vigour of the land has been beaten out of it and the vibrancy of the town gone with it. The once mighty football teams are reduced to those that scratch around from week to week for players. The old cries of “get big or get out” drove smaller landholders away and the new supersized farms downsized the population until the town was barely recognisable.

Later in life, in the first three months I spent as a Murchison pastoralist, I was amazed by the beauty and tranquillity as relentless rain transformed the landscape. I thought buying the station was a great decision and I was set for life, but things changed for the worst and never went back. For more than five years I struggled to keep my flock of 10,000 sheep alive during drought that converted the land to rocks and dust.

I had read that my forebears ran 80,000 sheep in the area and never experienced the conditions faced by the modern grazier. The climate had changed and with it the game.

Something had to change.

It’s been 10 years since I sold my station and went in search of answers. It has been 10 years since I began to understand that it was my responsibility to help regenerate grazing land, and that the emerging market for carbon credits created an ideal opportunity right here in WA.

I have been committed to building a carbon farming industry ever since.

Timing is everything and in the run-up to the March State election, I would urge all voters in WA’s outback, especially pastoralists, to ask their local representative if they are committed to opening the door for carbon farming to become the next boom industry for regional WA, exporting carbon credits to the world.

A clear policy and the introduction of a more flexible rangelands lease is the final step to bringing carbon farming to the WA rangelands. Without changes to the legislation, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for WA to be a world leader in generating carbon credits will not be realised.

It’s now within reach, after many years of research, reports and community engagement. The science is clear and methodologies accepted for both biosequestration (storing carbon in vegetation) and soil carbon sequestration under the Federal Government’s Carbon Farming Initiative. With changes to legislation and the necessary policy in place, carbon could be the catalyst for rangeland transformation in WA. 

Kent Broad is director of business development at Carbon Neutral, and a former farmer from the Wheatbelt and pastoralist from the Murchison.

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