Interview with Margot Foster, Grazier Louisa Kiely - Radio National Bush Telegraph

Subject: Carbon Farming Initiative

CAMERON WILSON:  Now on Bush Telegraph, here on RN, it's a significant day for us. We're starting our carbon farming challenge. Basically, we're working with seven farmers who are all committed to reducing their carbon emissions.

Our website is up and running and you can go there and meet those farmers yourself. But Bush Telegraph's executive producer, Margot Foster, has been working on the carbon challenge, and joins me now in the studio.

Margot, you've got explain this project to me. What's happening?

MARGOT FOSTER: Well, I've actually been very lucky, Cameron, because I've been talking to the most interesting pioneering group of people that I've encountered for a long time.

It's very exciting what people are doing in the world as we make progress towards the implementation of the carbon price, which, as we know, is on July the first.

So, by looking at case studies, what we want to do is actually see how it affects them; how they proceed down a path which is brand new. So they're actually - they're truly trail blazers. They're quite amazing.

How do they manage to reduce their emissions? What systems are in place that help them do it? How do you go about it? I mean even if you want to do it you don't just do it. You want to be involved in the process when it's legislated for and so on.

So what we've got is seven case studies, and we're trying to sort of cover the cross section of enterprises in the rural sector fairly broadly. But by pinning it down to case studies we hope to also open it up and invite their peers into each chunk as we go.

So, for instance, a little - in a minute we'll speak with a grazier, Louisa Kiely, who's an absolute carbon champion. She...

CAMERON WILSON: [Interrupts] and this is why we have a big picture of a merino on the webpage at the moment.

MARGOT FOSTER: That's right.

CAMERON WILSON: This is one of Louisa's, I imagine.

MARGOT FOSTER: That's right. It's livestock. And so livestock actually encompasses a lot more than fine wool merinos, which Louisa is managing. It would also encompass things like a piggery, or it could encompass a lot feeder, stuff like that, so it can broaden out.

But Louisa will be the person we track between now and the end of the year to see how she's going and what - how her business is operating within a new carbon price structure.

CAMERON WILSON: So this will be what actually works and what doesn't work for here as well. It's...

MARGOT FOSTER: Oh look, I think for some people there will be great opportunities. And for others these opportunities are not going to be so apparent. And they might be doing things in a slightly different way, and it might be slower for them to actually come on board and actually reap some financial rewards.

But they'll all be different, and because it is new I reckon there's probably going to be a few little speed bumps along the way. But I think also we'll - it could be inspiring for people who may not realise that they can be involved.

You know, we've got a tree farmer down in Tassie, and his property is absolutely beautiful. He's running cattle. He's got a little bit of cropping going. He's got native plantations and he's left some areas just to regenerate, and it's absolutely stunning. And he's got a reasonable income from that.

We're looking at a dairy. Not so apparent how you might be involved there, but when you think about fertilising pasture, you think about electricity costs, you know, it's not all about - it's not just the methane and so on.

CAMERON WILSON: It's a very different area of livestock, isn't it?

MARGOT FOSTER: Absolutely.

CAMERON WILSON: More intensive in some ways; definitely more energy use, like you said.

MARGOT FOSTER: Well, dairying's sort of on its own there. Pastoralists - now, there's such vast expanses of land and there's huge scope there. In fact, I don't know if you saw that Australian story of that property in the west; the young couple that...

CAMERON WILSON: Mm, yes, yes, I know the one.

MARGOT FOSTER: ...had this completely done over bit of dirt, and they brought it back. It was just...

CAMERON WILSON: [Interrupts] That's the life, isn't it?

MARGOT FOSTER: ...just fantastic. We've got a similar one in - out near Karratha. And a wine maker, a cane grower, you know. We'll be covering cropping. We'll be covering - yes, just about everything.

CAMERON WILSON: Are we looking geographically diverse as well as a diversity of industries as well?

MARGOT FOSTER: Well, this was my great challenge. This was...

CAMERON WILSON: [Interrupts] That'll be the task.

MARGOT FOSTER: To try to work out our seven people - why are there seven? We've got seven key states and territories, and so we're just trying to make sure that we're representing people around the country. We want people in the south, in the cooler climate. We want people in the tropics. We want people in desert and we want people along that eastern seaboard or in that sort of rim around the edge of the country.

So, yes, I think we've got a good cross-section, and we're certainly going to be meeting a lot of people along the way.

CAMERON WILSON: And just before I let you go, for a listener point of view, how will they get to know these people, these farmers and these industries?

MARGOT FOSTER: Look, you've got the webpage up. Is it still up?

CAMERON WILSON: It is, yes, yes. I've still got it. There you go.

MARGOT FOSTER: Good, good. You just go to abc.net.au/rural/carbonfarming. I mean if you go to Bush Tele we'll have a link, obviously, there. But you can go - just hunt up rural and then carbon farming. And we've got the seven case studies up there. You can meet them.        

You should go there because there's some wonderful photographs of the properties in question and what they're trying to do; a little bit of an overview about each person, where they're at and what they're hoping to achieve.

CAMERON WILSON: So I can see - what can I see? Savanna management, Savanna fire management. It's the one I've got up - right there, now. And if you listen to the program every Wednesday we'll be meeting...

MARGOT FOSTER: A different one.

CAMERON WILSON: A different case study.

MARGOT FOSTER: Yes. Look, we're going to rotate through seven, and we're going through until the end of the year. And as we go we're going to talk to other businesses that might be involved. It might be a mining company that's winning offsets, you know, paying a community who's doing fire abatement in the territory. It might be a plantation or a forestry, or any Government sector that's involved.

CAMERON WILSON: What I like about this is we don't know what's going to happen. We'll have to...

MARGOT FOSTER: No.

CAMERON WILSON: We'll have to keep watching to find out. Well, Margot, we better get cracking and meet our first case study, shall we?

MARGOT FOSTER: Certainly.

CAMERON WILSON: Thank you for coming in.

That's Margot Foster, the executive producer of Bush Tele and the brains behind the Bush Telegraph carbon challenge.

Now, Louisa Kiely is a grazier at Goolma in New South Wales. And, as we've just mentioned, Louisa is our first case study in the carbon challenge.

Louisa, welcome, and thank you for taking part in our new project here on Bush Telegraph.

LOUISA KIELY: No problems, Cameron. It is indeed very exciting and Margot is to be congratulated on this grand idea. And the idea of carrying it through for the rest of the year certainly will be fantastic.

CAMERON WILSON: I'm in danger of saying this. She's my boss, but she might have aged a bit over the last few weeks.

Now, let's start with the basics. What do you do?

LOUISA KIELY: We are on seventeen hundred acres in Goolma, central west New South Wales. It's about six hundred millimetres annual rainfall that can fall at any time. It has a proud history of wool growing in our history, and that's what we do. We're wool graziers.

CAMERON WILSON: Okay, so it's fairly flat country, is it?

LOUISA KIELY: We're on the slopes, so you go - you know, the plains slopes and then the tablelands. We're sort of on the slopes. We're basically in the Mudgee district, midway Mudgee, Wellington and Dubbo.

CAMERON WILSON: Okay. Now, you've clearly got an interest in this area of carbon farming. We'll use that broad term. Tell me about how you developed this commitment to the idea.

LOUISA KIELY: Cameron, we were chosen - we're actually tree changers. We've come to the country about twelve years ago, and we studied - I studied agricultural economics and then farm management. And we discovered a way of managing called holistic management. But we were also chosen as one of eleven innovative farmers in our district by the CMA.

And we were given twenty days' training on this carbon cycle and on the win-win that is carbon sequestration in the landscape. And we, at the end of that, presented a natural resource management plan. We were all going for a hundred thousand dollar prize that would be able to be implemented, this plan.

Ours was not chosen as the winner, but look, it formulated our passion and our ideas to move forward with this. And having once sort of got the bug that this is a really great win-win solution to the climate change challenge, the greenhouse gas challenges, as well as productivity on farm and productivity in our soils, it's a pathway we've just followed since then, Cameron.

CAMERON WILSON: Okay. So over the last few years - even before we knew what was happening with the carbon price here in Australia - tell me about some of the things you've actually done on your property.

LOUISA KIELY: Well, what we've done is changed our livestock management. So, basically, we have - instead of having - it's fairly traditional to have a larger number of mobs in terms of sheet; say your two year olds and your three year olds and things like that; different mating mobs; that type of thing.

Instead of having those which were all eating out your products, you know, uniformly over a period of time, we choose to put our animals together in larger mobs and give a greater area of our country rest for longer periods of time. And this allow the solar panels, called leaves, which are the power house of photosynthetic activity and taking carbon back into the soil, time to grow enough to do that job.

CAMERON WILSON: Mm, so...

LOUISA KIELY: That's one of the main things we've done.

CAMERON WILSON: Okay. And so is this - this is work with native vegetation, essentially?

LOUISA KIELY: Look, it works whether or not you're using - ours happen to be mainly native pastures, but it works in whatever system. Basically, there's been debate over, you know, methane and things like that with animals and the destruction that animals can do to the land. But it's not the animals; it's the way they're being managed.

So it's more to do with the way you manage the animals than what you're managing them over; as in, you know, what sort of pasture.

CAMERON WILSON: Okay. Now, when it comes to whether you get credit - if I use that word - or this work is acknowledged or not, how does that work? There needs to be methodologies in place. What applies to you? How does it make sure that someone's actually counting what's going on and you can, potentially, make money out of this down the track?

LOUISA KIELY: Okay. Well, we're fully involved with the CFI as well in our work. What you need within the CFI - the carbon farming initiative - is you must go according to an approved methodology.

Now, the only one that is applicable to a grazing situation at the moment is a native tree planting methodology. And so, certainly, we are investigating the ins and outs of that native methodology. It has been developed by the Government department, and we're currently engaged in figuring out how their tools work and how we can make that a reality on our farm and, therefore, potentially, on other farms.

But we're also engaged in putting - we've put together the first soil carbon methodology to the CFI system so that farmers could also, potentially, earn credits from increasing carbon in their soils.

CAMERON WILSON: Okay. Mark Dreyfus is with us. Mark is the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, and joins us from Canberra.

Mark, thank you for joining us again on Bush Telegraph.

MARK DREYFUS: Great to be with you, Cameron.

CAMERON WILSON: Now, Louisa's talking about methodologies there, saying that at this stage it's the trees, essentially, is where she can get credit. What's happening with developing more methodologies so farmers can look at other areas of being recognised for their carbon storage?

MARK DREYFUS: Well, there's been - as Louisa said - a methodology already approved for environmental plantings and three other methodologies already approved. None of them, I think, will be suitable for Louisa, out where she is, near Mudgee.

But there's destruction of methane generated from manure and piggeries. That's an approved methodology; combustion of landfill gas, that's another approved methodology, and savannah burning, which Margot was talking about in your introduction.

CAMERON WILSON: Mm. So you've got piggeries, landfill and savannah. That's a fairly diverse range. Why is it those areas that are covered at this stage?

MARK DREYFUS: I think the key reason is that the methodologies are based on scientific work that's taken place over the last - in the case of the savannah burning, five years; in the case of the piggery methane from manure methodology, that's taken about three years of development. These were methodologies that were well under way before the carbon farming initiative was legislated, and that's why they've been able to be approved relatively quickly.

In the pipeline is a whole further range of methodologies, including reduced fertiliser usage, enhanced efficiency fertilisers, dairy cattle food supplementation, manure management for other processes like food lots, assisted forest vegetation and soil carbon, which is the methodology that Louisa's been working on, and, as well, other groups, including the CSIRO have been working on to see if that can be an approved methodology as well.

CAMERON WILSON: Okay. So these are being looked at and developed all the time. is this - it's an independent process, I take it?

MARK DREYFUS: The Government's supporting the development of these methodologies - or a range of methodologies - through a program called Carbon Farming Your Futures. As well there are a range of scientific groups. The CSIRO is working with some of them. The CSIRO is working with a range of trade associations also.

Universities across the country are working on this. It's a very exciting time in that these methodologies are being produced; so some of them are being produced in-house, in the Government. Others are being produced by other groups which will, in turn, be submitted to the expert independent panel that, in fact, is holding its first meeting tomorrow.

CAMERON WILSON: Yes, so this is a - that's quite a new development actually, this expert panel. Can you just tell me a little bit more about what it will do and who's involved?

MARK DREYFUS: Yes. It's got the wonderful acronym of DOIC, the DOIC -  the Domestic Offset Integrity Committee. And what it is is a group of independent scientists. They are going to assess the proposed methodologies. They're going to make recommendations to Government on whether or not each methodology meets the carbon farming integrity principles.

And it's very important that there be this integrity process because people around the world - not just people in Australia - companies, heavy polluters, who are going to be buying these credits for their offsets, but companies around the world - heavy polluting companies - that will buy these offsets. They need to know that the credits have integrity, that they represent real sequestration of carbon or real abatement of carbon emissions.

CAMERON WILSON: So, are we talking about really exciting, valuable, intellectual property here? Is this - this is not happening anywhere else - they're really at the forefront of coming up with these new methodologies and looking at what can be done when it comes to managing the land and capturing carbon on farms?

MARK DREYFUS: We are pioneering a completely new scheme here in Australia Cameron. We're breaking new ground with each methodology that's developed and sometimes we're going to have to develop completely new measuring tools to go with the methodology and, of course, these things take time. Some of the best minds in the country are working on the Carbon Farming Initiative, including researchers from the CSIRO, many of our universities and it is a very exciting time; there's world interest in what's happening now in Australia in this Carbon Farming Initiative.

CAMERON WILSON: So, if there's a producer, a farmer, a landholder who thinks there's an area of carbon-capture, or a way of reducing emissions on their property, that needs to be looked at, can they take this direct to the panel or to government for it to be - for that gap to be filled in if you like?

MARK DREYFUS: They can. I'd suggest that they contact the Department of Climate Change. It's high likely that there'll be some work already being done in an area that they've thought of, or that some other group somewhere in the country, or that the CSIRO are already working on a particular methodology and they might be able to link up with that. But it's open to anybody to put forward a methodology, to have it assessed by the DOIC - the Domestic Offsets Integrity Committee - and they'll be able to decide, measuring it, using this rigorous process that they've got, as to whether or not they should recommend to government that the methodology be approved.

CAMERON WILSON: But there's a real ground-up element to this. If you're one of the leading farmers in Australia and you've got an idea, you can put it to government and to the panel directly?

MARK DREYFUS: Yes, and we'd welcome that. But I'd stress that the department and CSIRO and universities are already engaged in the development of quite a number of methodologies and people shouldn't feel that they're on their own; contacting the department's a good place to start.

CAMERON WILSON: Can you - give me some practical examples - maybe the piggery example, or one that's already in place. When it comes to actually measuring what's going on, it sounds like it can all be a bit baffling, how does it work in practice?

MARK DREYFUS: There are differences in measurement techniques, obviously, depending on what the methodology is, but the piggery one's one of the simpler ones, which is why it was able to approved, I think, relatively quickly. It involves putting, really, a large plastic bag on top of an effluent pond at a piggery, putting a pipe in that, and you could actually meter the methane that is coming off that effluent pond and it's then either burned - flared - or used in some piggeries to heat water. Piggery people around Australia have been working on that for about three years. It's in use in a couple of pilot projects in Queensland and we're expecting that to be taken up relatively quickly, because the engineering and the technology is pretty simple; you can bolt it on to most piggeries in Australia.

CAMERON WILSON: Okay, and then you can get a clear measurement of the avoided emissions?

MARK DREYFUS: That's right. You can exactly know in that case just how much methane is being generated from the effluent pond and it's then converted into CO2, which is, of course, a far lesser and less damaging greenhouse gas than methane.

CAMERON WILSON: Than methane; yes, yeah, of course.

CAMERON WILSON: Now, how does this all work though, once there's a market in place, after July one when there's a price involved with all this?

MARK DREYFUS: Farmers that are using approved methodologies will generate a known number of credits and they'll be able to sell those credits, either in Australia or overseas, to heavy industry who need to offset their carbon emissions, and it'll be an extra stream of revenue for farmers who decide to take part.

CAMERON WILSON: So it's a new form of currency if you like?

MARK DREYFUS: It's an extra stream of income. I wouldn't say - I wouldn't describe it as a new form of currency exactly; they're going to be earning real Australian dollars by doing this. It's an extra stream of revenue out of the way in which you farm, out of the way in which you use your land.

CAMERON WILSON: Are you like us and Louisa? Are you interested to see just how large the uptake is of this and how successful some of these landowners are at actually generating revenue? Or do you think you have a solid handle on how successful it will be?

MARK DREYFUS: I know already, that from going around the country talking in each state and territory, in the feedback that we're getting from extension groups, from Landcare groups around the country that are already talking about this, that there is tremendous interest in the potential here. Farmers like Louisa and Michael - who I met with actually last year and I know the work that they're doing on their farm - all around the country are thinking this can be a really good way in which we can contribute to reducing Australia's emissions and earn income at the same time and benefit - because in very many cases, as Louisa knows much more about than I do - can lead to improved farming practices.

CAMERON WILSON: So these credits, I'm looking at the acronym ACCU - ACCUs - is that right? Is this what they're going to be called?

MARK DREYFUS: That stands for Australian Carbon Credit Unit and that's the recognised form of unit. It's internationally recognised; farmers will be able to use - sorry, to earn, those ACCUs - the Australian Carbon Credit Units - by storing carbon or cutting pollution on their farms.

CAMERON WILSON: And then that's what you trade? You trade an ACCU - in ACCUs?

MARK DREYFUS: An ACCU is what's traded. A heavy-polluting company, which needs to offset its carbon emissions, buys those ACCUs.

CAMERON WILSON: Now, a couple of more things I just want to get through. I know you've got to head off in just a moment, but there's a carbon farming handbook that's about to come out soon, what will that be? Basically, a practical resource I take it?

MARK DREYFUS: That's right. The Government is going to be releasing very shortly a carbon farming handbook which will explain the system that we're pioneering here and show how farmers will be able to get involved. Piggery farmers, obviously, can already get involved because the methodology that's suitable for use in piggeries is already approved. Other farmers in coming months and years will be able to adopt the methodologies that are in preparation now and will be submitted to the Domestic Offsets Integrity Committee later this year for approval.

CAMERON WILSON: What is the level of bipartisan support for the Carbon Farming Initiative, because you're talking about long-term changes - in some cases it'll be coming at a cost to producers and there is, of course, the ever present prospect of a change in government down the track?

MARK DREYFUS: Well I'm happy to be able to confirm Cameron that there is bipartisan support; this legislation will not be repealed.

CAMERON WILSON: So, people can plan with confidence when it comes to the Carbon Farming Initiative?

MARK DREYFUS: Yes, and that's something that's on the public record. It was said by the Opposition's representatives during the course of the Parliamentary debate, when the Carbon Farming Initiative legislation went through the Parliament last year.

CAMERON WILSON: Mark Dreyfus, the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change, I know you've got to head off, I appreciate your time, coming in and chatting with us on Bush Telegraph. Thanks a lot and speak down the track.

MARK DREYFUS: Good to be with you Cameron and congratulations for doing this program.

CAMERON WILSON: Thanks a lot. Now Louisa Kylie's still with us. Louisa, I have to be honest, this is difficult for me to follow totally. It sounds - that all sounded fairly positive though - you can plan with confidence when it comes to adjusting your management techniques and thinking, planning, that there might be a revenue stream in this down the track.

LOUISE KYLIE: Yes Cameron, it is the only piece of legislation that does have bipartisan support and that is marvellous. Because, as you say, you know, farmers will need to plan for these things and, if it's to become part of our scenery, part of our farming scenery, that this is a new trade, a potential income - export income earner for Australia and a source of, you know, credits for the government liabilities that they want to meet as well - well then we need to do it. The devil is in the detail and it is all new. So, you know, and there are some new concepts for the farmers.

These concepts of additionality; you can't sell the carbon that you've already got stored, either in your trees or your soil. The concept of keeping it for one hundred years: now, you know, that needs explaining just on its own; why are the rules and regulations the way that they are. And it all comes down to the way Kyoto is structured, the way we have entered Kyoto and, also, on the flip side of the difficulties, the good side of that coin is that you'll be able to trade internationally. And those ACCUs represent one tonne of CO2 reduction, or sequestration, and the beauty of it is that CO2 is the currency throughout the world and so everyone will be trading in a ton of CO2.

CAMERON WILSON: So, do you expect to generate much revenue through the trade of ACCUs; have you done a budget on this?

LOUISE KYLIE: No. Short answer is no, that I haven't done a budget. Do I expect that farmers and myself can earn money? Yes, I do. Consider a situation whether as part of your farm plan, you now started to have a carbon farm plan. And extend that even to potential, you know, wind farm on your place, potential sun energy on your place, potential wetland rewards. Once we start to get the idea that this carbon in our landscape, in our farming landscape, is a valuable resource that we've got, we will start to think - as farmers - we will start to think of how I could have a tree project, I could also be reducing my methane, I could be changing my fertiliser, you know usage, and all of those have got potential.

So each one on its own may make a small contribution and I could also be proving that I'm increasing my soil carbon. Each one of those on their own may be small contribution, but considering that your productivity under sequestration and soil sequestration is enhanced rather than anything else, the potential is there to continue your normal farming activities, while also earning this new source of international tradable credit.

CAMERON WILSON: Yeah, so it's not a simple case of just looking at how much money comes in or doesn't come in and forming a conclusion from that.

LOUISA KYLIE: Yes.

CAMERON WILSON: I guess then, will - when we check in with you throughout the year, we'll just find out how much of a headache the paperwork might be and how beneficial the various programs are, then.

LOUISA KYLIE: Yes. Look, it is not an easy project and while there is process - while there is excitement out there, when the farmers understand some of these new rules and regs, you know, there is a reluctance there as well, you know.

We need to innovate around some of these, you know, problems, some of - the hundred-year rule problem, which is one of the real sticking things. And once we do that and we do it via innovation around our pools of carbon, buffer pools, things like that, then certainly the - I think we can get a good rate of uptake, which is important to the Government, both politically and also just on their emissions reductions targets that they hold themselves.

CAMERON WILSON: Okay, so we're - what are we - the end of March now. April, May, we'll be talking to you in seven weeks' time, still before the carbon price but I guess we'll have a better idea of just how various producers around your region and round Australia are reacting to this then. So I look forward to having the chat, Louisa.

Thanks for sharing what you've learnt so far with the program today.

LOUISA KYLIE: No problems at all. Thank you very much, Cameron.

CAMERON WILSON: Louisa Kylie is a producer of fine wool merinos in western New South Wales and one of our carbon farming case studies on the carbon farming challenge, which will be running right throughout the year here on Bush Telegraph.

Earlier we heard from Mark Dreyfus, the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change. You can go to our website and look at the link for carbon farming and you can follow each of the case studies while you're there. We will of course have another one on the program next Wednesday.

That's Bush Telegraph for today.