Decluttering the carbon farming conversation
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Decluttering the carbon farming conversation

Sustainability workshop

Agriculture is in the global spotlight as an industry with enormous potential to contribute to, and capitalise from, reducing its carbon footprint – yet for our farmers on the ground, the public advice can be overwhelming and potentially confusing.

Aiming to declutter the carbon conversation, and help build knowledge for clients and staff on the fundamentals of carbon in farming, Rabobank recently held the first of ten dedicated Carbon Farming and Carbon Neutral Agriculture Workshops in Melbourne.

Presented by Richard Eckard, Professor of Sustainable Agriculture, University of Melbourne and Director of the Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre, the workshop included thirty attendees comprising of rural clients from the livestock sector and Rabobank staff.

Crawford Taylor, Rabobank Head of Sustainable Business Development, said the workshop provided an opportunity to lay the foundation and building blocks for farmers and staff to understand the pathways towards a low emission, or potentially carbon neutral, farm business.

“Currently there is plenty of discussion around the agricultural industry’s ability to sell carbon credits to other industries for diversification of farm income, or whether producers should focus on their own carbon emissions. Our clients are curious as to how they fit in, and where to start,” Crawford said.

However he believed that before farmers consider their options, a thorough understanding of their greenhouse gas emissions was key, and strategically imperative for a farm business.

“We believe the calculation of emissions is the first step for all farm enterprises, and our workshop provided an opportunity for clients to measure their carbon emissions footprint using the  Greenhouse Accounting Framework developed by the University of Melbourne.”

Armed with detailed data on the use of inputs such as fertiliser, fuel, electricity, herbicide and pesticide, as well as livestock inventory, tree plantings and manure management, the calculator provided a carbon emissions number for clients.

“Farms are a source of emissions, whether it’s through livestock or cropping, and they can also sequester and be a sink for carbon through vegetation,” Crawford explained. “The completion of the carbon calculator enabled clients to obtain an understanding of where they sit.”

“The workshop also provided the latest thinking on where practises, technology and research is heading – providing clients with the tools necessary when considering reducing carbon emissions.”

Crawford said there were many ‘aha!’ moments for clients and staff alike, all equally curious as to how to begin this journey.

As a bank dedicated exclusively to agriculture, he said Rabobank staff were very engaged in the carbon conversation, with the workshop building their knowledge and how they can best support clients.

“This is an evolving space where a knowledge gap exists, and the workshop provided a joint learning opportunity for clients and staff alike, learning side-by-side for a sustainable agricultural future.”

The collaboration with esteemed expert Richard Eckard represented further opportunity for attendees to gain a deeper understanding of the issue, and he said the interactive nature of the workshop was extremely successful.

“The interactive sessions enabled farmers and staff to explore carbon neutral options, solutions and what the future may look like, together.”

“We ran various spreadsheets to determine the status of individual properties, which prompted more in-depth discussions on how these properties can lower their emissions, and what are the options moving forward.”

Richard commented that there was a genuine willingness from attendees to lower emissions, with plenty of probing questions and problem solving.

“It was an extremely impressive cohort, with a genuine desire to adapt, and this open and honest knowledge sharing format worked really well.”

He also applauded Rabobank on its initiative to provide clients with such a practical and comprehensive learning opportunity.

“There is an inevitable imperative for agriculture to start working towards the low emissions production systems, with most supply chain targeting this by 2030,” he said. “While many farmers are aware of the imperative, they are unaware of what their options are to move forward.”

“This workshop was far more than just a two-day training course, but represented an engagement process whereby regional managers and key farmer clients could come together in a shared learning experience of how these farms can start the journey towards a profitable but also low carbon future production system.”

sustainability workshop

Sorting fact from fiction

Feedback from the workshop had been extremely positive, Crawford said, with clients grateful for the opportunity to go through the calculator with step-by-step expert support.

Sophie Greenacre, a dairy farmer from Cressy in Tasmania was one of the clients who attended, and said it was reassuring to receive a snapshot of carbon farming “from a scientific and business case perspective, rather than the noise of what’s put out by the media or politicians”.

Carbon calculations also revealed surprising insights into her business.

“When it comes to emissions we focussed heavily on our fuel and electricity use, but by sitting down and actually calculating the data I now know that we should be looking closely at methane from our cows, and potentially implementing feed additives or other proven effluent management initiatives.”

Identifying opportunity

Crawford said context was important when looking at current research and development, and the workshop provided the latest on policy, government, industry and market drivers outlining why understanding carbon emissions was so important for a farm business.

“Increasingly local and global agribusiness, and food and beverage companies are adopting sustainability commitments which include lowering, or achieving, net neutral carbon emissions in their supply chains.”

“This will mean greater collaboration with producers, who hold the keys to sustainability data from the ground up, and have the potential to implement investments and practice change.”

Global food and beverage companies marketing lower or greenhouse gas neutral products, such as beef and beer, exemplify new opportunities for Australian producers, Crawford said.

“There are certainly a number of emerging opportunities for low carbon or carbon neutral farmers to tap into, which is expanding the discussion beyond producers entering carbon projects to sell carbon credits outside of agriculture sector. The workshop has been important for adding this greater perspective.”

Rabobank’s commitment to sustainable farming

With a division dedicated to sustainability, Rabobank is a leader in the sustainability space, supporting clients in their sustainability ambitions.

Crawford said the workshops were just one of a number of sustainable business development initiatives Rabobank is currently working on.

Rabobank is also a participant in two MLA Carbon Neutral 2030 projects showcasing producers implementing initiatives to lower emissions.

The projects will assess the impact on production, profitability, natural capital and biodiversity, and a time-controlled grazing system project which is measuring changes on soil carbon.

These projects, Crawford said, would be supported by on-farm field days for practical, on the ground knowledge sharing and discussion.

“Rabobank has also recently completed an assessment, in conjunction with Greening Australia, on the conversion of marginal farming land in Western Australia to trees for the generation of carbon credits.”

“Twenty clients were involved, which provided insight into areas on farms considered marginal and expected carbon yields under various rainfall and geographic locations.”

With Rabobank dedicated to feeding the world, sustainably, Crawford said it was an exciting time for staff and clients to take a lead in this fast-evolving space, doing more with less and contributing to sustainable food production.

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