Carbon trading- the farmers’ pay dirt!

Carbon Link’s Terry McCosker with RBC’s Fleur Anderson and Dr David Johnson, from the New Mexico State University. 


The concept of carbon trading and soil health isn’t a new one. But many industry stakeholders, including farmers/graziers themselves, still don’t understand the full potential of trading the carbon in their soil, or that in some cases, it could double their income. 

I first met Terry McCosker from Carbon Link about five years ago, when it was really just an aspirational idea. Now it’s the real deal and he’s been on the road in Queensland running a series of workshops about carbon trading and soil health. He’s been joined by David Johnson, a researcher from the New Mexico State University. 

With the Australian Government committing $190 million to the carbon farming initiative, Terry estimates it will ultimately mean billions of dollars coming back into the sector- much more than the millions estimated. 

“It’s a great way to bring income back from urban Australia, back into the bush,” he says. 

“People are not prepared to pay the right price for food. But if we start adding a carbon value to our properties and getting paid for really rebuilding the fertility of our properties and that brings in food security, better food quality and whole other benefits for consumers. So I think it’s a great way for farmers to become better paid.”

At the moment a lot of agriculture is operating on a high input, lower profit margin models, but Carbon Llink is confident that if you really start concentrating on the soils, it will mean lower inputs and higher profits. 

“As you start adding more carbon to the soil, the whole system becomes more productive,” Terry says.

Dr David Johnson from the New Mexico State University has been doing game changing work into how best to capture atmospheric CO2 and sequester it into the soil, while also improving agricultural systems. 

He has done work in the States on increasing soil productivity using natural composts, such as dairy cow manure, but emphasises that while you can see positive change within a year, full productivity benefits won’t be reached until four to five years. 

David made some great comparisons to America- and why success in Australia, means good things for American farmers as well. 

But really, the most important thing people want to know is ‘where is the money?’ What does it cost to do it and what am I going to make out of it? 

“There are two parts to that,” says Terry. 

“What you make from increased productivity and then carbon credits are a bonus on top of that. Despite the current price of carbon being quite low ($10 a tonne) we can give a guaranteed price over 10 years, which is a good thing.” 

But even at the current price, in a buffel grass grazing system if someone was to sequest two tonnes of carbon per hectare per annum, the net income from carbon will equal the income from cattle production. 

“So it’s not fiddling round the edges, it’s quite serious stuff,” he says.

So if you take into consideration David’s work on increasing carbon by 10 or 19 tonnes per hectare, these are potentially incredible numbers, especially considering what it means for cashing in carbon credits for income during a drought season, or being able to make off farm investments is incredible. 

And then there’s revitilising rural and regional communities, because there’s more wealth in the area, and better soils mean better quality food… the list goes on and on!

The biggest investment needed from farmers is to tweak what they are doing in terms of mining soil health. 

“We need to be creating carbon instead of mining it,” Terry says. 

“On the whole, this doesn’t mean major changes for the majority of farmers and we are very upfront on whether or not it will work for you.”

And it does mean a lot of paperwork and recording of measurements (after all it’s regulated by the Federal Government). But Carbon Link are helping to reduce this as well. 

Terry and David are very candid with the information they shared with me during the podcast we recorded… and even took me through the steps that most people go through to start trading carbon. 

Take a listen here

Fleur AndersonComment