Five Soil Carbon Project Tips from FarmLab’s Sam Duncan

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The CFF teamed up with FarmLab’s Sam Duncan to share his top five things to consider before starting a soil carbon project!


Soil Carbon projects, such as CFF’s awesome demonstration project at Weelhamby Farm, help draw down carbon from the atmosphere into a rich source of nutrients for ground cover growth! With less carbon in the atmosphere and healthier crops or fodder, getting carbon flowing through an existing farming system is a win-win for landowners. 


Carbon West have joined forces with CFF to strategically integrate a soil carbon and reforestation project on a property located in a low-rainfall area. Sam Duncan is the CEO of FarmLab – who provides the software that our developer Carbon West has used to develop and sample the Weelhamby project. 


FarmLab has created a platform to help agronomists, consultants and farmers better measure the environment. By integrating directly with testing laboratories and with remote sensed information, FarmLab helps ensure environmental data can be collected and managed in one location, providing trust and transparency for project developers. 


CFF: Hey Sam, thanks for chatting with us! So, what do you think is most important to consider before anyone starts planning their soil carbon project?  


Sam: The first item on the agenda is to clear up which soil carbon method you will be using. 


There are currently two methods under the Australian ‘Clean Energy Regulator’ program: 

  1. Estimation of Soil Organic Carbon Sequestration using Measurement and Models
  2. Estimation of Soil Organic Carbon- default values

The soil carbon method most typically talked about is the measurement and models approach which has greater credibility since it uses actual measurements to determine your carbon stock growth. Because of this, you get paid for what you sequester, which provides more upside in terms of the outcome of the project.


The default values method uses the Australian government’s Full Carbon Accounting Model (FullCAM) to determine soil carbon increases. Because you don’t have to outlay the cost of soil sampling to measure the soil carbon growth, you sign on with a smaller ACCU generation rate, however, you get less return on investment and carbon offsets are capped by the amount the model predicts you will increase carbon by.


When we team up with CFF, we only focus on projects under the measurement and models method, because our focus is on supporting measured carbon sequestration projects. This means, that when undertaking the measurement and models method with CFF, you also will be working with FarmLab to help understand the soil of your property. 


CFF: Awesome, with the different soil carbon methods clarified, what is next to tick off the to-do list?  


Sam: Let’s tackle ‘additionality’ and eligible land management activities next. 


Eligible practices are activities approved by the Clean Energy Regulator (CER) that you can undertake to build carbon in your soil. These must be on top of your existing (i.e. previous to the registration of your project) management activities.  


For example, if you are already building soil carbon by applying lime to remediate acidic soils, you will have to you must add a new or materially different activity on top of your current management strategy. The list of CER approved practices can be found here


This is a critical point for landholders because it means you can’t rely on just the natural cycles of the climate to increase carbon. Remember, you’re trying to sequester more carbon than you have in the past regardless of the drought cycle that Australia experiences. As a result, you need to be sure that over the duration of the project you’re implementing a new management practice that is going to have a permanent increase in your soil carbon compared to what you’ve done over the previous 10 years. 


CFF: Awesome Sam! What is the next area to consider? 


Sam: The permanence period is a decision every farmer will have to make during project registration. 


When undertaking a carbon project, the project holder must decide between signing on to a 25-year or 100-year permanence period, of which the project holder must oblige to maintain the carbon sequestered over that period. 


Let’s rewind a second… A condition under the CER is that all projects will have a proportion of credits withheld by the CER as ‘insurance’. This equates to 5% of the ACCUs generated from the project. If you sign on for a 100-year project, this safety net stays at 5%, as you are agreeing to maintain the project for 75 years after the crediting period finishes. However, if you sign on to only 25-years of permanence, this insurance goes up to 25%, as your intentions are that following the final crediting at 25 years, you won’t maintain the carbon sequestered.  


CFF: Sweet, what is number 4 on the list? 


Sam: Next on the agenda is finalising your soil carbon Land Management Strategy (LMS) which is an integral part of any soil carbon project.  


An LMS is produced to identify at least one eligible management activity that the signee agrees to implement to sequester carbon over the permanence period. Remember, as we mentioned above you must introduce something new to your farming practice that will have a lasting effect on soil carbon levels. This is covered in the LMS, which also makes sure the signee has considered all aspects of the project, including the implications of the project on the broader business objectives of the property, as well climate, environment, and whole-of-systems outcomes. 


This document must be prepared or reviewed by a third party with appropriate knowledge of agronomy, plant nutrition and soil carbon, and with experience in providing agricultural advice. Service providers can be found all across Australia, but they must not have a financial interest in the project. The LMS is then reviewed every 5 years during the project’s crediting period, and 10 years for the remainder of the permanence period. You can check out all the features of an LMS here. 


CFF: Any final consideration, Sam? 


Sam: Do your due diligence – know what you’re getting into 


Like any large financial investment, there are always risks. It’s important to make sure you do your due diligence upfront. In relation to a soil carbon project, this means getting an estimate of what your upfront costs are and what you might be likely to generate in terms of carbon offsets. It’s important to seek qualified financial and legal advice from experienced professionals as well as there are tax and legal implications associated with any offset project. 


Want to learn more?

Check out FarmLab’s website for all their awesome services.  


Explore our range of educational resources in our Carbon Farming Education Hub where we frequently publish educational articles, webinars, and guidebooks. 


When you’re ready to explore the feasibility of undertaking a carbon project on your property, email us at or give us a bell at (08) 6835 1140 to be connected with one of our project facilitators.

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