What Does June’s Massive ACCU Issuance Mean For Soil Carbon?

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What does the first large scale issuance of soil carbon credits mean for the industry?


In landmark news for carbon markets in Australian agriculture, two Queensland producers have become the recipients of a large-scale allocation of soil carbon credits. The combined issuance across both projects was 151,312 Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs). These projects have demonstrated that individual landowners can sequester meaningful quantities of carbon in the soil, earning recognition for the receipt of ACCUs as well as for the production gains made possible by the projects.


This is an important milestone for everyone working hard to progress the soil carbon method, and for land owners involved in soil carbon projects. There is plenty to unpack about how the producers got to the issuance, what the news means for the soil carbon methodology, and what it signifies to the market more broadly. 


Tell me what happened?

Two Queensland farms successfully measured soil carbon at scale, resulting in a combined issuance of 151,312 ACCUs. These credits were awarded to “Rexton” and “Moora Plains” farms for their work to sequester carbon from the atmosphere in their soils through active land management changes and livestock management. The project, managed by CarbonLink, covers over 18,000 hectares, and the success provides important new evidence of regenerative beef farming practices leading to substantial gains in carbon storage, even during periods of challenging weather like droughts, bushfire, and flood. Across the two farms,10.6t of carbon was sequestered in the soil for every one ton of livestock grazed on Rexton over five years, and 12t for every ton of livestock grazed on Moora Plains.


How did they do it?

To successfully build significant quantities of soil carbon, Rexton and Moora Plains farms implemented a number of key on-farm practices: 

  • Rotational Grazing Systems: Adopting time-controlled grazing systems and better rotating stock meant the farms could optimise rest periods for their soil and pasture. This practice supported the overall quality of plants and water utilization, and contributed to effective carbon sequestration on the properties.
  • Encouraging biodiversity: Implementing longer rest periods in certain paddocks allowed new plants to establish and thrive, including deeply-rooted perennials and groundcover, which played a crucial role in the success of these soil carbon projects.


What else happened beyond carbon?

The strategies to build soil carbon brought about profound changes to both farms. The Lawrie family at Moora Plains were able to double their stocking density, and with upgraded water systems and investments in fencing infrastructure, the practices to build soil carbon have bolstered the farm’s overall resilience. Similarly, the Archer family at Rexton introduced time-controlled grazing, diverse plant species, and electric fences as well. These were management changes that led to a uplift in carrying capacity, better water infiltration, and ultimately an increased ability for the land to recover during periods of drought. These additional impacts highlight how investing in soil carbon projects can often enable more sustainable and productive farming practices overall.


Building carbon at depth

Soil carbon project developers will be paying attention to how these projects managed to build carbon at depth below 30 centimetres. One concern with the soil carbon method relates to the storage of carbon in the soil surface structure, where events such as drought and fires can lead to a reduction in soil carbon levels. In this case, both Rexton and Moora Plains were able to store carbon at “safe haven” levels beneath the vulnerable soil surface. According to CarbonLink Chair, Dr Terry McCosker, this is significant because “simply, the deeper the carbon, the less opportunity there is for it to escape the soil.” The recent issuance has proven that landowners have been able to draw carbon into the ground, and to keep it there, and validates why building carbon at depth is important for other landowners.


How does the soil carbon method work?

Sequestering carbon in the soil of farming landscapes requires landowners to implement eligible management activities, including improving fertiliser application, reestablishing pasture, or modifying grazing practices. Soil carbon projects must use either of two different forms of measurement: the measurement-only approach, which averages soil core measurements, and the hybrid approach, which combines soil carbon model estimates as well as soil core measurements. 


An individual project’s success is determined by estimating changes in soil carbon levels achieved after registration, in comparison to baseline carbon stocks, while also considering increases in project emissions. Landowners must measure or estimate soil carbon levels before and after implementing these activities to calculate the changes, and report these results at least once every five years. If successful, project owners are awarded carbon credits that represent the additional tons of soil carbon stored in the soils. 


Soil Carbon Journey

It hasn’t been a straightforward journey for the soil carbon method, and reaching this milestone has required continuous development over the past decade. Building upon research and methodologies initially conceived by CSIRO, the method has undergone multiple phases of improvement, including the introduction of new legislation in 2011 and three methodology changes from 2014 to 2021. Along the way, proponents have needed to comply with the Clean Energy Regulator at every step of the journey. 


Adoption of practices to build soil carbon are also hampered by major differences with other methods. Compared to environmental planting projects, building soil carbon demands daily effort and continuous management by farmers, who must commit to new practices that are integrated with farming production systems. And the gains of building soil carbon are, unsurprisingly, hard to notice, especially compared to life above the soil that is represented in other methods.


What now? 

The news will bring confidence to the Australian carbon market that the soil carbon methodology can work. For a methodology that has had a long lead time for a significant issuance, market operators with an eye for genuine carbon outcomes will be paying attention to the rigor and integrity of the results demonstrated here.


This ACCU issuance for soil carbon projects is particularly meaningful for the soil carbon methodology, and for the expertise of proponents that have worked hard to integrate the method into the Australian carbon market. The soil carbon methodology is a complicated approach to sequestering carbon, and involves the technical expertise of a wide range of operators. While the issuance is not necessarily a tick of approval for the credibility of the method in all cases, this example is an important data point to demonstrate how project developers can take a robust method, meet every regulatory obligation, sequester carbon, and generate ACCUs. The issuance brings evidence that may counter an element of stigma that has accompanied soil carbon projects given a lack of substantial proof of outcomes. 


News like this will also boost farmer confidence and interest in soil carbon projects across Australia. While soil carbon levels have been seen to fluctuate with changes in climate, the practices implemented by these projects demonstrated that, in specific cases, farmers can benefit from building carbon and building resilience over the long term. Overall, it is a critical step forward in driving the adoption of soil carbon projects and building a more trusted and sustainable Australian carbon market.


Ready to find out more?

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 hello@carbonfarming.org.au or give us a bell at (08) 6835 1140 to be connected with one of our project facilitators.

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