Friday, August 1, 2008

"We are talking about a complete revolution in the way we farm."

Mr Wiley—I am a development officer with the Department of Agriculture and Food based in Geraldton in Western Australia, so the very northern part of the Western Australian wheat belt cleared agricultural areas. Unfortunately, it looks like we are the first and perhaps the worst to be really hammered by climate change. The coastal regions of southern Western Australia had the most reliable rainfall in the country, which meant our farmers could have high input-output systems because they knew it was going to rain. Unfortunately, things have changed. From 1970 to 2000, rainfall declined by about one to two millimetres per year, which is not a lot, but over 30 years that adds up. It now appears that we may have had a second climate shift in 2000. This is still very contentious amongst the climate scientists and… eight years is not a lot of data. But the shift appears to be so great that the evidence is suggesting we are actually into a completely different climate from last century. So far this decade, our rainfall for the very northern agricultural wheat belt has fallen by 25 per cent compared with last
century. If that really is the case, we are in a totally new ball game.

In our region particularly—we are a bit biased—we have a very adaptable agricultural sector: good farmers, good resources and good agribusiness. While rainfall declined over that 30-year period, wheat yields actually went up—by about four per cent per year over a two decade period. That is a pretty remarkable achievement. They are now dropping. So you cannot adapt if you have had this significant change in climate, if this turns out to be correct. We have had this big drop, but in 2006 we had the mother of all droughts. You are talking about places like Northampton that have never had a drought before. The Binnu bin did not open that season because there was not one grain to be delivered—not one grain. Eighty per cent of the stock had to leave the district. All the lambs had to be put down that season and the stock remaining had to be hand fed. Because it is mostly sand plain, the degradation meant it was like the beach for about 10 months. Unfortunately, we are 500 kilometres north of Perth, so not too many of the experts or decision makers in Perth got up there and saw it, but it was a disaster.
"There could be whole districts where they will have to walk off the farm."

In terms of the economics, the banks are not saying too much at the moment. There have been very few sales so officially we have not had a collapse in land values, but I cannot see how we will avoid it. If land values collapse, equity collapses. Earlier this year, probably 25 per cent of the farmers had been told they would not get finance to put the crop in this year, but we had a bit of summer rain in the north and record wheat prices early in the year, so most of them did get finance. It is on a knife edge back there at the moment, depending on the rain. I have been away for two weeks. If it rains, we might get a crop. If it does not rain, there could be whole districts where they will have to walk off the farm. It has got to that point and, unfortunately, we are the first. But one of the farmers, Chris King, who chairs NACC, the Northern Agricultural Catchments Council, said a couple of weeks ago, ‘Australian agriculture is lucky because if anyone can deal with it, we will be able to’—because it is an area of innovation. We had a project that started in 2006 in the Binnu area, the worst affected area, where we got the farmers to record the actual stock movements so we could work out exactly how much each paddock carried for a 12-month period. We picked farmers who were just starting to put in the perennials—the first innovators. It turned out to be the mother of all droughts. What that data said was that it did not matter what we did, any traditional annual pasture would not have grown enough to prevent the wind erosion we saw over the 10-month period. Even I was surprised how good the perennials were. We were actually carrying four to six sheep per hectare equivalents and had ground cover and had no erosion. So these innovations carried more stock in the worst drought ever than those farmers carried on annual pastures in a normal year. That gives us hope for the farmers but even for me. The only thing that kept us sane during that drought was to go out and see those patches of green.

One of the other innovations we did only last year was to do with approaches to cropping. There is a farmer over here doing pasture cropping and growing wheat over these summer-growing perennial pastures. [Col Seis of Gugong] Bob and I came over and saw it last year and we went back and put a trial in and, remarkably, we found that the wheat on certain perennials out-yielded the wheat on annual pastures. It was one trial, one year, one season. We are at the point where there is a bit of light at the end of a very dark tunnel. We do not have a lot of hard evidence in terms of scientific data—we have a limited amount—but it looks like there could be some solutions.

We are talking about a complete revolution in the way we farm. In the last six months farmers’ attitudes have changed. I guess you have heard comments about climate change like, ‘We are probably just in a dry spell and it will come good again.’ The farmers in the north-east are no longer thinking that way. They now accept that this is the future and the question for them is: will they be on the farm next year and beyond?

"What does look promising is storing carbon. [The figures we have been getting] are in the range of five to 10 tonnes CO2 equivalent."

We see some hope and systems that could work in the future. The problem is finance—the equity is shot; the banks’ nerves are shot. So if these things work, how do we actually redevelop agriculture? How do we fund it? I cannot see that government would pay the bill for what is required to totally redevelop agriculture even in our little part of the world. What does look promising is storing carbon. [The figures we have been getting] are in the range of five to 10 tonnes CO2 equivalent. The older trial data on annuals, the old farming system, had a maximum of three and probably at best about one tonne. We are talking about a quantum difference, if it is right. I am not totally certain that it is right, and at the moment we are taking more samples to see if this is real. If it is, then it could be the thing that finances the change in agriculture to more sustainable systems. I have extrapolated from the numbers that we do have to the Western Australian examples I know pretty well, because I was curious to find just how big this is. My extrapolation is … that we could soak up all the Western Australian emissions on cleared agricultural land in WA with those sorts of systems. You must be careful about how you take those figures. This is an extrapolation—it is my best guess at the moment. We really need to work out if that is possible or not.

Senator HEFFERNAN—The CSIRO’s is only a guess too.

Mr Wiley—It looks promising. We are drawn between the positions: this is disaster and this decade is the future in our part of the world. The old game is over. It is time to stop talking about it; it is now time to take action. It will need to be radical action if agriculture in our part of the world is to keep going. But there is hope.

Dr Christine Jones reveals the secret behind rapid soil carbon storage

Dr Jones—I am the founder of the Australian Soil Carbon Accreditation Scheme and my PhD research was on the chemistry of the carbon compounds that come out of plant roots and into the soil. Soluble carbon entering soil from plant roots is rapidly humified if appropriate microbial associations are in place. This humified carbon is not labile and is not easily lost, as was suggested this morning by Dr Mark Howden. The main pathway for soil to act as a permanent carbon sink is through the perennial grasses and perennial shrubs that have been referred to by Bob Wilson and Tim Wiley this morning. The humification pathway for soil carbon increase is not included in any current models used byCSIRO or other organisations in Australia. I have spent my whole adult life in tertiary education and in working with farmers to find better ways of doing things. Building soil carbon,restoring healthy topsoil and improving resilience and productivity in agriculture equates to winwin—for the atmosphere, for the soil and the Australian economy.
Currently, field days and workshops on soil carbon readily attract 100 to 200 farmers, whereasif we ran field days on soil health we may get 30, and it is always the same ones who turn up. Sowe are accessing a whole lot of farmers who never came to field days before. If a financialincentive were to be provided for farmers to increase their soil carbon, all of Australia’s carbondioxide emissions could be easily and permanently sequestered in soil. Our emissions are predicted to be 603 million tonnes this year. A 0.5 per cent increase in soil carbon, which wouldbe readily achieved under perennial agriculture, on only two per cent of our agricultural landwould sequester 685 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is a greater amount than our total national annual emissions. There is no need for the agricultural sector to be a net emitter ofgreenhouse gases. In fact, agriculture provides the only viable and immediately availablesolution to excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.All of the major greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and watervapour—are cyclical. The way land is managed has an enormous impact on this cycling process.For example, the amount of water lost as evaporation is directly affected by the amount of carbon and nitrogen sequestered in soil as humus, and that humification pathway is the one thatwe find under perennial agriculture. We do not find that in conventional business-as-usualagriculture. So providing a financial incentive to farmers to increase levels of soil carbon wouldhave a beneficial effect on reducing all four major greenhouse gases.

Bob Wilson's dramatic experience with grasses

Mr Wilson—I am a farmer from Lancelin, which is in the northern agricultural region ofWestern Australia, about 150 kilometres north of Perth.As a farmer, in 1985 I realised that the traditional annual based agriculturalsystem that we were working with was failing. I moved to trial some new and innovative perennial systems that were based around a fodder shrub called tagasaste, which is a deep rooted perennial shrub. Over a period of years we planted around 1,000 hectares on the farm. By 2003 we started planting some subtropical perennial grasses, again to try and adapt what was happening with our past system so as to move from an annual based system to a more perennial-based farming system.

In 2007 we measured some of the soil carbon under these systems and we compared them with the soil carbon levels that were under our annual based pasture system. It showed indications of a sequestration rate on an annualised basis of around seven tonnes of CO2 equivalent per hectare per year. If you consider that we had 1,000 hectares of tagasaste, that equates to around 7,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year being sequestered. A rough figure, to give you an indication, is that half of my farm would be taking out the equivalent of the emissions of around 1,000 cars. We then decided that we had better try and look at emissions versus sequestrations on a whole farm budget. Through some fairly rough figuring we came up with our emissions for the farm at that stage being about 2,000 tonnes. So we are working onabout 5,000 tonnes actually being sequestered. We feel that we have the potential under these systems to actually make a difference.

Farming needs to change. We keep operating in the same way. If soil carbon is given the opportunity to be part of the new emissions trading scheme then I think that the farming industry can change and can adapt much quicker. In the 20 years that I have been growing tagasaste, about 100,000 hectares have been planted in Western Australia. In the five years that we have been mucking around with subtropical perennial grasses, probably about 30,000 hectares have
been planted. That is great for a start, but if climate change is happening as quickly as we believe it is then that will not cut the mustard. We have to adapt quicker, and farming has the potential to be part of the solution and not the problem.

The Committee discovers "Pasture Cropping"

Senator O’BRIEN—What are the issues with weeds? With all of these systems—the cropping perennials and the like and the tagasaste issues—we have got all sorts of chemicals that are used to control weeds. But what is happening with management of weeds in the sort of systems that you were talking about?

Mr Wiley—The perennial grasses we are talking about are subtropical; in fact, you will hear them referred to as C4. They grow in summer and are dormant in winter. The C3s, or temperates, are the other way around. We have tried the winter-growing perennials north of Perth and they did not work. Lo and behold, these things that grow when it does not rain do work, but they are dormant when it does. In 1990 we started the first trials. We are seeing, very interestingly, that in
the targeted very poor sands—we call them the Western Australian silver loams or beach sands and they are pretty shocking stuff that would not grow a crop and would not grow very good annual pasture—the perennials actually make the annuals grow a hell of a lot better. It takes about three or four years and we get this dramatic improvement in how the annual pasture grows on top of the perennials in winter. We get a shift in the composition of the species. We lose all of
the broad leafs—cape weed, doublegee, Paterson’s curse. The perennial replaces those and we get a shift in the annual grass component away from silver grass and brome and towards rye grass and others.

I am not sure if we fully understand what is happening but we are getting some fundamental changes in the ecology of the pasture. Christine knows more about the soil. So does Colin Seis, who developed pasture cropping over here and has been doing it for 17 years, told us that he really does not have much of a weed problem at all. It is a bit early to say that for us but I suspect, on the observation, we will at the very least dramatically reduce our requirement for herbicides under these systems.

Senator O’BRIEN—How do herbicides intersect with the pasture?

Mr Wiley—The prices of fertilisers and herbicides have doubled or tripled and are not going to come down in the next couple of years because the world does not have the capacity. So our farmers are very interested in systems that reduce the input of those two things. This system certainly seems to do both of those. The challenging part is that it does not fit within our understanding of agriculture. I have seen too many weird things happening; there is something really going on. We need to rethink some of the basics of agriculture. Personally, the only thing that fits is soil biology. We have changed the soil biology. We have gone from a system where we had plants growing for six months of the year and then nothing growing for six months of the year and cooking the soil for six months over summer to having green plants year round. It seems to have created some fundamental change. So the sequestration rates do not fit the models. We have talked to Jeff Baldock from CSIRO who has developed the Roth C model, and Jeff says that you cannot do it. We said, ‘We think we are.’ He said, ‘Send us over your data’—because he has no data from the systems in Western Australia—‘and we’ll fix the model.’

So we are right at the point at trying to collect good, vigorous, scientific data to find out whether we are really right, although I myself have some uncertainty about that. Once we have that data, that will create a whole pile of challenges for the scientists to try to figure out how it is happening.

Senator O’BRIEN—On the one hand you are talking about a system that is moving from cropping to pasture grazing—

Mr Wiley—I started with the department in 1990 specifically to look at the poor sands in the coastal area north of Perth, because our traditional annual based agricultural systems were failing. It is not well known but about half a dozen of the worst sand plain farms were abandoned in the mid-1980s, not due to climate change but due to the soils being too poor. We
to a viable commercial system. But we have targeted these very poor sands where cropping fails.

So the farmers say, ‘I’ve got this poor sand; nothing works so I will give that a crack,’ and it does work. With the price of wheat, we are now at the point where farmers do not like to give up any wheat country, but they have been forced to in the north-east because it has not rained.

Senator O’BRIEN—It costs a lot to put it in if you do not get a crop.

Mr Wiley—Yes. This year a lot of them have rolled the dice for the last time, and it is the biggest wheat crop I have ever seen. So now we are starting to think, ‘Can we grow it on good cropping country?’ As I said, we had one trial of pasture cropping one year but we have a lot of guys who are going to give it a crack this year. It could be the breakthrough.

Dr Jones—Could I make a comment from the eastern side of Australia. We actually have pasture cropping data going back to 15 years. We have trials on some of the best soils in Australia, and we have found that soil carbon can be increased—doubled or tripled—on good soils with pasture cropping. To get to Senator O’Brien’s question on the herbicides, most of these crops are grown with no herbicide whatsoever because perennial grass prevents weeds from coming through; you have complete ground cover. The better the ground cover, the better the crop. So we find that the thicker the perennial grasses, the more vigorously they grow, the more they condition the soil and the better the crop grows—that is, the annual crop that you plant into
the perennial pasture.

Senator O’BRIEN—In what parts of eastern Australia have the trials been conducted?

Dr Jones—We have trials in western New South Wales through to the north of Clermont in Queensland. I can give you specific locations.

Senator O’BRIEN—It is a matter of interest in terms of climatic conditions.

Dr Jones—Rainfall is generally around 300 to 700 millimetres, depending on where the trials would be. In the lower rainfall areas it is actually extremely successful. Our crop yields are the same or better than under conventionally managed farming, and the improvement in yield is better the more marginal the area because perennials provide so much change to soil biology. We have seen places where soil carbon, if you are talking about tonnes, has gone from something like 150 to 500. It is far more than you could ever sequester in trees, and in those marginal areas the trees would not have sufficient rainfall to grow.

Senator O’BRIEN—On your submission about chemically based zero-till farming, could you explain why that actually works against the outcome that we are trying to achieve?

Dr Jones—Because there is a carbon pathway from gas, as carbon dioxide has to be fixed in leaves as glucose, which is liquid. It goes through the plant and then, to come out of the roots, you have to have microbial associations around the roots that then take that into the soil, in particular, mycorrhiza that use that carbon. They can use 60 per cent of the carbon that is fixed in the green leaves, and 80 per cent that can be turned into humus, so it is a huge equation, a huge, huge amount of carbon that can be fixed. That is why we are seeing the sequestration levels that we are seeing. Also, it is carbon that is not then subject to oxidation, so it does not break down and go back to the atmosphere. But if you knock out those microbes that are part of that pathway, it does not happen. If you use herbicides and if you use conventional fertilisers, you kill the microbes in the soil that are the endpoint of the pathway.

What happens in a conventional zero-till type cropping is you would have stubble that would break down into the soil and form what they call labile carbon, which is very readily decomposed, and within 12 to 18 months most of that goes back to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. So it is a very rapid cycling of carbon, and the reason that that happens is that the
microbes necessary for humification are not there because the chemicals used in zero till have knocked them out of the system. This is why we have experts across Australia telling us we cannot build soil carbon because they are looking at conventional zero-till systems where the microbes that you need to build the carbon simply are not there. They are actually quite correct that you cannot build carbon in those systems. But if we go to perennial based agriculture and
change the soil biology and get the microbial associations, we can build carbon at rates faster than people will actually acknowledge is possible. The Australian Soil Carbon Accreditation Scheme was established to measure those levels so that we can say this is happening and use rigorous science to measure that and record that.

Senator HEFFERNAN—To take the halfway ground, in a mixed farm where there is a chemical regime, what would be a reasonable sit-down period for the perennial pasture before it
comes back into crop?

Dr Jones—It can be cropped every year. The perennial pasture grows better if it is cropped. Putting the annuals into the perennial pasture actually improves the perennial pasture.

Senator HEFFERNAN—We obviously now plant crop with lucerne because we have found that clover and such disappears when you have a decent lucerne paddock. Would that be part of a success model? Do you blokes use lucerne over there?

Mr Wiley—Not so much north of Perth as south, but it tends to be grown as a phase in rotation: you will plant your lucerne, have pure lucerne for four or six years, kill it out, go back
into crop for a phase—

Senator HEFFERNAN—Yes, that was my question.

Mr Wiley—This is very different. This is—

Senator HEFFERNAN—A six-year cycle for lucerne—is that a waste of time when it comes to—

Mr Wiley—This system is very different because you are deliberately aiming to keep the perennial under the crop. It is a different mindset.

Senator O’BRIEN—You mean it is ‘really’ perennial?

Mr Wiley—Yes.

Dr Jones—Yes, you actually plant your crop into the perennial grass; you do not kill the perennial grass. It is better if it—

Senator HEFFERNAN—So which perennial grasses are we talking about? Is it fescue or bloody phalaris?

Mr Wiley—North of Perth, I have tried the temperates, the C3s—phalaris, perennial ryegrass, cocksfoot, all of those—and they do not seem to be able to handle the heat.

Senator HEFFERNAN—Cocksfoot is a waste of time.

Mr Wiley—Yes. They just get cooked by the heat, so it has been these subtropicals, the C4s, and they really have grown over summer with up to, probably, eight months of no rain but on these deep sands. Part of the secret is the rooting depth. We have not actually found the bottom of the roots yet. We took a core sample 12 months ago at the end of the worst drought ever and we got a core from 41/2 metres and there were still live roots at the bottom of it. That seems to be
part of the secret. A summer-active perennial over a winter-growing annual is the system.

Dr Jones—And in the eastern states a lot of our work has been into native perennial grasses. They have been there but they have recently been encouraged to proliferate. We have done things to encourage getting more and more grasses into cropping systems, and we now have a complete cover of native grasses.

Senator HEFFERNAN—I see you did one here in the central west. Is that wire grass. What sorts of grasses were involved in that paddock in the central west?

Dr Jones—We got colonisation of native grasses after the rain that fell on 23 December last year in the central west and that continued into January. The primary grass in those photographs is chloris truncata, which is a native perennial grass, but there are about 10 other native grasses
in that paddock.

Senator O’BRIEN—So the transition from conventional farming to this sort of farmingwould require at least a season recreating the perennial pastures?

Dr Jones—[A farm at Warren in the central west of New South Wales] had been conventionally zero tilled for 15 years prior to the rain this summer. It was then miraculously covered in perennial grasses that just appeared. cott McCalman, who was the farmer in question and who was New South Wales Farmer of the Year in 2005, has excellent credentials as a farmer and is very highly respected around Australia. He decided that he was not going to kill his grasses, that he was actually going to crop into them. He had heard about pasture cropping, and he just decided that he was going to do that. He saved $70 a hectare by not spraying out those grasses. When we measured the nutrient levels in his paddock this year prior to him sowing his crop, the phosphorous levels had gone up by a factor of five. The agronomist actually thought there was a laboratory error in the data. We relooked at that and at bare areas compared with areas under the grass, and it was correct that available phosphorous had gone up by a factor of five.

Senator HEFFERNAN—And that is the microbes releasing it.

Dr Jones—Yes. Phosphorous fertilisers had been used over time, under 15 years of zero till in that area, and they just formed a phosphorous bank that had been inaccessible. A fortune has been spent on phosphorous fertilisers. That farmer will not need to apply phosphorous fertiliser, we do not know for how long but for several decades, because the microbes are releasing what has been built up. You mentioned before the issue with your conventional zero till and why it is that carbon does not work, nitrogen does not work and phosphorous does not work. Nothing works because you have to have a microbial bridge between plants and minerals in the soil.

Plants cannot actually access those unless that is in place. Normally the carbon from plants feed the microbes that in turn bring nutrients back to the plants. We have destroyed all those associations in soil by loading it with toxic chemicals, basically. What has been in favour of its adoption is not only climate change but the rapidly increasing price of phosphorous, nitrogen and herbicides. That has encouraged farmers to look for alternatives to that system.

The scientific community

“These things really are off the scale of what was thought possible. What we have been saying has been very contentious in the scientific community. But I do believe that, probably only in the last 12 months, there has a considerable change in attitude and there is now real interest. Some are completely sceptical about what we doing; others are really interested. I think that the scientists and the scientific bodies are in the process of going through a very bg change in thinking?”

Senator MILNE—. I am particularly interested in the research you have been doing and any connection with CSIRO, the Bureau of Rural Sciences, Land and Water Australia or anyone anywhere in the research body across Australia in looking at the potential of building resilience in soils as an adaptation strategy to climate change and maintaining food ecurity. Is CSIRO actually looking at this in any way? Is anyone supporting you in developing field trials across the country and in helping to get the data together—doing all that—or are you battling on your own?

Mr Wiley—What we are talking about is radical.

Senator MILNE—Yes, it is a radical shift.

Mr Wiley—For me, it has been driven from the farmers’ paddocks. From my perspective, there has been limited support—I have a job, which is great, and the Western Australian state government pays my wage—but these things really are off the scale of what was thought possible. What we have been saying has been very contentious in the scientific community. But I do believe that, probably only in the last 12 months, there has a considerable change in attitude and there is now real interest. We are certainly starting to talk to people in CSIRO. Some are completely sceptical about what we doing; others are really interested. The future farm CRC is showing interest and their budgets have just been signed off in the last few weeks. ... The staff in the future farm CRC will actually do most of their work in Western Australia up to the north in our region, looking at these pasture cropping systems. I am optimistic that there has actually been a change. We are in the middle of a significant change in thinking. It has already happened for our farmers in the north but I am not sure if the rest of Western Australia believes that this is real and that we are going to get dinkum.

I think that the scientists and the scientific bodies are in the process of going through a very big change in thinking, from: ‘It is only minor; we’ll deal with it’ to ‘Maybe this is the disaster that a few people are saying it is.’ It is a difficult process to rethink; we are talking about a very big shift in thinking. I am really pleased with what has happened recently. There is a lot further to go and we do have the problem that we have very limited data that does not stand up to detailed scientific rigour, and I have never claimed anything else. We actually need to get that data and we need those scientists involved. They need the funds to be able to do it properly.

Senator MILNE—Do you want to comment on this, Dr Jones?

Dr Jones—My comment would be that I have been applying for funding for this for 10 years at least. I have folders full of reject letters saying that it was an extremely well worded application, that it has possibility but the current science does not support it and it is not possible to actually increase carbon to the levels that we were documenting on farm. I would have to say that that has changed very quickly recently. In fact in the last week even, there have been huge changes. I think we have just finally got to the tipping point. We have 2,000 farmers involved in this. It is a huge grassroots revolution that the scientific establishment for some reason seems to be completely unaware of or, if they are aware of it, have totally discounted as irrelevant.

"It is a huge grassroots revolution that the scientific establishment for some reason seems to be completely unaware of or, if they are aware of it, have totally discounted as irrelevant."

I travelled to Central Queensland last week with a professor from the University of New England, where I formerly worked. He is the head of the beef CRC and a professor of meat science. He was going there to talk about tenderness in beef. He does not get to interact with farmers because he goes to conferences and talks to people at that level. Over 200 farmers came to this workshop and they got up and talked about and gave presentations on pasture cropping and presented their data with very professional PowerPoint presentations. They have data, but it is considered anecdotal because it does not fit into the scientific model. The professor was blown away. All he could talk about was what he had seen that day and this farmer revolution. He said, ‘How come I have never heard about this?’ The scientific establishment have been talking among themselves and, out there, farmers all over Australia are doing this other amazingly innovative stuff. Now, all of a sudden, this bubble here seems to have burst and we are getting through. DAFF are now very interested in what we are dong and suggesting that if we talk to them and give them some case studies then they might be able to provide some funding. I think we are going to see an explosion in this area. I am feeling very positive as of last week, I would have to say.

Senator MILNE—What sort of formal interaction are you having with Dr Jeff Baldock and the CSIRO in Adelaide on soil carbon? It seems to me that if he is doing a whole project on soil carbon and is dismissing this as irrelevant or whatever, then we are not making any further gains. Is this embedded in the CSIRO yet, in terms of data collection and proper studies, or not?

Mr Wiley—Bob, Christine and I met with Jeff at Mudgee last November. Jeff has heard of some of these figures and what he has done is run it backwards through the Roth C model. He has run it back and said, ‘You would need to be growing 30 tonnes of dry matter per hectare per year to get that level of sequestration; you cannot do it,’ and we would agree entirely—we cannot. So our data is not fitting with his model. Either our data is wrong or his model needs readjusting. Basically, what is good about this is that if this is real I will go and change the model to fit what is actually happening in the paddock. That is what we have lacked, good hard data, and that is what we are trying to get right at the moment—but it will still be limited—so that they can make the model fit what is actually happening in the paddock.

Getting the model right is absolutely critical for Australia. A lot of people are saying that soil carbon is not part of Kyoto. That is just total rubbish. It is in there; it is in all the rules. It is probably the biggest uncertainty in our current national accounts and the biggest risk for this government in that, if we are actually running down our soil carbons and we have to count it properly, for every tonne we go over budget the federal government will have to pay, and we will be able to sell every tonne that we go under budget. But we will need a very large investment to get those models right so they are reliable.

"That's a big statement, Mr Wiley"

Senator NASH—.We are out in the central west and last year we had a pretty ordinary year and, by accident, ended up sowing some grazing wheat into a pasture paddock to do nothing more than bulk it up. We ended up stripping it and it was probably the best paddock on the farm. It was all purely by accident. With the trials in the east that you have been doing, what crops are you using, Dr Jones?

Dr Jones—So far we have only been using cereals—wheat predominantly because of the price for wheat, oats, barley and triticale. We strongly recommend against using canola because it is antimycorrhizal and actually kills the bugs in the soil that you need for the carbon highway. So we are recommending for farmers that want to build soil carbon that they do not use canola, but otherwise any of the winter cereals are great.

Senator NASH—What sort of yields are you getting?

Dr Jones—We have 28 trial sites in eastern New South Wales. Last year our yields ranged from two to 41/2 tonnes per hectare. Where we got the 41/2 tonne per hectare crop, nobody else in that region got a crop.

Senator NASH—I am getting at the moisture issue and the impact it is having on this type of cropping.

Dr Jones—If the rainfall is very low the only people that get a crop are the ones that cropped into perennial grasses. If the rainfall is marginal, it is the perennial grass that makes the difference because it changes soil-water relationships completely. The crop can survive and produce to grain if it is sown into perennial grass. If it is sown into bare ground
it will fail in a very low rainfall year….

Mr Wiley— We only started pasture cropping in WA 12 months ago, but we have had some really interesting observations through the drought that are difficult to understand. It seems that some of these perennial grasses actually make the soil wetter rather than drier.

CHAIR—That is a large statement, Mr Wiley.

Mr Wiley—It is. A farmer out the back of Una, which is in the far north-east, took me out there with a shovel and said, ‘Have a look at this!’

Senator HEFFERNAN—The difficulty with that is he might have had a thunderstorm, old mate.

Mr Wiley—No, this was in the drought.

Senator HEFFERNAN—Yes, but that is how it works here and there.

Dr Jones—No, we are talking about a metre apart.

Mr Wiley—We are talking about a plant here and a plant two metres away, in a drought. He said: ‘Here’s a shovel. Have a look at that.’ It was as dry as bone in between the plants but the plant was wet, and it has not rained for five months. It is a concept I had not heard of called hydraulic lift. There is some science to support it. When you start doing weird things and having a look, you find out that some really weird things happen. In terms of some of these radical systems, we have had early indications that have us totally excited. Our farmers are desperate and I cannot exaggerate how bad things are...repared to listen to nut cases like us and have a crack, and things seem to be working. That does not mean there is not a long way to go before we come up with commercially viable packages. But they do not have a choice—the ‘do nothing’ option at the moment does not exist. They will not be there in two years time so there is no risk in being a radical when you are guaranteed to fail, and that is where we are at.

Senator NASH— Dr Jones, Are there any particular soil types where it is apparent that the process works best, or is it
not really indicative?

Dr Jones—It has worked in every soil type that we have tried. The photographs of the trial paddocks in the submission from Warren are actually representative of the three major soil types in the central west. We are comparing soil types from fairly light sandy soil through to heavier soil. We also have a sodic soil in there and we are looking at what we can do about sodicity. That is a huge factor and a constraint to farming in the central west.