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Strategies to Reduce Net Farm Emissions: Lessons from Katanning Research Station Tour

Updated: Dec 13, 2023

Carbon Neutral 2030: Getting Started on Farm is a 4 year project, run by ASHEEP & BEEF in collaboration with Richard Brake Consulting and local producers, and funded by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) through the Producer Demonstration Site program.

In July 2023, a group of producers involved in the project headed to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Devlopment (DPIRD) Katanning Research Station to get insight on the station's CN30 journey to date and on strategies to reduce net farm emissions.

This information was used by attendees to help identify and develop an emission reduction or carbon sequestration plan for their own farm.

Methane boxes at Katanning Research Station
Methane boxes

We kicked off the day meeting with Mandy Curnow, Justin Hardy and John Paul Collins.

Mandy started the day with a refresher on how carbon emissions are measured. Emissions are measured in three ways.

  • The national/state emission inventories. These are the direct emissions by emission sources and sectors. They are broken into sectors which are: electricity, transport, industrial processes, stationary energy, agriculture, waste and land use, land use change and forestry. We learnt that not all farm emissions are recorded in the agriculture sector, they are also recorded in energy and in land use and land use change and forestry sectors.

  • Life Cycle Assessment. These are usually emissions recorded from inception including all input through to the sale of the product, including processing and transport.

  • And finally, the one we are using, Business or Farm Carbon Accounts which include all levels of emissions to the point of export from the farm gate.

She then spoke on what’s happening at a state level including the Katanning Research Station’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2023, which she indicated they will come close to achieving. And the potential projects and activities to help the whole industry achieve neutrality. These included determining the actual livestock emissions using the methane shed for sheep as well as portable green feed methane measurement systems for sheep and cattle.

Green Feed Methane Measurement System
Green Feed Methane Measurement System

Mandy finished with news of a new Insetting Methodology from Tree Planting. This methodology is being developed by Climate Active. It will be a rolling annual account on tree and shrub plantings after 1990. The trees must have a potential to be at least 2 metres tall and reach a crown cover of at least 20% of the planting area. This will enable producers that have already planted trees on their farm to include the areas in their carbon profile as sequestration from tree planting, reducing their overall emissions.

Justin Hardy and John Paul Collins spoke on the land rehabilitation and revegetation works they have undertaken as part of becoming carbon neutral by 2023. The project has a multifaceted approach utilising annual legumes, perennial pastures, and shrubs for grazing; revegetation for land restoration and biodiversity; and engineering solutions including surface water control and groundwater systems.

Before & After Rehabilitation Section DPIRD Katanning Research Station
Before & After Rehabilitation Section

The station has a natural waterway which they drain surface water into. This runs through to a natural lake. They have cleaned out the waterway to get it free-flowing. They have installed silts traps and test pits for monitoring water quality as well as shallow bores and deep bores to monitor ground water and have a production bore that will have a renewable powered desalination plant installed soon.

The revegetation has included direct seeding and plantings. They have selected 50 species from the neighbouring nature reserve as well as Old Man Salt Bush for the salt lands. It is anticipated the revegetation will stop the drainage in the future and the area adjacent to the rehabilitated area should become more productive from grazing.

We then went for a drive through the area, there has been an impressive amount of work completed including earthworks and tree planting. It will be good to see again in a few years once everything is established.

Feed Efficiency Box, Entry, Reader & Water at Katanning Research Station
Feed Efficiency Box, Entry, Reader & Water

Next was the Feed Efficiency shed and the Methane Shed. Claire McLeay, Brittany Bolt and Amy Bowden spoke on their project to generate new sustainability ASBV’s focused on feed intake and methane production traits. They used EID to collect individual data and feed tray weights, and weighed the animals twice a week. Animals spent up to 42 days in the shed.

Once the sheep had finished their time in the feed efficiency shed, they went to the methane shed for 45 minutes where their methane, oxygen and carbon dioxide production was measured at 15-minute intervals. The sheep were also measured post weaning in a portable accumulation chamber. This information is being shared with Sheep Genetics and will contribute to the development of the sustainability ASBV’s.

Following lunch, Daniel Real took us for a look at the Feed365 project plots we saw 10 established plots that have been grazed with a varying number of sheep. The plots we saw were all mixed species which included Sub Clover, Rye, Serradella, Triticarle, Chicory, Cocksfoot, Tedera and Brassica. It will be interesting to see the results in the coming years.

We then joined Richard Brake to consider the next step in our CN30 project: creating an emission reduction or carbon sequestration plan.

The first thing to note is the change of terminology. There has been growing confusion between terms like baselines and projects. So, we are now calling the result of your carbon accounting Net Farm Emission your “emissions profile” instead of a baseline. And while ASHEEP & BEEF is running a project to learn about carbon, a Carbon Project baseline is the starting point for carbon farming and selling ACCU’s.

Richard started by asking everyone if they had completed their emission profile, what their number was, and how easy or hard it was to complete the calculator. He went on to suggest participants update their emissions profile annually by choosing a set time of the year to redo the calculator with the latest numbers. Farm review time is always a good time as you have all the figures available.

Mandy Curnow also joined us for this session. Mandy’s current role within DPIRD is to lead the development of the Sectoral Emissions Reduction Strategy for the agriculture sector and to manage the emissions program within DPIRD for agriculture. Combine this with Mandy’s extensive experience within DPIRD and agriculture generally; she carries a wealth of knowledge on strategies to reduce emissions.

Some of her suggestions included reducing supplementary feeding with pasture improvements, using improved growth genetics for earlier turn off, revegetation of salt lands to increase feed available and to sequester carbon, revegetating non-arable country, increasing productivity through early turn-off and matching land use to land type.

The group went on to discuss what might work on their own farms, what changes they may make, and the steps they will take to achieve the actions. Some actions identified were earlier weaning, reducing the number of older ewes, improved pasture through pest control and soil improvements, selecting feed efficient EBV’s or genetics for faster turn off from the feedlot and the use of rotational grazing to increase stocking rate.

Other strategies that can be considered are improving the information you enter into the calculator; this might include weighing 10-15% of the herd or animal class when they are in the yards to capture a more accurate average live weight.

Emission intensity is probably a more important measure than net farm emissions. The emission intensity is the total volume of emission per unit of product produced. This can be worked out by dividing your total emission by kilograms of liveweight sold. We can use production efficiencies to reduce emission intensity.

ASHEEP & BEEF is releasing a toolkit in early 2024 to assist producers to go through the process of creating a carbon profile for their farm.


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