A Gippsland World First in Soil Carbon

An excellent article on climate change and farming in the Saturday Paper (5.10) by Matthew Evans alerted me to the work of Niels Olsen of Hallora. Niels has developed a carbon farming technique which boosts both productivity and soil carbon – the latter more than trebling in the amazingly brief period of 5 years. As a result of this activity Niels’ Soilkee farm has been the first anywhere to be issued “carbon credits” for “a soil carbon project under the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) and the Paris Agreement”.

The Soilkee Renovator works with “minimum till disturbance in spaced apart rows by means of rotating blades create a competition free seed bed for successful germination, leaving around 80% of the pasture undisturbed. A diverse mix of seeds from clover seed to faba bean size can be applied from the seed box during operation with seeds dropping in the kee’s. The undisturbed portion acts as a cover crop protecting the soil from the elements, reducing erosion and keeping around 80% of soil life habitat intact. Whilst creating the seed bed the Soilkee Renovator provides additional benefits of aeration and a green manure crop within the worked up portion, providing aerobic conditions and a food source that activates the soil fungi, bacteria and earthworm populations and the natural soil processes they perform.”

The benefits of this process besides the increase in soil carbon include a substantial increase in dry matter equivalent, better moisture retention and thus some drought protection, a general increase in a wide range of nutrients and their availability and better soil aeration. Sounds almost too good to be true. Aside from minimum tillage using a wide range of seed, especially deep rooted and nitrogen fixing varieties, ensures that the carbon sequestration and soil building process goes down a metre or more. And an added bonus for the Olsen’s has been the $15,000 in carbon credits from the ERF – the first payment for a form of carbon, capture and storage besides trees that actually works.

Understandably, as in many pioneering processes, there have been difficulties to overcome – in particular estimating the amount of carbon being stored and the cost of measuring this. There is also the possibility of governments proclaiming the success of the process and avoiding the dire need for climate action on as many fronts as possible. On the other hand this form of sequestration of soil carbon has massive potential for the rapid removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. But one must ask why the pollies and the news media have not been shouting loudly about this ‘from the rooftops’. Here we have one of the very few tangible developments of their much lauded ERF- a rarity that looks so promising. And we have a world first in Gippsland hardly anyone, even locally, has heard of.