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Making the Carbon Farming Initiative more appealing to farmers

The Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) and Biodiversity Fund, two new Australian government initiatives, could help private landholders generate income while benefiting both climate change abatement and biodiversity…

For most farmers, it will take more than money to get them involved in carbon farming. Drew Bandy

The Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) and Biodiversity Fund, two new Australian government initiatives, could help private landholders generate income while benefiting both climate change abatement and biodiversity management. However, there are important issues that need to be considered when designing programs to stimulate these initiatives.

Given that 60% of Australia is privately owned and managed, the practices that landholders implement will play a significant role in determining the sustainability of landscape management. To launch any successful land management activities, farmers and landholders need to be considered as the change agents; they are the ones who will set up conservation practices in their private properties, and go beyond “business as usual”.

Private landholders are the change agents in managing biodiversity and carbon sink establishment. Nooshin Toorabi

Consider landholders' morals and values

We don’t know much about the social and cultural values that drive farmers to plant trees on private land, when they could potentially be using that land for agricultural purposes. By social and cultural values, we mean those that are not financially triggered, but that are preservation morals and aesthetics. This means that landowners are not just responding to the market signals to make more money. They also aim to pursue their moralistic and naturalistic values.

Social and cultural factors have the ability to influence these market approaches to emissions abatement and biodiversity management, yet they are often overlooked in the design of programs.

I believe studying such drivers can make bio-sequestration projects and biodiversity conservation programs more successful. It is essential to undertake a detailed study of the social and cultural drivers behind bio-sequestration projects on private land, as landholders’ attitudes will potentially affect the success of these projects. The allocated research budget in CFI could help conduct such studies and deliver enhanced outcomes.

Biodiversity Fund can provide additional incentives

Establishing new plantations or maintaining already planted ones takes both time and money. Water availability and cost, seedlings, labour and fencing are among the expenses to set up the carbon plantings. Undertaking the seven step CFI methodology process is time consuming for landowners, using time they could otherwise focus on the future of their farm businesses.

Considering a cost-benefit context, if the carbon credits issued under CFI are not traded, there is always a risk of such plantations being sold in a much more appealing timber market instead of the biodiverse carbon market. It’s in the interests of CFI to offset expenses so farmers don’t have to recoup their money this way.

Getting involved in the Biodiversity Fund can assure farmers their plantings are kept as permanent carbon sinks. Ray Christy

The Biodiversity Fund can compensate farmers for some of the carbon forest establishment expenses. In addition, it can secure the plantings are kept as permanent carbon sinks. As an incentive, the Biodiversity Fund can help private landholders undertake biodiverse carbon plantings to add value to the carbon sink and restore their landscape.

According to my personal communication with Corey Watts from The Climate Institute, around 1,500 applicants submitted to the Biodiversity Fund. Around a third of them indicated they were interested in participating in the CFI as well. This shows there is a prospect to attract more people in environmental plantings if they are given more information about the existing opportunity of the Biodiversity Fund. We need to make sure farmers know their application for carbon planting will not affect their Biodiversity Fund approval.

Helping landholders deal with uncertainties

There are some uncertainties about the potential risks for the carbon plantations. As an example, Victoria is among the most bushfire prone areas of the world. There is the constant fear of carbon plantings being burnt down and the integrity of scheme being put at risk. Once the fire burns down plantations there is a re-establishment gap for the trees; this makes the situation even more uncertain for landowners.

Buying insurance for carbon plantations in addition to planting fire-adapted native trees can help. There are some insurance companies currently active in the field of forest carbon, offering various levels of cover, and reducing uncertainty about fire. Insurance is an extra cost, but the additional incentive from Biodiversity Fund can cover some of it.

Landholders need to be well informed that native biodiverse plantations are more fire resistant than monocultures¹. Furthermore, native trees that are well adapted to the fire regimes can survive better; that needs to be considered while choosing species for carbon plantations. The role of easily available information for landholders is crucial in effectiveness of such initiatives.

To date, most plans for getting farmers involved in the Carbon Farming Initiative have relied on the financial incentive of carbon credits. But when farmers decide what to do with their land, they think about many more things than money. Considering their values, and ways to reduce uncertainty, could make expanding the CFI far more successful.


  1. Kapambwe, M. and R. Keenan (2009). Biodiversity Outcomes from Carbon Biosequestration, Department of Sustainability & Environment.
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11 Comments sorted by

  1. Jack Arnold


    This proposal lacks practicality. Planting out prime agricultural land to forests removes that land from production for up to a century, including for future owners.

    So, the prime beneficiaries of the CFI are the heavily subsidised farmers on Europe & USA due to reduced competition from efficient unsubsidised Australian farmers.

    Using hillsides or other 'waste' land for commercial forestry woodlots is a sound commercial decision yielding long term dividends. For example, pine woodlots have a greater average annual dollar yield over ten years than the same land used for grazing enterprises.

    However, there is only a single end of project payment that fails to consider the daily cost of living for farmers.

    1. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Thanks Jack.

      Your second sentence ("Planting out prime agricultural land to forests removes that land from production for up to a century, including for future owners.") reminded of that other great waste of prime agricultural land in australia, which is to subsume it under ever-expanding suburbia.

  2. Lincoln Fung


    The best approach is to use the market mechanism supplemented by policies that address market failures in the most effective and efficient ways.
    Morals and non-monetary/profit considerations may play only a secondary and fairly small role.
    It is unlikely to be successful if the secondary role is mistakenly thought to be as important as the primary role of profit in dealing with such diversified private landowners.

  3. Andrew Christopher Heap

    Policy Economist

    While I agree with the comment above, 25 years ago I started planting out sustainable woodlots on prime ag land because apart from any social or environmental arguments - it also made economic sense - the best driver of the lot. As any early adopter in Landcare - Vic, my wife and I planted trees from the environment - providing shelter belts for livestock (adding warmth to open country) and generally reducing soil and water run-off. The current discussion is a more sophisticated approach to the same development process.

  4. Alistair McDhui

    Retired engineer

    But there is no significant CO2-induced climate change! There's no unambiguous experimental evidence for it and the models which predict it are based on phantasy physics, easily provable** but I won't bore you with it all unless you insist!

    [Nahle used a Mylar balloon with a very thin wall to contain CO2: it showed no measurable warming compared with the much thicker walled PET bottle experiment. This proved thermalisation is indirect so all bets are off.]

    1. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Alistair McDhui

      Thanks Alistair.

      Why be concerned with the details of Nahle's experiment, when all we need to do is compare gas absorption spectra with Planck-Boltzmann distributions at ~5300 K and 255K?

      Observation 1. Sun irradiates earth with short-wave energy.

      Observation 2. Earth re-radiates long-wave energy.

      Observation 3. Greenhouse gases retard transmission of long-wave energy, not short-wave energy.

      Observation 4. Arctic sea ice is melting, so that summertime sunlight is being absorped…

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    2. Alistair McDhui

      Retired engineer

      In reply to David Arthur

      There has been warming now reversing. However, the climate models have in them elementary mistakes in heat transfer** so put in 40% more heating than reality, an increase of 400% in the IR. This imaginary warming is offset by imaginary cooling by clouds; an independent view***.

      **Houghton's physics is wrong. At TOA, Kirchhoff's Law of Radiation cannot apply so there is no 240 W/m^2 'DOWN IR. I got this from the Met. Office modellers who go through ludicrous hoops to justify it but have missed…

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    3. Alistair McDhui

      Retired engineer

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      You are typical of your ilk I'm afraid, not being able to think deeply enough about basic physics. Just as the modellers have forgotten to look at the small print, so have you.

      In 1993, Will Happer, a top notch physicist, refused to lie for Gore and left the US DoE for Princeton warning that the IPCC had made a big mistake about its IR physics. The claim that thermalisation is direct is based on naively assuming that in the microsecond you need for an isolated molecule to re-emit the absorbed…

      Read more
    4. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to Alistair McDhui

      "You are typical of your ilk I'm afraid, not being able to think deeply enough about basic physics."

      You have provided a perfect description of yourself. I don't debate hypocrites.

  5. Gil Hardwick

    anthropologist, historian, novelist, editor and publisher at eBooks West

    My only real question for you, Nooshin, is rather more concerned with who or what is a 'landholder'?

    It is secondary what social and cultural values might drive farmers to plant trees on what you call 'private land', about which we know a very great deal should you care to ask. Clearing trees and in turn replanting trees has massive commercial and environmental landuse impacts affecting drainage, water tables, groundwater throughflows, salinity, windbreaks, shelter, and these days with strict…

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