Agricultural landscapes recovery

Part 5

The Solution

It is already known. A broad-scale long-term revegetation and biodiversity enhancement program with carbon sequestration benefits will produce substantial advantages for the future of the state’s rural economy, for sustainability and enhancement of both natural and farmed systems, and for support of rural communities. 

The term “revegetation” is used generically in this series. It covers a range of activities, from natural bush plantings, saltbush plantings, agro-forestry, new economic crops, farm shelter belts, roadside vegetation support, threatened ecosystem support, to riparian vegetation recovery. It also includes revegetation to ameliorate problem conditions associated with natural resources.

The opportunities are well-known, and for the farm it is diversity. Without diversity, there is an escalation of risk of failure. This has been articulated in many reports, and in many books, over many years.

In today’s times, I now accept that for change to occur in the agricultural lands (and on other public land listed below) there needs to be a market-based mechanism, and that is why carbon sequestration and carbon pricing will be such pivotal elements for the future of agriculture in this state.

This needs urgent recognition and implementation.

A revelation

This report - Opportunities and Threats for South Australia’s Agricultural Landscapes from Reforestation under a Carbon Market  - reveals the potential for a significant uplift for the agricultural sector from revegetation to generate carbon permits. 

According to that report, the potential is about $1bn annually in a carbon market scenario. And this would be in a sector that has a current gross value of about $4.5bn; that’s nearly a 25% uplift

This level of economic uplift would most unlikely not be achieved with a continuation of the existing dryland cropping system, especially given the predicted decline in future yields resulting from climate change scenarios.

There is further upside as presented in the myriad employment, education, and research capabilities that would arise. Subsets include seed production and harvesting, plant propagation, planting and sowing, maintenance, site assessment, monitoring, marketing, and trading.

The economic activity is potentially very substantial, and would certainly add to State Gross Product. 

South Australia can benefit substantially by participating in the carbon market. 

Replacing some of what used to exist

Although the federal government's Carbon Farming Initiative legislation provides the right parameters, it it too restrictive (at the time of writing). For example, there is a 100 years sequestration requirement for native reforestation. This is far too onerous.

The federal government’s Emissions Reduction Fund (presently under final formulation) proposes to release some of these restrictions, but if the ERF falters, then South Australia should consider embracing it’s own scheme to participate in a global carbon trading market. There are many opportunities internationally.

Aggregated agricultural output is almost at its peak in South Australia and any substantial uplift in revenue is most unlikely because of the predicted decline in rainfall in the future.
Traditional dryland farming systems would stand a greater chance of avoiding some of the worst outcomes such as predicted decline in wheat yields of 30% by 2080 (referenced in “Opportunities and Threats” report above), if a new approach is adopted.

What is it? Broad-scale revegetation of the agricultural landscape is the best opportunity to transform the rural economy, and to produce multiple environmental and natural resources condition benefits.

Begin with all that vacant, under-utilised public land, and all the under-utilised cleared agricultural land, and there's the backbone to a new agri-economy.

Think for a moment about what that would mean to that 4.4% contribution to state gross product.

In my view, the focus and resources directed to “drought-tolerant” grain crops today is misplaced and is symptomatic of the 19th and 20th century cropping paradigm. The present condition of soil resources will not support further depletion of diminishing reserves. Government reports say so. Dryland salinity, soil acidification, soil nutrient decline, erosion, and other impacts will attest to that. The State Of The Environment 2013 report confirms this.

Nevertheless, the benefits of broad-scale revegetation go way beyond economic gain, and could include ... improved rainfall, less evaporation, temperature attenuation, greater ecosystem resilience, less erosion, better water quality, and so on. All these aspects have been the subject of institutional research (which is in the public domain) over many years.

Another important advantage is the ability to achieve a number of the objectives in the Climate Change Adaptation Framework and the related Government Action Plan, particularly around community engagement. The retreat of resourcing of NRM Boards can be halted. Their role can be elevated.

The ideal outcome would be a framework that is based on biodiversity objectives, landscape recovery, farm income diversity, and carbon sequestration.


   Land that has been historically cleared for cropping, but is now laying idle or under-utilised, should be revegetated based on historical records of what existed at the time of land clearance activities. Such land could become part of a Carbon Farming Initiative program with the capacity to trade carbon credits. 

   Vacant road, rail, water, and Council reserves (of which there is a huge land bank across the state) should be revegetated, and these areas also could participate in the CFI. This is where engagement with local governments can play a significant role, and add an important income stream for Councils. Disappointingly, Councils have yet to realise the potential of the vacant road reserve asset that they have been sitting on for many decades.

   Denuded hilltops and ranges should be revegetated and fenced where appropriate. Remnant systems in these environments would be able to provide the parameters for recovery. 

   Inland watercourses should be revegetated and recovered as much as possible. It is baffling why the condition of South Australia’s watercourses has been neglected for so long. In such situations the EPA Act should be the legal instrument to invoke change.

   Paddock trees and remnant scrubs should be protected (fenced) and linked to nearby remnants. Continual open grazing in remnants should be severely limited to allow self propagation and understorey to flourish. Here is one answer to the issues described in the No Species Loss report.

   Every rural school and every rural town could re-use its treated wastewater for agro-forestry for participation in a carbon market co-operative. Now, there’s an idea for future sustainable funding for these organisations.

   A mallee future. The Future Farm Industries CRC points the way (e.g. biofuel industry, biochar, cineole).

These are just a few ideas that have been consistently described in this website. They seem to be so obvious, yet their potential is apparently unable to be seen.

Next is Part 6 --> The Scope for Landscape-scale Change

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