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15/12 - Carbon farmer waiting for his payoff

MARTIN Royds calls himself a carbon farmer. Twenty years ago the Braidwood cattle producer decided to develop regenerative farming practices, and in 2007 he was voted local carbon cocky of the year.

He says his winning carbon management practices include having 100 per cent groundcover all the time, using controlled grazing to ensure his pastures are never eaten down to the roots, growing trees on his land, and using biological products rather than synthetic fertilisers.

"You can see the difference," Mr Royds said.

Drought has hit his region of southern NSW and he has had to sell cattle.

"I have a lot of dry grass, where my neighbours have chewed down fairly close to the boards," he said. "I have less weeds and there are a lot of trees across the land."

After it rained, his native grass took off. "I went and hired a harvester and made a fortune harvesting native seed," he said.

Mr Royds said his soil carbon was increasing. He estimated it had grown from 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent, and he was aiming to reach 5 per cent. He would like to begin carbon trading.

"My goal is to get paid for building soil carbon," he said. "If we start doing that we fix all the problems. You fix the erosion problems, salinity problems."

The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists estimates Australia could store an additional 1000 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year in soil and plants.

"If Australia were to capture just 15 per cent of this capacity, it would offset the equivalent of 25 per cent of Australia's current annual greenhouse emissions for the next 40 years," the group says.

The Co-operative Research Centre for greenhouse gas technologies has been working on geosequestration -- the capture and storage of carbon dioxide from coal production. CRC chief Peter Cook said: "We are doing it on a small scale in Australia.

"We have injected 60,000 tonnes of CO2 over the last 18 months in the Otway Basin. It is staying down there. The technology does work."

Now that approach was needed on a "very much larger scale".

As long as people used fossil fuels "we have no alternative other than to put the CO2 in the ground", Mr Cook said.

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