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Top tips from landholders: how to integrate a carbon project into your agribusiness

They say the longest journeys start with a single step, but if people don’t have a reason or the courage to take that step, then nothing can be achieved.

When it comes to carbon projects, and integrating them into existing farms and farming practices, the journey itself can be part of the puzzle. Landholders can find that journey, from thinking about the issues to developing and finally implementing a strategy, long and arduous. But according to some, it is an easy enough puzzle to solve and well worth the effort.

Heather Cameron with daughter Zoe (left) and partner Popeye (right)

Heather Cameron with daughter Zoe (left) and partner Popeye (right)

Heather Cameron is one such landholder, running a Merino sheep enterprise on Lower Lila Station, 84 km northwest of Bourke in New South Wales.

She admits when she started, it took considerable time and effort to come to grips with what could be done and how best to go about it.

“I was fortunate that I could access some local expertise, both in terms of someone who worked with GreenCollar, and other producers who had signed up to operate carbon projects in conjunction with their grazing operations.

“This local aspect, for me, was very beneficial. In the initial discussions, I was confident the GreenCollar representative knew the district, the country and how we operate. He helped me to understand the project and to get my head around some initial questions and concerns.

“In the end I could see that by making some environmental changes, I would gain an additional revenue stream and still maintain productive areas of the farm. The decision to go ahead simply made good sense.”

Peter and Edwina Ponder of Emaroo Station, 200km west of Bourke, have a similar story.

According to Peter, the catalyst that encouraged them to examine all their options was an extended period of exceptionally dry conditions.

“During the drought, we spent a lot of money feeding sheep, and we got to the point where we needed to find another source of income or sell the property and get out.”

Ponder family

The Ponder family

In a similar story to Heather, the Ponders started the discussion with someone they knew.

“While it was great that we knew someone, I don’t think it would have made an overall difference or changed the way we undertook the project. The important thing was some trusted input for that initial discussion, leading into the decision to go ahead.”

Heather and Peter stressed the need for landholders to actively seek information about carbon projects and then carefully consider how it applied to their area.

They suggested a broad understanding of how the carbon project could be positioned alongside existing operations, combined with sound legal and financial advice, was crucial to implementing a carbon agreement successfully.

Heather said even after reading through available information, she still had a long list of questions.

“Never be afraid to make enquiries because that is the only way to resolve questions and be comfortable with the steps required to make things work.”

Heather said that she had contacts with other groups but chose GreenCollar because the way it operated suited her approach.

“From my perspective, I wanted to work with someone that understood I was running a farming business, and I didn’t enjoy spending extra hours in the office keeping up with the paperwork side of the project operations.”

Having someone who could work cooperatively and allow her to get on with the core business was very appealing.

“The project has delivered a regular income and allowed me to put a strong foundation in my business. I have never been a big fan of grazing heavily, so the project has been established in line with my management approach, setting aside portions of the property for native forest and bushlands, and allowing me to run sheep on the remaining areas.”

“The great thing is the income flow has taken away some of that uncertainty, and I have managed to employ more people. I have also invested some of the project money into establishing some cabins along the river as part of an environmental tourism project, which is exciting for me.”

The partnership approach was also an essential aspect for Peter.

“The task of establishing a carbon project is quite complex, and I have no idea how you would even go about it on your own.”

“We did our initial research and reading, but without working in partnership with someone you trust, it would be reasonably difficult and daunting.

“After our initial consultations, we had representatives from GreenCollar come out and do their satellite imaging and ‘ground-truth’ the possibilities. They were here on the property for a couple of weeks and had determined the spots they needed to check via GPS coordinates. The process did not intrude on our operations and allowed us to determine the way forward.

“Once they knew what we had, we then sat down, and we took out some country which wasn’t useful in the project proposal, such as the holding paddocks and other areas we regularly use.”

He said that while there was no trouble with the process, it did take time.

While more information is available now, there is still a lack of understanding around the carbon trading business, and for busy producers and landholders, this is often a significant hurdle to overcome.

As Peter described it, when your primary occupation is grazing cattle, sheep or goats, there is not necessarily time for producers to delve into and understand the complexities of carbon trading and how it could make a difference to the business.

“It’s a bit like share trading – you can certainly do it yourself, but if you haven’t got the time and it’s not your primary expertise, the best option is to go with someone who has that experience and who can work with you to deliver results.”

The strong relationship and the sense of partnership have provided reassurance about how the projects operate.

The Ponders are now six years into a 25-year scheme and are happy with how things are progressing.

According to Peter, the length of time was a choice based on a plan to sell the property after years of drought.

“We thought the time frame would allow any in-coming purchasers to consider their options, but we are currently going well. Getting into the carbon business has allowed us to stock lightly; with the carbon credits, we are not pushing as hard to make an income.”

Heather Cameron opted for a 100-year scheme.

“I could not see any harm in it, to be honest, and I like the idea of protecting the property with moderate grazing pressure so that it can be passed down from generation to generation in good condition.”

The partnership with GreenCollar has provided reassurance and confidence in the way forward.

“I would encourage others to consider their options and carefully assess how to get involved.”

While information is available, Heather said she found personal discussions, information days and visual information beneficial.

“Property owners like to work alongside people who understand how they do business. While explanations are important, they are used to visually examining their animals and landscape, so they also need to see firsthand how things will operate.”

There is no doubt that landholders face a long and complex journey to establish a carbon project. But with the correct information and support, it is possible to deliver projects that allow landholders to make informed decisions and implement flexible approaches that support their land and, critically, their business operations.

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