Partnership expands to support farmer-led investigation of GHG emissions
Where it began
In 2018 Riverine Plains and Central West Farming Systems partnered with Mars Petcare to develop an industry program, labelled the Australian Cool Farm Initiative, to quantify greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from wheat production, and to identify avenues to support farmers in reducing emissions, with a focus on soil health. Technical support for this project was provided by the Sustainable Food Lab, an international agency with experience in supporting effective sustainability projects across supply chains.
The program was unique in Australia and has evolved over the past three years as we continue to learn and explore new avenues to create more value and to show our appreciation to the farmers who have come on board.
Partnership brings together industry, producers and researchers
The program is taking another leap forward in being recognised as a program of value across the industry and is set to expand with a $2 million investment over three years and a plan to work with 200 farmers. Kellogg’s and the Manildra Group are joining the project, Charles Sturt University will provide research and administration support, and there’ll be additional funding through innovation hub, the Food Agility Cooperative Research Centre (CRC).
While the new program has initially secured funding for three years, the objective is to create an ongoing program, with ongoing funding from across the public and private sector.
The emphasis is still on wheat production, as that’s a commodity shared by all partners, but we hope that this will expand to capture other crops of interest. The key aim of this program is to create a platform for the food industry to support cropping farmers in the reduction of GHG emissions, leading to increased long-term sustainability and yield stability, through the adoption of innovative agronomic strategies to increase soil health and related function.
Soil health has been recognised as a key driver in mitigating GHG emissions on farm, while supporting increased system resilience across variable seasonal conditions. The name of the program has also changed, to the Cool Soil Initiative, to reflect this focus.
The Cool Soil Initiative will continue to support engagement within the Riverine Plains and Central West Farming Systems regions, with the geographical gap between the two regions being spanned with FarmLink Research joining the Initiative. While the program will be supporting informal peer learning within each region and supporting farmers in trialling new practices/strategies, the connections between the Farming Systems groups means that we will also be working towards cross-region learning.
The support of Charles Sturt University, through the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, and additional funding through the Food Agility CRC means that additional research activities will be conducted to provide further value to the project, and ensure the credibility of the GHG data collected. These additional research activities will initially be focussed around better spatial estimates of soil carbon and how to refine our soil sampling methods, provision of spatial data to participating farmers, and how to capture the economic value of practice change on farm. As we appreciate the value of the GHG emission data from both an on-farm, and industry perspective, we will also be reviewing the equations behind the Cool Farm Tool, the GHG calculator that is used to predict GHG emissions on each paddock, to ensure that we are generating credible GHG data, which is likely to become more valuable over time, as the role of agriculture in national GHG accounting becomes more prominent.
To calculate on-farm GHG emissions, participating farmers share paddock input data with their farming group, who then ensure the data is anonymised before it is added to a collective dataset. Through the initial project with Mars Petcare, all farmers involved in the project shared this data through an agreement with their farming groups. As the scope of the project is changing, these data access agreements will also be reviewed, to ensure that farmers maintain both ownership of their data and maintain anonymity of data entry.
Involvement of Central West Farming Systems
The Sustainable Food Lab has partnered with CWFS and Riverine Plains Inc to deliver this program, through connecting with farmers who are interested in monitoring and managing their greenhouse gas emissions.
Participating farmers receive support in the use of the Cool Farm Tool (https://coolfarmtool.org/) which is an online calculator that enables
Farmers who participate in the program will receive complimentary GPS located soil testing servicesfarmers to measure their greenhouse gas emissions and understand mitigation options for agricultural production. The Tool works by providing growers with the ability to plug in their farm and practices and get immediate results and instant feedback on the impact of different farming management options using “what-if” scenarios.
How can you be involved?
This project has received positive support from CWFS members, and the Initiative is now expanding. Any farmers interested in being involved in this program are encouraged to contact CWFS. No personal information will be received by the Sustainable Food Lab or Mars. Farmers will receive complimentary GPS located soil testing services on up to 5 locations on their farms each year, along with technical support for interpreting Cool Farm Tool results and soil tests. They will also receive advice on management options that address key limiting factors in their farming systems, focusing on recommendations that result in productivity, managing for weed resistance, water availability in dry years, and short and long-
For any farmers who are interested in coming on board, please contact Helen McMillan at Central West Farming Systems on 0437 612 140.