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Landcare Australia: Meeting the Greenhouse Challenge Landcare.indd 1

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Published by the Australian Greenhouse Office, in the Department of the Environment and Heritage. Š Commonwealth of Australia 2013 Information contained in this publication may be copied or reproduced for study, research, information or educational purposes, subject to inclusion of an acknowledgment of the source, and is not for the putpose of commerical usage or sale. Reproduction for purposes other than those listed above requires the written permission of the Australian Greenhouse Office, Department of Environment and Heritage. Requests and enquiries concerning reproduction and rights should be addressed to: The Communications Director Australian Greenhouse Office Department of the Environment and Heritage GPO Box 787, Canberra ACT 2601 Email: Printing by: Paragon Printers Image sources:[wallcoo_com]_wheat%20field%20 and%20haystack.html *Landcare sample brochure Landcare.indd 2

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Landcare Australia: Meeting the Greenhouse Challenge

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Foreward Landcare Australia plays a valuable role in promoting sustainable land management across the country. It helps to harness Australian farmers’ commitment to caring for the environment, and to translate this commitment into practical action. The organisation also provides an effective channel of communication between its Landcare Australia has been a leading participant in the Australian Government’s Greenhouse Challenge Plus programme. Its involvement has helped land managers to become aware of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, and of the actions that can be taken to reduce them. Collaboration with industry is an essential part of the Australian Government’s climate change agenda. Only in this way will we be able to maximise opportunities to achieve win-win outcomes for both national and industry benefit. Landcare Australia’s involvement in Greenhouse Challenge Plus has provided a way for the Australian Government and Landcare groups to work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing the sustainability and productivity of Australian agriculture.

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Cost-effective action to reduce emissions from agriculture is a key part of national efforts to address climate change. The Landcare Greenhouse Challenge program is an excellent example of Landcare farmers’ initiative in this regard. The efforts of Landcare members have also helped to identify gaps in current knowledge and to inform priorities in research and development programmes. I would like to express my gratitude to participants in the Landcare Greenhouse Challenge, and encourage others to follow the examples they have set. Their achievements demonstrate that improving the efficiency of farming operations can result in multiple benefits. Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved alongside improved farm productivity and profitability, and enhanced environmental sustainability. It is with great pleasure that I present Landcare Australia: Meeting the Greenhouse Challenge.

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Contents Foreward 4 Contents 5 The Importance Of Greenhouse 6 To Landcare Members What is the greenhouse effect? 6 The Landcare Greenhouse Challenge The Greenhouse Challenge Plus Programme


9 Recruitment 9 Workshops 9 Planning and impletmentation 10 Progress reporting 10 Farm management for multiple benefits 11 1. Livestock management 11 2. Nitrogen management 11 3. Soil management 12 4. Water management 12

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The Importance of Greenhouse: To Landcare Members What is the Greenhouse Effect? The greenhouse effect is a natural part of the earth’s climate. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, including water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, trap heat from the sun. This maintains the earth’s surface temperature at a level that supports plant and animal ecosystems (Figure 1). Human activities have dramatically increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the past 200 years (Figure 2). The burning of fossil fuels, agriculture and land-use changes (such as land clearing) have been major sources of greenhouse gas emissions during this time. Figure 2. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) over the past 1000 years.

Figure 1. The Greenhouse Effect (University of Oxford and United States EPA, 1996)

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Increased greenhouse gas concentrations have resulted in more of the sun’s heat being trapped in the atmosphere, resulting in what is known as the enhanced greenhouse effect. This has been linked to increasing global temperatures (Figure 3), as well as other changes in the climate system (Box A).



Forecast changes in climate over the coming decades are of particular interest to Australian farmers. Agricultural productivity, profitability and sustainability are exposed to changes in temperature, rainfall, evaporation and extreme weather events. Climatic changes in agricultural regions overseas may also affect markets for Australian produce.

Projected changes to Australia’s climate

Figure 3. Variations in the earth’s surface temperature over the past 145 years.

Increased concentration of greenhouse gases have been linked with changes in the climate system

Temperatures Average annual temperatures in Australia are expected to rise as a result of the enhanced greenhouse effect (Figure 4). Regionally, slightly less warming is expected in some coastal areas and Tasmania, with slightly more warming in the northwest of Australia. This trend is projected to lead to an increase in the number of extreme hot days, with fewer extreme cold days. Rainfall and evaporation Annual average rainfall is projected to decrease in south-west Australia and parts of south-east Australia and Queensland, with little change in the tropical north (Figure 5). Decreases in rainfall are expected to be most pronounced in winter and spring. An overall drying trend is expected due to the combination of decreased rainfall and increased evaporation (Figure 6). Weather extremes Climate change may increase the effects of the El Nino Southern Oscillations (ENSO) on Australia’s climate. The risk of prolonged dry spells may increase, as may the frequency of extreme weather events such as cyclones and severe storms. For further information on projected impacts of climate change in Australia visit www.greenhouse.

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The Landcare: Greenhouse Challenge In 2001, Landcare Australia and the Australian Greenhouse Office formed a partnership to create the Landcare Greenhouse Challenge. This programme included a series of workshops and information kits that assisted Landcare farmers to identify on-farm sources of greenhouse gases, and implement action plans to reduce these emissions.


Greenhouse Challenge Plus: Government and industry working together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions Recruitment


The Greenhouse Challenge was established in 1995 as a voluntary initiative between the Australian Government and industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 2004 the programme was re-launched as Greenhouse Challenge Plus. Building on the success of the original programme, Greenhouse Challenge Plus also incorporates a number of new elements aimed at assisting businesses in the agriculture sector to become involved. These include a new, agriculture-specific online reporting framework, as well as information on opportunities to reduce greenhouse emissions in land-based industries.

Landcare Australia recruited 120 farmers from 40 Landcare groups across the country to take part in the Landcare Greenhouse Challenge programme. Participants were selected from a wide variety of farming practices and geographic locations. This broad range of farming systems was chosen to ensure the actions developed were widely applicable within the Australian agriculture sector. The main industries represented were beef, sheep, wool, dairy and broadacre cropping.

Workshops The early stages of the Landcare Greenhouse Challenge programme revolved around a series of workshops. Landcare groups coordinated a total of twenty sessions around Australia and arranged for participating members, Landcare facilitators and Government advisors to attend.

Participating companies of Greenhouse Challenge Plus enter into Cooperative Agreements with the Australian Government. These agreements provide a framework for undertaking and reporting actions to reduce emissions. As part of this process, participants prepare greenhouse gas inventories in order to identify opportunities for cost-effective abatement. They then develop action plans designed to reduce emissions while also cutting costs and providing other environmental benefits. Members of Greenhouse Challenge Plus may also increase market opportunities by demonstrating their commitment to the environment. Further information on Greenhouse Challenge Plus is available at

Workshops provided an opportunity for participants to learn more about climate change science and to share ideas about reducing emissions from on-farm activities

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These workshops provided an introduction to climate change science and to greenhouse issues for the agriculture sector. They also provided a forum for land managers, representatives of Landcare Australia, and the Australian Government to discuss practical and costeffective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from farms. Government representatives were given the opportunity to gain a better understanding of Landcare farming principles, and to discuss ways of integrating greenhouse issues into the approaches taken by Landcare members.

Participants in the Landcare Greenhouse Challenge were provided with a Toolkit to assist in identifying opportunities for cost-effective abatement.

Planning and implementation

Progress reporting

Based on information provided by members at the workshops, Landcare Australia developed an individual emissions assessment for each farmer. These provided an indication of likely sources of on-farm greenhouse gas emissions. These initial surveys demonstrated a wide variation in greenhouse gas emissions between the farming systems studied. This variation indicated broad scope for taking action to reduce emissions while enhancing productivity. Participants were also provided with Action Plan Toolkits. These presented the latest information on greenhouse emissions and abatement opportunities under four headings: Cropping, Grazing, Energy, and Vegetation. The kits also included an action planning sheet to assist farmers to map out how they could reduce greenhouse emissions from their operations. Using this information, participants examined their cropping and grazing practices, vegetation management, and energy use in order to identify areas where costeffective emissions reductions might be made. They then developed action plans to take advantage of these opportunities, and implemented these plans over time.

A core part of the Greenhouse Challenge Plus Programme involves members submitting annual reports on their progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In many cases participants are able to show how implementing their action plans has led to improvements in productivity, and can also demonstrate reduced greenhouse impacts via an updated emissions inventory. Agriculture-based members of Greenhouse Challenge Plus face particular challenges in reporting greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions from land-based sources typically occur over large areas and are highly variable in both space and time. Many environmental and management factors can combine to influence their rate of production. These characteristics mean that land-based greenhouse gases are difficult and expensive to measure and hard to accurately model at the farm scale. These factors have meant that the standard Greenhouse Challenge Plus framework for progress reporting, which was initially developed for the industrial sectors, could not be used by land-based participants to obtain accurate estimates of their greenhouse gas emissions. The experiences of those involved in the Landcare Greenhouse Challenge programme have assisted the Australian Greenhouse Office in its efforts to develop an agriculture-specific reporting framework. Feedback received from participants has also confirmed that actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on farms can generate multiple benefits.

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Farm management for multiple benefits Participants in the Landcare Greenhouse Challenge demonstrated that land managers can take cost-effective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with production and environmental benefits as well. This was summed up by Nevin Olm, project leader with the Brigalow Jimbour Floodplains Group, who explained: “Better business management tends to result in reduced greenhouse emissions. Greenhouse actions generally complement economic considerations, as they involve improved farm efficiency and productivity and therefore mean improvements to farmers’ bottom lines.” With this in mind, Landcare farmers identified six key areas of their operations where cost effective action could be taken to reduce emissions while improving productivity and sustainability.

1. LIVESTOCK MANAGEMENT Methane emissions from livestock represent a loss of feed energy. The quantity of methane emitted per unit of produce (eg. a prime lamb or a litre of milk) is influenced by the length of time livestock need to spend grazing in order to meet production targets. Management practices that improve feed use efficiency, including minimising the amount of energy lost as methane, will reduce the number of grazing days required, providing both production and greenhouse benefits.

A number of management practices for increasing the efficiency of livestock production were identified in Landcare Greenhouse Challenge workshops:

Land managers can take cost-effective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with production and environmental benefits as well

• Provide more easily digested feed to ensure more energy is available for production. • Implement a rotational grazing plan, which will help maintain a greater proportion of highly digestible leaf material. • Move animals from pasture to feedlot sooner in order to reduce livestock finishing times. • Use dietary supplements to overcome deficiencies of key nutrients (such as minerals and nitrogen) in low quality feeds. • Implement a genetic improvement programme aimed at achieving shorter finishing times.

2. NITROGEN MANAGEMENT The application of nitrogen fertilizers is the major driver of nitrous oxide emissions in Australia. These emissions also indicate losses of nitrogen elsewhere in the system. Taking action to improve the efficiency with which plants use applied nitrogen can therefore lower greenhouse gas emissions, as well as reducing nitrogen losses through other processes such as leaching and runoff. Landcare Greenhouse Challenge participants highlighted a number of ways to improve the efficiency of nitrogen use by crops and pastures: • Time fertilizer application to coincide with plant requirements. Management practices such as split applications can help to ensure the timing of fertilizer supply is most advantageous for crop growth. • Determine additional nitrogen requirements based on a consideration of all soil nitrogen sources, such as legumes and manure, as well as realistic yield goals. Soil and/or plant tissue tests can be used to indicate existing nitrogen levels. • Ensure a well-balanced supply of other nutrients to assist with nitrogen use by crops. • Use application methods that place fertilizer close to plant roots (e.g. incorporation or deep placement as opposed to surface application).

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The importance of maintaining healthy, well-structured soils for production and sustainability purposes is wellunderstood by Landcare farmers. Water supply, aeration, the availability of nutrients and the establishment of plant roots are all dependent on good soil structure. Management practices that are likely to achieve these goals can also help to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

Reducing the amount of water consumed per unit of produce is already a priority for Landcare farmers for both productivity and environmental reasons. Improving the efficiency of water use for producing crops or stockfeed can also provide greenhouse benefits. For example, reducing water use can lower carbon dioxide emissions associated with energy used for pumping. Also, avoiding waterlogging helps to avoid denitrification and therefore reduces losses of nitrogen as nitrous oxide.

Excessive soil disturbance can expose soil carbon compounds to oxidation and lead to their loss as carbon dioxide. The combustion of fossil fuels to produce the energy used in soil tillage also results in emissions of carbon dioxide. The following strategies were identified by participants in the Landcare Greenhouse Challenge as being likely to produce greenhouse benefits while improving or maintaining soil health: • Adopt minimum till practices to help prevent the degradation of soil structure and the loss of soil organic matter, including carbon dioxide. This will also reduce emissions associated with fuel use by machinery. • Use green manure cropping techniques. • Rotate crops to help maximise soil carbon input and improve soil fertility through increased root biomass and nitrogen fixation. • Minimise vehicle traffic to reduce soil compaction, maintain soil structure and improve water infiltration. This will also reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion.

Actions taken by Landcare farmers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with water use included: • Monitor crop water requirements carefully and irrigate accordingly. • Improve drainage to avoid waterlogging. • Select crops that are more water efficient.

Minimum tillage operations such as direct drilling help to maintain soil structure and save on fuel costs

Improving the efficiency of water use can provide productivity, environmental and greenhouse benefits

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Landcare Booklet.