At a glance
Who: Simon Wallwork and Cindy Stevens
Where: Corrigin, Western Australia
Property/organisation: 3700ha mixed enterprise farm (barley, wheat, canola, lupins, cattle and sheep)
We have for a long time accepted that our climate has been changing. Since 2003 and farming together in Corrigin, we have seen severe frost events and the seasons moving to drier winters and longer, hotter summers. Every year now we seem to be breaking the wrong climate records. We have been adapting, we grow more barley for improved frost tolerance, we have diversified into livestock, we grow summer and fodder crops, we plant trees, but it isn’t enough. Our thinking has moved from ‘just adapting, to more sequestration and mitigation strategies’. We can see this is necessary, not just on a farm level, but importantly from an industry and national perspective. Also at the forefront of our minds is, what kind of landscape and business do we want the next generation to inherit. We hope acting on climate now will motivate future generations to work and live on farms and in the regions.
We see that carbon neutrality is important from a national and global perspective. We also understand that we won’t empower government and industry to make changes unless we start making and talking about changes on our patch. Unless the agricultural industry is proactive in its actions, it could be seen as a major climate culprit when in fact it is gifted with land and opportunities to become part of the climate solution. Many countries have developed climate policies and targets in line with the Paris Agreement, and the consumer is becoming more climate savvy around what they eat. Our markets are moving ahead and we risk limiting market access unless we act on becoming carbon neutral, and then share our stories. On a farm level, we will gain on-farm efficiencies (ie. fertiliser use, livestock outputs) by reducing GHG emissions, which are effectively energy leaks in our system. We also want to be able to tell our kids that we helped address climate change and this can be seen in the landscape outside.
In 2019 we asked our farm consultant if he could calculate our farm emissions so we had something to work from. This year we calculated our emissions for the cropping enterprise and we now have a better idea where we need to make changes to reduce emissions. The top three areas to focus on are fossil fuel use, emissions from inputs such as fertilisers and lime, and methane from livestock. This year we have also been involved in a pilot group with DPIRD and the MLA to calculate emissions from our sheep enterprise. We are in the process of developing a strategic plan, of which being carbon neutral by 2030 is our aspiration. Whilst there is a lot of information out there, some of the technologies around alternative crop inputs and additives to reduce methane are still in development. But there is no time to wait, and so we will firstly investigate renewables (solar) as the technology is there. We are already implementing multipurpose perennials for livestock shade/shelter/fodder, biodiversity, carbon sequestration and land rehabilitation. We have moved away from burning stubbles, we are implementing more efficient fertiliser use, and are investigating soil biology with some testing done this year. We will continue tree planting to sequester carbon, minimise erosion, limit salinity and to provide shelter for livestock.
The more we learn the more we can see that by reducing GHG emissions we are becoming more efficient, this is good for business and the environment. Moving forward we believe that there will be greater market access for carbon-neutral products. The EU has flagged this already. Some banks and businesses involved in agriculture are already acting around climate risk and so it makes sense that we do also.
Some of the challenges have been finding information on where to start in becoming climate neutral in a dryland mixed farming context. An industry-accepted carbon calculator would help with this. Developing networks with other like-minded farmers and industry representatives took some time, but has been very rewarding. It has been frustrating watching the Federal government lag in this area. Many overseas markets, banks and Australian businesses are addressing climate risk. We have learnt that climate change in agriculture and becoming carbon neutral has to be driven from the grassroots up.
Just start making changes. We don’t have all of the answers yet, but there are still things we can do. Lots of small changes become big changes. Tap into people who are talking about climate change and becoming carbon neutral in the industry. Follow reliable information sources and organisations that share knowledge and training relating to climate solutions. The various webinars during COVID have made information more accessible to rural people. There is a lot of information out there, and you will find that people who are walking the talk, are really positive and enthusiastic and will share what they are doing.