By the Hon. Niall Blair, Professor of Food Sustainability at Charles Sturt University.
In basketball, “nothing but net” describes the perfect shot. The ball enters the basket, not touching the rim or backboard, making its way seamlessly through the goal. This term has long been part of basketball vernacular but I believe we can take it from our courts to our farms as a reference point in the debate around net-zero emissions and Australia’s carbon neutral farming future.
As we move towards a more sustainable farming future, “net” is the most important word our producers need to consider in any target or policy that is set for their industry.
Recently we have seen some politicians, industry representatives and farmers express fear that a low emissions industry will come at the expense of the sector and, as a result, lead to farmers going out of business. This rhetoric is simply scaremongering, designed to distract your opponents and in doing so miss the opportunities. It fails to take into account how we can get a “nothing but net” outcome.
Many are quick to point out the percentage of emissions that are attributed to agriculture, arguing about the methane produced by livestock, the use of synthetic fertilisers, disruption of soil carbon through cultivating or use of fossil fuels. Without a doubt, these are contributors to Australia’s emissions but this only outlines one side.
But that doesn’t describe what our farmers can do within their own operations, what they can do to change our position, and what they can do to stop, reverse or even change the trajectory.
Livestock production has many opportunities to reduce or offset emissions. It can reduce emissions through the use of renewable energy, create innovative stock feed sources that reduce methane with algae or seaweed, or capture and store more carbon in our plants and soil on farm.
Other industries are envious of these advances, particularly those in the fossil fuel industry who predominately play on one side of the ledger and will need other industries to help them get to a net zero position.
Some of the smartest minds in the world are working right here in Australia to come up with innovative ways to allow our farmers to measure, capture and trade the commodities of the future into the markets of the future - markets that will be based on carbon, emissions reduction and biodiversity.
This won’t just allow our farmers to even the ledger for business as usual: it will provide them with the diversity of income that they have long desired.
A net zero world doesn’t finish at the farm gate. When we set 2030 or 2050 net-zero dates, we are talking about targets for the industry and the nation, not just farm by farm.
Our farmers know how to play ball, they know how to innovate and adapt to a changing climate. They are ready to be thrown the ball because they know that when the opportunity lands in their hands, they’ll take aim and hit “nothing but net.”
Professor Blair will facilitate a panel discussion, ‘Livestock industries: environmental sustainability, profit and the path to carbon neutrality’ at the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation’s annual Livestock Forum to be held online on Friday 30 July. Register https://www.csu.edu.au/research/grahamcentre/2021-livestock-forum