Nationals Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack recently suggested that agriculture should be exempt from Australia’s proposed 2050 net-zero emissions target.
This is unsurprising from a man who has fervently sought to distance the issue of climate change from the substantial challenges facing rural Australia — where much of our agriculture takes place — such as catastrophic bushfires, droughts and flooding.
But to separate agricultural practices from the issue of climate change is to ignore the utterly interdependent relationship of the two.
It would also ignore the opportunities for farmers that lie within any strategy that connects the two.
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A symbiotic relationship
Our climate needs zero-carbon agricultural practices almost as much as agriculture needs a favourable climate. The wellbeing of the two is inescapably intertwined.
On the one hand, agriculture is responsible for about 15% of Australia’s emissions.
On the other, climate change impacts agriculture immeasurably. It greatly affects yields, soil production and health, water availability, and the ability for farmers to produce efficiently and reliably.
This might explain why our farmers themselves understand the value of adopting a 2050 net-zero emissions target — even if McCormack doesn’t.
The National Farmers Federation has already adopted the 2050 target, while the national voice for Australian grain farmers, GrainGrowers, also supports a 2050 deadline and wants a grain-specific emissions reduction target for 2030.
Meat & Livestock Australia too has committed to being carbon neutral by 2030, and recently joined forces with Cicada Innovations on an innovation challenge to come up with solutions to meet this target.
McCormack may not care what happens in 30 years’ time, but the industry itself, and the many agtech innovators housed within Cicada Innovations, certainly do.
Better for planet, better for farmers
This might be because profitability and sustainability go hand-in-hand.
There is money to be made in producing carbon-neutral meat and marketing it to local and international climate-savvy consumers, in offsetting carbon emissions, selling carbon credits, and in housing wind or solar turbines and generators on one’s property.
There is also money to be saved by avoiding the green tariffs likely to come out of the European Union and the United States due to Australia’s lack of climate policy.
It is imperative we find solutions that support our farmers financially as they transition to carbon neutrality, by providing incentives and removing some of the complexity, red tape, high costs, and fragmentation of schemes and standards.
Turning to technology
We also need the government to embrace the plethora of agtech innovations aimed at solving these problems.
As an example, GrowLab alumnus Sustinent transforms farm waste, like that created by sugarcane, into products that have both economic and environmental value, such as high-quality livestock feed. In the process, it is lessening the environmental impact of traditional sugarcane waste reduction activities.
This is not just a win-win for farmers and the environment, but it also relies on a technology that can be scaled across Australia and the world.
Similarly, Cicada Innovations resident Flurosat has developed an automated solution that tracks, monitors, and manages growers’ crops — from wherever the farmer might be. This means lower emissions, less waste, higher yields, and farmers with the tools in their hands to care for both the planet and people.
The bottom line is that Australia could be a net exporter of innovative agtech solutions designed to help the world achieve its net-zero emissions targets. Agriculture is absolutely critical to achieving this goal, and it doesn’t have to occur to the detriment of our invaluable farmers.
We must support farmers responding to climate change by providing a pathway to long term sustainability, which always has and always will be tightly tied to the state of our climate.
The government must seize the opportunity through incentives and programs that unearth new technologies and systems, investing in these deep tech solutions and providing incentives for farmers to adopt them too.
Because the disruption of climate isn’t going to abate.
We urgently need to find a pathway forward that can do both — both support farmers and help the planet.
And if we get that right in Australia we can expand a massively valuable industry, create growth and jobs, and achieve net-zero emissions to boot too.