Lighthouse begins largest soil carbon project in Australia

Clare Adcock, Queensland Country Life, 23 November 2021

Benam Underwood and Callum Rayne during the Young Beef Producers Forum property tour at Lighthouse last week. Photo: Clare Adcock.

Investment management company Packhorse has bold plans to make its Wallumbilla property, Lighthouse, the largest soil carbon sequestration project in the country. 

The Packhorse team does things a little differently at their Lighthouse property, but it’s these differences that are causing them to stand out from the crowd. 

The 13,800 ha cattle property is currently home to 6500 head of backgrounder cattle.

Apart from their unique agistment operation, the company also focuses on a variety of regenerative agriculture practices across its eight properties in South-West Queensland with the Lighthouse soil project the most significant. 

It is estimated the property will sequester 0.5 tonnes of carbon per hectare, equating to around 25,000 tonnes of CO2 stored per year over the project area.

Head of Environmental, Social and Governance at Packhorse, Elaine Mitchell, said the estimated soil carbon rate within the new project would be more than enough to offset the inherent emissions from the property’s production systems.

Dr Mitchell credited Anna Strachan, owner of Lighthouse, for getting the project off the ground and inspiring the company to achieve their goal of carbon neutrality by 2028.

 Soil health is a major priority at Lighthouse. Photo: Supplied.

The soil carbon project will run in conjunction with further above-ground regenerative agriculture measures to ensure that the company also achieves its key objectives of improving soil quality and increasing biodiversity.

“We’re also going to be focusing on above ground carbon in the restoration of vegetation, so trees in particular,” Dr Mitchell said.

“We are looking at restoring areas of remnant vegetation and also looking into tree planting, particularly along riparian zones which are more prone to erosion.

“So, soil carbon and vegetation combined will be more than enough to offset any emissions that we have, primarily methane emissions from cattle, which means we will have a surplus amount of ACCUs (Australian Carbon Credit Units) that we will be able to sell on the carbon market through the emissions reduction fund.”

Lighthouse manager Callum Rayne said the company’s implementation of regenerative agriculture practices had given them the ability to increase their carrying capacity whilst also improving soil health on the property.

The major practice that Mr Rayne mentioned, when Young Beef Producer Forum attendees visited last week, was the time-controlled grazing method, which he credits for the property’s 1500 head increase over the last five years.

We inherited a property that had been traditionally run as a set-stock, cow and calf model and we made some pretty quick management changes,” he said. 

“None of it involved any financial hurt, we didn’t put a plough in the ground, we purely changed the way we managed the animals and shifted to a rotational time-controlled grazing practice.

“That’s given us an uplift in carrying capacity from 5000 to 6500 backgrounders in five years.”

Time-controlled grazing involves having mobs of cattle in smaller-subdivided paddocks and regularly rotating them around the property.

Mr Rayne said that the time each mob spends in a certain paddock will depend on the growth rate of the plants, but they are generally in one paddock for no more than three weeks.

Lighthouse operates under the Packhorse ‘Grass Motel’ model; a fully managed agistment model providing an exclusive access agreement to a producer or processor partner over a number of years.

Being paid a base fee for access, irrespective of the stocking rate, allows the property to be protected in times of low rainfall however importantly, the agreement provides certainty to the supply chain partner in average seasons.

“This year with the dry in the north we’ve actually experienced our supply chain partners providing some of the largest influxes of Brahmans and Brahman cross content cattle coming down from the north,” Mr Rayne said.

“In previous years since we’ve been here, 2017 and 2018 especially, as the dry started to come on down in the south we had a lot of southern vendors marketing their cattle up here.

“We ended up with a lot of Angus, Angus cross, and Herefords, so it really depends on the season and our clients at the time.

“Our cattle come from as far as the top of the Northern Territory and right down to Victoria.”

Depending on the breed of the cattle, after backgrounding at Lighthouse they are moved to either Brindley Park or Opal Creek feedlots, both run by ACC.

Mr Rayne said he got a lot of people questioning why the property ran as an agistment operation, including many attendees at the Young Beef Producers Forum. 

He said not being exposed to the “ups and downs” of the market was a huge advantage to the agistment operation, as well as a constant income and reliable cash flow, and the opportunity to focus on the environmental wellbeing of the property.