Larry Schlesinger Australian Financial Review, 17 July 2022
Agritech company Agrimix has secured funding from cattle and carbon platform Packhorse Pastoral and industry group Meat &Livestock Australia for a new “toolkit” that it claims can accurately measure carbon soil sequestration in real time, thus dramatically reducing the cost for farmers looking to participate in carbon credit offset schemes.
The technology being trialled across a number of large grazing farms uses a series of flux towers and sensors that count the number of carbon dioxide molecules flowing past and being drawn back into the soil.
Each flux tower is capable of measuring carbon and water flows into and out of plants over a span of about 100 hectares providing, in great detail, information about the carbon sequestration occurring.
This compares with current labour-intensive methods where soil samples have to be extracted from the ground at multiple points (due to soil carbon variability) and then taken to a laboratory to be analysed.
“Currently, the cost to measure soil carbon through drilling soil cores and transporting them to a lab for analysis can be more than $30 per hectare, which makes the carbon credit market unattainable for a significant proportion of landholders,” explained Ben Sawley, chief executive of Agrimix.
Mr Sawley estimates the technology developed by Agrimix in partnership with the Queensland University of Technology could reduce the cost of soil carbon measurement by up to 90 percent, making it more economical for landowners to participate in carbon offset schemes.
The technology can also assist farmers with improving the sustainability of their properties; for example, by modelling the impact of different plantings on the productivity of their pastures.
“We are focused on delivering the most accurate, scientifically proven and economical soil carbon measurement and modelling toolkit available,” Mr Sawley said.
Developed in partnership with QUT’s professor Peter Grace, a global expert on soil carbon, and associate professor David Rowlings, a soil scientist in the university’s sustainable agriculture program, the technology is being developed and validated on multiple properties in Queensland and NSW including on Packhorse’s 10,029-hectare Moolan Downs property.
Packhorse Pastoral, Meat & Livestock Australia and Agrimix, a pasture management company founded by the Kempe family, have funded the $3.5 million initial research and development phase of the toolkit, which kicked off a year ago.
Mr Sawley said Agrimix would launch a pilot commercial offering in the coming months, while the launch of the full toolkit was 12 to 18 months away. Landowners who take up the service will pay an annual usage fee.
“There’s a lot of due diligence underway to make sure the toolkit complies with the [clean gnergy] regulator’s requirements for ACCUs,” he said.
He added that further funding would be needed to commercialise the product.
Soil carbon projects, which typically capture carbon through the planting of legumes in grazing paddocks, form a key part of Australia’s efforts to achieve net zero by 2050.
ACCUs are administered by the federal government’s Emissions Reduction Fund, which is the major market for landowners to earn income through selling carbon offsets to the Commonwealth and corporate emitters.
However, the ERF has faced allegations that many ACCUs issued were tied to flawed projects.
Technology being pursued by Agrimix – if approved and commercialised – may assist with more accurate measurement of carbon capture through soil.
“Soil carbon is a key low-emissions technology, so further development of affordable and accurate technology such as flux towers and soil carbon models is a game changer,” said Tim Samway, executive chairman of Packhorse Pastoral.