PREMIUM

Accidentally carbon neutral

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Russell Washusen led the farm walk on his Warrenbayne beef property.

Russell Washusen has become the accidental carbon neutral farmer.

A former research scientist, Dr Washusen has transformed his Warrenbayne beef farm through farm forestry in a 40-year mission.

But becoming carbon neutral was not one of his original goals, as he told a field day of interested farmers recently.

Regional farmers hear how tree planting had helped transform the property.

“You could say we arrived at carbon neutrality quite by accident and it is highly probable that a carbon neutral situation could be achieved far more easily.”

His original goal was to address the erosion and waterlogging on his farm, and to restore trees to the landscape.

He described the property as “tired” after 100 years of steady sheep and cattle grazing.

Today the farm has about one quarter of its area devoted to trees, but much of the plantings are not like the intensive pine plantations on the nearby Strathbogie hills.

A stand of flooded gums at the Warrenbayne property.

There is plenty of light filtering through the big, tall gums, and pasture growing underneath.

Dr Washusen identified tree species that were likely to be in demand and worked out what trees the mills in the region were looking for.

He put his historic research skills to good use on the farm, applying science to tree selection, monitoring market demand for timber and recording the progress he has made.

And in the true spirit of robust science, confessing to the errors and failed experiments along the way.

Forestry scientist Rodney Keenan speaks to the field day crowd at Warrenbayne.

On a tour of the property on a field day recently, Dr Washusen pointed to a stand of fallen hardwood trees and remarked that this plot didn’t work out.

But the successful transformation of the property is impressive. Erosion has been addressed, soils stabilised and waterlogging reduced. One creek even has clear pools of water in the summer.

About 60 people attended the field day, comprising mostly livestock farmers, who heard presentations on the role of farm forestry and carbon sequestration before spending the afternoon on a tour of the Washusens’ 110-hectare pasture-based beef farm.

The visitors heard speakers on the Meat & Livestock Australia carbon neutral 2030 program; the opportunities and pitfalls of farm forestry, from Rodney Keenan from University of Melbourne; and the practical experience of Rowan Reid, from the Bambra Agroforestry Farm.

Janine Washusen (left) with former resident Pam Robinson, who travelled from Melbourne to attend the field day on the Washusens’ farm.

Asked about why the answer to reducing carbon seemed so often to lie with farm forestry, Margaret Jewell from MLA said forestry was one element of the approach to reduce carbon emissions.

“We are also looking at improving carbon storage in soils, reducing emissions from livestock and the use of feed additives and genetics,” Ms Jewell said.

She said in this region, farm forestry was one opportunity suitable in this landscape, whereas this option may not be available in other places.

Ms Jewell said trees stored carbon, so planting them on-farm could offset emissions from animal production, but they also had other benefits as well, such as providing shade and shelter for livestock, which could lead to increased productivity because animals expend less energy.

Rowan Reid explains how tree tagging can be used to record and track farm trees.
Friends Nick Maple from Warrenbayne and Eleanour Sadler from Benalla followed the field day walk.
Radiata pine trees on the Warrenbayne property.

AIMING FOR CARBON NEUTRAL

Meat & Livestock Australia — in collaboration with industry, government and research partners — is investing in research, development and adoption projects to enable the livestock industry to move toward its carbon neutral target.

Examples of research activities include:

  • Developing new legumes, pastures and shrubs to build feedbase and carbon stocks.
  • Advancing soil carbon sequestration methods and measurement technology.
  • Improving integration of trees and shrubs for improved carbon storage, animal health and biodiversity.
  • Optimising vegetation regrowth management.
  • Optimising carbon storage in dead woody biomass.
  • Improved accounting of woody thickening in National Greenhouse Gas Inventory.
  • Investigation of carbon storage increases from dung beetle activity in grazing lands.