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Measurement of soil carbon sequestration in agricultural systems method

19 February 2018


Is the measurement of soil carbon sequestration in agricultural systems method suitable for your business?

  • Are you looking to store carbon in soil in a grazing or cropping system, including perennial woody horticulture?
  • Are you willing to undertake one or more new land management activities to increase soil carbon?
  • Are you willing to measure the increase in soil carbon?
  • Are you willing to maintain stored carbon for at least 25 years after the first Australian carbon credits units are issued?

If you have answered yes to these questions, the measurement of soil carbon sequestration in agricultural systems method may be suitable for you.

The measurement of soil carbon sequestration in agricultural systems method credits measured increases in soil carbon as a result of one or more new or materially different management activities in grazing or cropping land (including woody horticulture) that store carbon in that land. Soil carbon stocks must be estimated using specified soil sampling methods and samples must be measured for soil carbon content using specified laboratory techniques or calibrated in-field sensors.

Existing projects under the sequestering carbon in soils in grazing systems method may be eligible to transition to the measurement of soil carbon sequestration in agricultural systems method.

In situations where measuring increases in soil carbon is not suitable you may consider the estimating sequestration of carbon in soil using default values method.

Proponents will need to consider the legislative requirements and the requirements in the supplement for measurement of soil carbon sequestration in agricultural systems.

Project activities and eligibility requirements

To be eligible under this method, projects must introduce one or more of the following activities:

  • apply nutrients to the land
  • apply lime to remediate acid soils
  • apply gypsum to remediate sodic or magnesic soils
  • undertake irrigation activities from new irrigation efficiency savings
  • re-establish or rejuvenate a pasture by seeding establishing, or permanently maintaining, a pasture where there was previously no pasture, such as on cropland or bare fallow
  • alter the stocking rate, duration or intensity of grazing
  • retain stubble after a crop is harvested
  • convert from intensive tillage practices to reduced or no tillage practices
  • modify landscape or landform features to remediate land (e.g. undertake water ponding), or
  • use mechanical methods to add or redistribute soil.

This method also has prohibited and restricted activities (Determination—part 3).

Undertaking one or more eligible management activities under this determination may not result in soil carbon increases and crediting is dependent on increasing the baseline level of soil carbon. See more information in the Department of Environment and Energy’s factsheet on increasing soil carbon.

Projects must include ‘eligible land’ (Determination—part 3) that has been used for pasture, cropping (including perennial woody horticulture), bare fallow, or any combination of these for the previous 10 years. A land management strategy must be prepared or reviewed by an independent person—advising on what management activities are best suited to the site, including information on risks, monitoring and improvements.

Areas of eligible land in which carbon abatement is to be measured (carbon estimation areas) must not be forest land, land that was a wetland in the previous 10 years, or include dwellings or other structures. Land that cannot be classified as a carbon estimation area may still be part of a project area, as either an exclusion zone or emissions accounting area. These areas cannot contribute to crediting of carbon abatement under the method.

Evidence of the above requirements must form part of an application to register a project.

Reporting and crediting of carbon abatement

Each crediting application for Australian carbon credit units (ACCUs) requires at least one round of soil sampling, the calculation of net carbon abatement and inclusion of this and other required information in an offset report (Determination—part 5). Statements must be provided from the proponent and the independent person responsible for sampling verifying, respectively, that the abatement is genuine and the soil carbon estimate accurate.

Proponents can generally nominate the intervals of their reporting periods from one year to a maximum of five years—noting that sampling timing requirements in the supplement can impact reporting intervals.

Soil sampling

A baseline sampling (Determination—part 3) round must be undertaken to measure soil carbon stocks in carbon estimation areas in the first reporting period for new projects, or within 18 months of land being added to an existing project area. A subsequent sampling round must be conducted in every reporting period in the crediting period (including the first reporting period).

An independent person must extract soil cores and measure soil carbon using laboratory measurements or laboratory calibrated in-field sensors. A consistent soil carbon estimation technology (for example, combustion or sensors) must be used within each carbon estimation area and each sampling round.

Each carbon estimation area must be divided into at least three strata (subdivisions), and at least three soil cores must be taken from each strata. Other sampling requirements in the method and the supplement must be satisfied.

Calculating net abatement

Under this method, net abatement (the amount used for crediting ACCUs) corresponds to the increase in soil carbon over time, after the emissions caused by additional activities used to build soil carbon (for example extra fertiliser applications beyond the baseline) have been subtracted (Determination—part 3).

Due to the impact of climatic, temporal and spatial variability on soil carbon stocks, the method applies a temporary discount to increases in soil carbon stocks after the second sampling round and ongoing uncertainty discounts. These discounts reduce the risk of overestimation of carbon stock increases and of over-crediting. The ongoing discounts decrease as the certainty of soil carbon estimates increase.

Notification, record keeping and monitoring

In addition to the general requirements for all Emissions Reduction Fund projects, proponents participating under this method must:

  • notify the Clean Energy Regulator of events that change the management activities, sampling locations or land management strategy prior to each sampling round
  • keep records relating to land management activities, the independent person involved in a sampling, and the project’s land management strategy and other compliance requirements, and
  • monitor livestock details in the project, tillage, harvested product, removed crop residues as well as inputs of fertiliser, biochar, lime, electricity and fuel.

See more information in part 5 of the Determination.

Legislative requirements

Tools and resources

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