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Net Carbon Position for the Queensland beef Industry

Project start date: 16 November 2009
Project end date: 17 March 2010
Publication date: 17 March 2010
Project status: Completed
Livestock species: Grassfed cattle, Grainfed cattle


The purpose of this technical assessment was to put the current international rules to one side and use the Queensland pastoral beef industry at the farm gate level as a case study in determining the net carbon position (i.e. total on farm emissions minus total sequestration) of agriculture using the latest available data.  This assessment was not definitive.  It was an attempt to help us understand the issue of net carbon position in relation to agriculture using the most up-to-date information available. This helped inform current policy development and identify areas for further research work.
The Queensland pastoral beef industry at the farm gate level was a useful example because reasonable data was available and livestock emissions are the single largest source of agricultural emissions. In addition, Queensland is the largest beef-producing state in the country. Also, the state-wide approach for aggregating the net carbon position at the farm scale smooths out the variations that exist between individual farms.
This assessment is based on existing publically available data. Importantly, while it is consistent with the reporting requirements of the UNFCCC which includes all sources, and sinks applied to all areas, it includes more than Kyoto Protocol compliant greenhouse gas emissions and sequestration. It provides a more accurate indication of the true situation at the farm gate level, before the policy constraints of current international rules and Australia's National Greenhouse Accounts are applied.
While this assessment specifically focuses on the Queensland pastoral beef industry, the issues it highlights in relation to net carbon position are relevant to other agricultural industries across Australia. Sources of greenhouse gas emissions from a typical beef enterprise include enteric fermentation in cattle, burning of vegetation (either intentional or accidental), energy use (including electricity and fuel), land clearing, loss of pasture, and declines in soil carbon. Biosequestration in the beef sector occurs through vegetation growth (above and below ground) and by improving soil condition.
The difference between the emissions and sequestration is the net carbon position. We estimated that in 2007, total emissions amounted to 45.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2-e) and total sequestration was 28.5 Mt CO2-e. Thus, the net carbon emissions were 17.4 Mt CO2-e. This figure does not include any change in soil carbon and does not include the full effects of the land clearing legislation and hence there is potential for a positive effect on current net emissions estimates. Assuming a continuation of the existing downward trend in land clearing due to regulatory controls, the net carbon position is estimated to be 1.2 Mt CO2-e.
In addition, a significant amount of carbon is stored in soil, vegetation and livestock. How these stocks are managed will determine the loss of carbon from those stocks (emissions) and capture of carbon (sequestration). An estimated 22,720 Mt CO2-e are being managed by the pastoral beef enterprises in Queensland. There are large uncertainties regarding estimates of soil carbon and further research is required to understand the stability and fractions of soil carbon in grazing land and the impacts of different management options.