Transcript of Soil Carbon, South

​This seven and a half minute video was produced to communicate the outcomes of the Climate Change Research Program from the Soil Carbon Research Program (SCaRP). It provides information to help land managers understand possible ways they better understand soil carbon or soil organic carbon and the potential to trade it through the Carbon Farming Initiative.  This research has been funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to help prepare Australia’s primary industries for climate change and build the resilience of Australia’s agricultural sector.

Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry
Transcript – Soil Carbon South Video (Final) – Soils ain’t soils: The Soil Carbon Research Program

15 June 2012


  1. Voice Over:
    With the commencement of the Carbon Farming Initiative, farmers are asking if they can trade the carbon sitting under their feet in the soil – and when this might be feasible.

    The potential to trade soil carbon through the Carbon Farming Initiative means farmers, scientists and policy makers need to better understand soil carbon or soil organic carbon, as it’s sometimes known.

    The Australian Government is helping to build this knowledge by funding the Soil Carbon Research Program.

    This research is developing a consistent assessment of soil carbon across our agricultural regions, identifying the land management practices that can build soil carbon and finding fast and less expensive ways to measure soil carbon.

    CSIRO scientist Dr Jeff Baldock is leading the research involving national and state partners

    Dr Jeffrey Baldock, Lead Scientist, Soil Carbon and Nitrogen Balance, CSIRO:
    Well soil carbon by definition and how we use it in a research sense is all of the organic carbon that we find in a soil that has a size less than 2mm. It has a lot of beneficial effects on parameters that are important in defining soil productivity. It influences physical properties like the ability of a soil to hold water, it influences chemical properties like the ability of a soil to capture and exchange cat-ions with plants and it also influences biological properties, it holds nutrients and it provides the energy for all the organisms that live in the soil for them to do the things they do.

    Soil carbon also has a place in reducing emissions or net emissions of greenhouse gas. If we can build the amount of carbon held in the soil, that can actually be used to offset emissions elsewhere through the agricultural sector. 

  2. Voice Over:
    One of the problems for scientists and farmers interested in soil carbon is the lack of accurate information from across Australia’s farming regions of how much carbon is in the soil.

    Dr Jeffrey Baldock, Lead Scientist, Soil Carbon and Nitrogen Balance, CSIRO:
    Farmers are becoming more and more interested in soil carbon because of a recognition of its potential roles in the productivity. They also now with the publicity around soil carbon trading and potential carbon trading systems that may be coming online, are interested in understanding whether there’s a role for them or an opportunity for them to gain carbon credits and sell them in the market.

  3. Voice Over:
    Soil samples have been taken from 2,500 sites which will help establish one of the most detailed national benchmarks of soil carbon levels in the world.

    Dr Jeffrey Baldock, Lead Scientist, Soil Carbon and Nitrogen Balance, CSIRO:
     What we’re doing with these samples is analysing both the amount of carbon plus the form of carbon present in them and what we want to end up with then in each of these regions that we sample is a very good understanding of the baseline carbon values that exist out there and how they may vary when we move from one management regime to another.

  4. Voice Over:
    All these soil samples will be housed in the National Soils Archive. And, because researchers know exactly where they came from and the management history of their paddock, they can return to those exact sites in future and measure any changes in soil carbon.

    Dr Jeffrey Baldock, Lead Scientist, Soil Carbon and Nitrogen Balance, CSIRO:
    In the analyses that we’ve been completing so far, one really interesting thing we’re finding out is when we go into a region to look at the soil carbon values, they can vary tremendously within that region. We have for example in one region soil carbon values ranging from less than 1% carbon all the way through to more than 5% and what that tells us then is there’s lots of potential for farmers to shift soil carbon values. We still have a really big challenge though. We have to understand why that variation exists, is it controlled by management, or does climate and things beyond the control of the farmer play a really significant role?

  5. Voice Over:
    Until now one of the major blocks to research into soil carbon has been the cost of the soil tests – however that’s changing.

    The team is using a new ‘fingerprint’ method for measuring the concentration of organic carbon called a mid infra-red spectroscopy. Once further refined, a tool like this could be used by landholders to deliver quick, reliable and cheap assessments of soil carbon.

    Dr Jeffrey Baldock, Lead Scientist, Soil Carbon and Nitrogen Balance, CSIRO:
     In order to instruct farmers and to tell them what opportunities may exist we have to differentiate this management from other effects in defining how much carbon might exist. For example, it’s not of much use to tell a farmer in a low rainfall area that he can shift carbon if in order to do it he needs more rain. If, however we can remove those rainfall effects from our data sets and understand what management regimes work best in the rainfall region or regime that he exists, then we can provide some useful information to them.

  6. Voice Over:
    As part of the research, a number of management techniques like grazing and tillage practices, fertiliser use and crop rotations are being investigated to work out what effect they have on soil carbon.

    Roger Lange runs a 2750-hectare cropping and grazing enterprise in 375 to 400mm a year rainfall country near Appila in South Australia’s upper north. He’s had his soil carbon tested as part of the project.

    Mr Roger Lange, Mixed cropping producer, ‘Appila’, South Australia:
    I think this research on carbon is pretty important, because we’ve never really had a good measuring stick on organic carbon, and I mean, we’ve seen the results of having excellent, or higher levels of organic material in the system.  So, it’d just be nice to have a way of measuring some of that organic carbon, then we can see whether our rotations are improving it, or depleting it and then we can sort of run a better system.

    In the last couple of seasons we’ve had some pretty dry years and we’ve changed some of our management practices to go for an earlier seeding and try to manage our nitrogen in crop and I guess retain as much stubble as we can and inter-row sowing, sort of, has helped us get into some of those paddocks when it’s been dry.

    I guess some of our soils types have been hard setting red ground and putting stubble back in and retaining stubble and getting carbon back into the system seems to improve those soils. And I think the testing that happens on our place will hopefully spill over into the greater community, well, the farming community, by giving us a bit more insight into what happens rotation wise, and what happens to carbon because the soil.  It’s a bit unknown what goes on under the soil, and so it’s pretty important for us to get a better understanding about what happens there, and where the carbon goes, and it’s improved our soil condition out of sight by retaining our stubble, and increasing our organic material so it’s got to improve yields.

  7. Voice Over:
    But what does the program mean for Australia’s farmers in the longer term?

    Dr Jeffrey Baldock, Lead Scientist, Soil Carbon and Nitrogen Balance, CSIRO:
    So one of the practical implications of the work we’re doing for farmers is going to be now, once we put the data of the region together, we’ll get a really good sense of how carbon varies across that region. A farm that we have not sampled yet can then go and sample their soils and say where do we fit in that region? Are we up at the high or are we down at the low-end? If they are at the low end then potentially they have a long way to move and they can sequester more carbon in their soils. If they’re already at the high-end then there may not be a large distance to move in terms of the amount of carbon that they may sequester. Having that data behind us and knowing that will be very instructive to farmers to show them what is the potential of them getting involved in a carbon trading type scheme, is it going to be worthwhile and what sort of potential benefits may come from it?

  8. Voice Over:
    This research has received funding from the Australian Government to help prepare Australia’s primary industries for climate change and build the resilience of Australia’s agricultural sector.

    The Soil Carbon Research Program is supported by funding and in-kind support from the following partners:

    CSIRO’s Sustainable Agriculture Flagship
    Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia
    Department of Environment and Natural Resources, South Australia
    Department of Primary Industries, Victoria
    Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC)
    Industry and Investment NSW
    Murray Catchment Management Authority
    QLD Department of Environment and Resource Management
    Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Research
    University of New England
    University of Western Australia

    Thank you to the following participants of this video:

    Dr Jeff Baldock – CSIRO
    Mr Roger Lange - ‘Appila’ SA


Last reviewed: 30 September 2020
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