The world's 1.5 billion hectares of farmland could be doing much more to absorb greenhouse gases while also generating a new agricultural commodity revenue category for farmers, says global agribusiness boss Chuck Magro.
The earth's carbon emission problem should not just be a cost for farm businesses to deal with.
It was, instead, a logical income opportunity for good land stewards whose properties were managed appropriately to store more carbon.
The president of Canadian-based, Nutrien, was even using his time in Canberra this month to lobby for government action and collaboration with farmers and business to make carbon pricing and marketing a mainstream sector for farmers to be involved in.
We need to properly value carbon
He said a price on carbon emissions, carbon trading and the prospect of farmers being rewarded for carbon sequestering initiatives were already considered common sense goals, and it was time for government policy and the marketplace to team up and catch up.
"We need to properly value carbon," Mr Magro said.
"I think the world has actually already decided this - just about every major economy is moving to put a price on carbon.
"Therefore, the opportunity with ag is there for farmers to do more, rather than considering carbon a business cost on their ledger.
"The ultimate goal should be if you are sequestering carbon when there are others in the economy who need carbon offsets, you've got the starting point for a carbon-based marketplace."
Agricultural cropping and livestock industries were estimated to contribute about 25 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
However, emission volumes would be almost twice their current rate if not for the improved land management regimes adopted in recent decades by modern agricultural economies.
"By 2050 we'll have another 2b people to feed on the planet while also trying to cut our environmental footprint," he said.
Analysis by CSIRO and others show markets for ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration, could boost landholder incomes by 25pc or more
"There are lots of ways to contribute, but a functioning carbon marketplace which allows growers to get production payments for being sustainable should be well up the list of topics for governments to consider."
Stars finally aligning
His views supported comments from Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences executive director Steve Hatfield-Dodds who noted after three decades "the stars might be aligning" to pay farmers for the environmental benefits they provide.
"Analysis by CSIRO, the Australian Farm Institute and others show markets for ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration could boost landholder incomes by 25pc or more," he said.
If they were encouraged, carbon and other services would constitute the fifth largest food and fibre sector in Australia.
"I consider there are huge opportunities for farmers from delivering conservation services at scale, and not just because they could provide an income source," Dr Hatfield-Dodds said.
"Natural systems are under increasing pressures, like farmers, and one proven way to protect something is to put a price on it and make it valuable."
Farmers manage 3.5b acres of farmland and this could be used to store massive amounts of carbon
While Nutrien's Mr Magro was in Australia for a busy week touring bushfire blackened farms in Victoria, visiting customers and staff of the newly merged Landmark and Ruralco businesses which now make up Nutrien's 300 local corporate and 500 allied business units, he also called on Parliament House.
"We need to work together with government and other stakeholders," he said when asked if he talked with federal leaders about Australia's politically sensitive carbon price and climate change issues.
"We certainly want to let the stakeholders know we want to be engaged, and we want to roll up our sleeves and come to the right decisions to work this out."
He also addressed Canberra's agricultural Outlook 2020 conference, noting poignantly there were already parts of the world where smart government policies employed the "carrot, not the stick" approach to encouraging farmers to sequester carbon and boost the sustainability of their land.
"Farmers manage 3.5b acres of farmland and this could be used to store massive amounts of carbon," he said.
"This is happening in some spots and needs to be accelerated."
New technology helps
Modern agriculture, using precision agriculture, mechanisation innovations, plant breeding developments and prescriptive nutrition technology had avoided the need to farm twice as much land as would have previously been required to keep pace with rising food demand.
Today's farming technologies had also avoided releasing a further 80b tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere in the same period - almost double current carbon emissions.
Mr Magro said global agriculture needed to better utilise the excellent tools and technology adopted by leading adopters such as Australia, Canada, the US and Europe.
"This will go a long way to addressing the greenhouse issues in agriculture," he said noting other big agricultural producers, China, Brazil, India and African countries needed to use the tools which existed to catch up.
"The potential of getting this right is quite impactful as far as the climate change and agricultural sustainability journey is concerned."
That journey required a close working partnership between farmers agribusinesses such as Nutrien which already invested significantly in developing digital technology to monitor and calculate crop and pasture inputs, soil moisture use and carbon emissions and sequestering capabilities.
"We can't do all this by ourselves, but the notion that you can build a digital footprint and validate how much carbon you can store is a great starting point for farmers to be in the carbon marketplace."
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The story Nutrien boss says carbon management should be rewarded not a cost first appeared on Farm Online.