5 July 2002

Cash incentive for no-plough policy is one step closer

PAYMENTS to farmers who avoid ploughing by companies keen to improve their environmental profile could be a step closer, according to a minimum tillage organisation.

The move towards growers being paid for creating a "carbon sink" to help industry meet European targets on emissions is gaining pace, delegates at a Crops Lo-Till Question Time meeting in Warks heard last week.

Farmers in the US and Canada are already paid not to plough (Arable, Oct 12). Payments can be up to $20/ha.

Now it looks more likely that EU companies could pay to acquire "carbon credits" from those that lock it up, such as farmers.

"Research has shown that ploughing releases five times more carbon as carbon dioxide than minimum tillage systems," said Peter Thompson, a representative of the Soil Management Initiative.

"That means these integrated systems lock up 3t/ha more carbon than conventional systems – as a carbon sink soils are better than trees. Carbon trading could become a reality in the future."

SMI chief executive Vic Jordan added that pressure is growing on European states to use lo-till as a tool to reach the 20% target carbon dioxide reduction by 2012.

"All 17 member states of the European Conservation Agricul-ture Federation support the research that shows min-till systems can sequester more carbon.

"Theyre applying pressure for more subsidies for farmers to get involved. But in the UK at least, farmers are adopting such systems for economic reasons anyway." &#42

In terms of carbon retention organic farming methods have the worst environmental record, said Mr Thompson. Farmcare research comparing carbon sequestration in organic and conventional ploughed and minimum tillage systems showed organic farming performed worst, he said.

"Its sometimes questionable just how environmentally-friendly organic farming is. The cultivation methods used to avoid chemicals often release more carbon, and ploughing up clover leys can cause big nitrate leaching problems."