09 July 2012
Bengalla works with farmers to increase land use and productivity
Pictured: Back row (L-R) John Lawrie (GSS Environmental), Dr Brian Murphy, Dr Tony O'Hara (HHM Projects), Chris Masters (HHM Projects,) Priscilla Tremain (PhD UoN Student). Front row (L-R) Shane Curry (HHM Projects), Amy Harburg (Bengalla), Andrew Regan (PhD Student UoN / GSS Environmental).
Bengalla mine, which is managed by Coal and Allied, is undertaking a project investigating the potential to increase productivity and profitability for Hunter Valley farmers through improved soil fertility and the storing of carbon.
The soil carbon project will run over four years and aims to increase soil carbon sequestration - the removal of carbon from the atmosphere by storing it in soil.
In addition to improving agricultural yields and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the project also has the potential to provide landowners with additional income, by trading sequestered carbon under the federal government's Carbon Farming Initiative.
Bengalla Environmental Specialist Amy Harburg says a significant component of the project is research into the effects of biochar application on soil properties of the region.
"We are expecting a number of benefits including increased nutrient and water holding capacity of the soil which will lead to increases in productivity," Ms Harburg said.
"The research has the potential to deliver some really positive land-use outcomes for the region.
"A critical element is the involvement of local landholders and farmers in the development of the process and to encourage ownership and take up of the outcomes.
"On the environmental side we hope to produce a soil carbon baseline and a possible model for the trading of soil carbon for all landholders."
The project, which is a commitment under Bengalla's consent conditions, is being undertaken in partnership the University of Newcastle, HHM Projects, Hunter-Central Rivers Catchment Management Authority (CMA) and up to 20 regional landowners.
Hunter-Central Rivers Catchment management Catchment Authority Coordinator Steve Eccles says he is looking forward to working with Bengalla and its partners to achieve a positive outcome for farmers.
"This project has the potential to catch carbon and improve soil health, which in term will improve the sustainably of farmers," Mr Eccles said.
"It will assist in number of other natural land resource outcomes including a reduction of soil degradation and potentially reduce the impact of salinity.
"Potentially it could lead to better outcomes for farmers through improved property planning.
"The Catchment Manage Authority endorses projects that bring different industries together for the benefit of regional communities."
HHM Projects Project Manager Shane Curry says the soil carbon project is a first for the mining industry.
"Bengalla is forward thinking in its positioning with its agricultural neighbours," Mr Curry said.
"This project has the potential to increase the carbon content of soil while improving grazing and cropping.
"It's a win-win situation for farmers through increases to productivity and profitability."
Bengalla mine is not new to sharing its land with agriculture as it has an operating dairy on its grounds that produce up to 15,000 litres of milk a day from 1,500 cattle.