Hepburn Z-NET has launched a comprehensive roadmap for the community to work towards reaching zero-net emissions in the agriculture sector.
With input from community and domestic and international stakeholders, Hepburn's Community Transition Plan (CTP) was launched in 2019.
It outlines how zero net energy could be achieved locally by 2025, followed by zero net emissions by 2030.
This plan was created in line with the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees celsius, which set the impetus for drastic action to be taken on greenhouse gas emissions in the next 12 years.
Based on data from 2018, the shire generates about 262,041 baseline emissions each year.
The CTP identifies different sectors in the community and the emissions they generate.
Of these, agriculture creates the most emissions (41 per cent), followed by stationary energy (34 per cent), transport (33 per cent), waste (three per cent) and land use (-11 per cent, indicating carbon sinks).
With agricultural emissions making up a large portion of the shire's emissions, cutting these is a critical step for the shire to reach its targets.
The implementation of the CTP is overseen by the Z-NET roundtable. During the last few months, it has been working with farmers and experts to produce a guide for the sector to begin reducing their emissions.
The agricultural sector has a significant emissions footprint to reduce, while continuing to balance feeding a growing population in an ethical and ecologically sound manner. This must be achieved in the face of climate change.
While cutting emissions in this sector is often viewed as challenging in comparison to others, the Z-NET group does not believe this to be the case - rather, it believes cutting emissions can be achieved while retaining and strengthening the agricultural sector in the face of climate change.
The guide aims to empower farmers to set goals for carbon neutrality, by outlining some of the opportunities for farmers to reduce their emissions in the areas of fossil fuels, livestock, land use, soil carbon and agricultural inputs and build carbon sinks with some simple, yet significant changes.
There is also supporting information about the actions already underway in the shire and how farmers can be involved.
Farmer Tammi Jonas sits on the roundtable and is committed to reducing emissions at Jonai Farms and Meatsmiths - a small-scale farm with pigs and cattle.
In steps for sustainability, the animals are fed 'waste' produce from across the state, diverting it from landfill, and they are working with a solar provider to install solar to power the numerous refrigerators on site.
"Refrigeration is non-negotiable when you run a butcher shop but we want to get off fossil fuels to power all of that," she told The Courier.
Old piston pumps powered by secondhand solar panels and treadmill motors salvaged from the tip move water around the property, while animals are moved regularly to keep the ecosystem balanced.
"This means we maintain ground cover at all times and that gives us deeper root systems and can store more carbon in the soil," Ms Jonas said.
Ms Jonas hopes to soon approach carbon neutrality, in terms of sequestering as much carbon as is emitted.
"The climate is changing very rapidly and if we don't do something our children won't have a habitable planet. So it's a no-brainer for me that we all have to be doing everything we can.
"Farmers everywhere - nowhere more so than here in the central highlands of Victoria - are working to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and agricultural inputs, and to manage livestock in ethical and ecologically-sound ways that draw down carbon," she said.
"The more we work together to share our strategies for zero emissions and sequestration, the quicker the transition will be."
To reduce fossil fuels use for transport, pumps and irrigators, farm machinery and equipment, some ideas include pairing electricity loads with behind-the-metre renewable energy systems to meet on-site needs.
This could be through installing solar panels and batteries and switching petrol or diesel pumps to electric or solar alternatives.
Bioenergy technologies can also be used to reduce emissions on farms, by using renewable biomass sourced from the farm or from nearby.
These technologies include biomass burners or anaerobic digesters, which generate biogas from manure or other putrescible wastes to be used for heat or electrical loads.
The vast majority of agricultural emissions come from farming livestock, while by comparison a small amount is generated by farming crops and vegetables.
As livestock -cows, sheep and goats- consume grass, grain and other fibrous materials, it results in the production of methane. This is produced by bacteria in their ruminant guts, with some burped out. Therefore a frequent cause of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions are the result of enteric fermentation.
Producing livestock requires energy, water, resources and often carries a corresponding emissions footprint. A quick way to mitigate this is ensuring waste is limited.
Diversifying industries and engaging with consumers to ensure that all of a product is used, such as all parts of an animal, creates a pathway towards a more efficient industry.
Similarly, there is also merit in Australians reducing their meat consumption, of which Australia is one of the highest in the world on a per capita basis.
While buying and selling local and eating seasonal produce is another way to reduce emissions, the guide also lists ways to reduce ruminant emissions - such as feed supplements or introducing organic compounds, microbiome bacteria or red seaweed into feed.
Land uses that create emissions include clearing land for agriculture, stubble burning and other fires.
Some previously forested areas, native grass and woodlands in Hepburn Shire have been cleared for agriculture - there is almost 60,000 hectares of grazing land that has the potential to sequester carbon dioxide.
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In order to sequester carbon by planting trees, the species of trees should be considered taking into account wildlife and whether forest, grassland or woodland is more appropriate for the future of the area.
Aside from reforestation, other opportunities the guide discusses are stubble retention, agroforestry and prevention of bushfires.
Agriculture is one of the current major contributing factors to the loss of soil carbon globally - not only being detrimental to soil health, structure, water retention and microbial activity, it also leads to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
To mitigate this, some ideas are to protect top soil and implementing rotational grazing - managing pastures around the plant's growth.
Cover and pasture cropping are other ideas.
The guide also covers ways to reduce emissions in agricultural inputs.
Hepburn Shire Council mayor, Cr Lesley Hewitt, said the shire had a productive agricultural sector and cutting emissions in the sector would be important to reach emission reduction targets.
"Council, through its support for Z-NET, will be working with farmers to support them in reducing emissions and becoming a more sustainable industry."
Hosted by Farmers for Climate Action, the guide will be launched on a webinar on Thursday, June 24 at 12pm.
To attend, register here: https://farmersforclimateaction.org.au/portfolio/hepburn-z-net/.
The community action plan was created with support from Creswick and District Community Bank, Hepburn Wind, Hepburn Shire Council, Sustainability Victoria and Renew.
To read the guide, visit hepburnznet.org.au