Carbon Farming: It’s a Nice Theory, but Don’t Get Your Hopes Up

A 24-year-old conservation cropping experiment in rural Australia has become a test case for capturing carbon.


As the Blue Mountains burned last week, a grumble of local farmers gathered in Harden, on the south-west slopes of New South Wales. I met them in the middle of a wheat crop, hunched against the cold wind.

It had been snowing in the ski fields as the state’s rural fire service chief, Shane Fitzsimmons, predicted catastrophic bushfire conditions in greater Sydney area.

While Tony Abbott and Christiana Figueres traded blows about the origins of the early bushfire season, I joined the farmers to hear about a 24-year-old conservation cropping experiment in a paddock not far from my home.

Every day, farmers deal with the pointy end of the climate debate. There is nothing like having some skin in the game to focus the mind on the facts behind climate science. Get it wrong and you will, eventually, starve.

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The Climate Desk is a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact—human, environmental, economic, political—of a changing climate. The partners are The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Slate, and Wired.