Reducing our carbon output will involve storing more in our soils

Joel Fitzgibbon with Alisdair and Keith Tulloch in their vineyard at Pokolbin
Joel Fitzgibbon with Alisdair and Keith Tulloch in their vineyard at Pokolbin

Climate change is one of the dominant issues of this year's federal election and it is an issue where the two major parties hold divergent policies and opinions.

The Coalition Government describes the Labor Party's climate change policies as likely to destroy our economy whereas Labor thinks a failure to act on climate change will destroy more than our economy.

In the midst of this debate farmers are already taking action to reduce their carbon footprint and make their operations more sustainable. Faced with a changing climate that puts pressure on current farming practices producers across all industries are making decisions now for their longterm survival.

In Pokolbin winemaker Alisdair Tulloch has taken the bold step to take his family's business, Keith Tulloch Wines, through the process of gaining Australian Government certification to say their operation is carbon neutral.

They are only the second vineyard in Australia to gain that certification the other being Ross Hill Wines, Orange.

By installing a 65kw solar power system the vineyard and winery will cut its carbon output by a third. The rest of reductions come from changing farming practices such as using no inorganic fertilisers and how they operate the winery and bottling processes.

The process of gaining carbon neutral certification involved time and money but Alisdair and his father Keith believe it was a vital step for the future of their farm business.

"Customers are already looking for products that carry this type of certification and we are now in the forefront of that marketplace," said Alisdair.

"We we farming for a carbon neutral future with our wines being the result of that whole process."

Member for Hunter and Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fiztgibbon visited the vineyard last week to take a close look at the Tulloch's operation and speak to them about the choices they have made and how his party's policies would assist them and other farmers should Labor be elected on May 18.

"Government needs to do more to assist farmers because their sector is the most affected by climate change," Mr Fiztgibbon said.

"We should give incentives to farmers to enable them to participate in the carbon market. They could diversify their income through carbon offsets. The more carbon in the soils the better the outcome for all involved."

Mr Fizgibbon said more research was required to better understand how all this can be achieved and his party was ready to make those investments.

"Our $400 million Farm Productivity & Sustainable Profitability Plan will also help farmers adapt and earn," he said.

"Unlike the Liberals and Nationals, who are out of touch with the agriculture sector, a Shorten Labor Government will work with Meat & Livestock Australia and the National Farmers' Federation to help them achieve their self-imposed goal of having a carbon neutral agriculture sector by 2030."

Back in the vineyard Keith Tulloch spoke about the challenges of managing vines especially with higher temperatures.

He said some producers had opted to trial grape varieties that could handle the heat better inclduing some from Greece.

"But grapevines live for a century and to get the best results we have to care for the vines already planted and in our case if we know there is going to be a heatwave we apply sunscreen," he said.

"This reduces heat in the canopy and therefore lessens the damage to the ripening grapes."

However it is costly at $1500/application which Alisdair said was equal to a tonne of grapes.

"Every time we apply sunscreen its hitting our revenue but loss of grape quality is another revenue hit - the choices are difficult and growing as climate change impacts more and more."