.

  • Written by Jacqueline Williams, Senior Research Fellow & Lecturer, School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England
Australia must invest in sustainable agriculture. Author provided

Australia has made a global commitment to “sustainable agriculture”, an endeavour seen as increasingly crucial to ending world poverty, halting biodiversity loss, and combating climate change. A recent report from the UN found land use – including food production – is responsible for around one-third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Unfortunately, Australia has something of a sustainable agriculture policy vacuum, after years of a fragmented, stop-start approach.


Read more: UN climate change report: land clearing and farming contribute a third of the world's greenhouse gases


To honour our international obligations and respond to growing sustainability markets, Australia urgently needs a contemporary definition of sustainable agriculture, including agreed on-farm metrics.

Good policy abandoned

Australia spent more than a decade developing promising policies that defined sustainable agriculture with broad indicators for measuring progress.

In 1997 Australia passed federal legislation defining “sustainable agriculture” as:

agricultural practices and systems that maintain or improve […] the economic viability of agricultural production; the social viability and well-being of rural communities; […] biodiversity; the natural resource base [and] ecosystems that are influenced by agricultural activities.

The following year, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Resource Management published a broad set indicators.

During the early 2000s a national framework of Environmental Management Systems was developed, and national pilots were conducted across Australia up until 2006.

Between 2004 and 2006 the Australian Bureau of Statistics recorded farmers’ investment in natural resource management. However these surveys have not been replicated in more than a decade.

In 2005, the states and territories formed a joint working group to create a national approach to property management systems. This group met with industry representatives and regional land managers throughout 2006, and in 2007 the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry planned a pathway for a national policy. There was much hope and enthusiasm it would soon become a reality.

However, since 2008 there has been no progress and little, if any, explanation for why this important sustainable agriculture policy initiative was shelved.

Current policy vacuum

It is concerning that Australia’s first progress report on implementing the sustainable development goals contains the words “sustainable agriculture” only once in 130 pages, as part of the heading for the goal of ending hunger.

The definition arrived at in 1997 is far too broad and simplistic, and can’t be used at the farm level.

When contacted for comment, a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture reiterated their commitment to improving sustainable food production, and said:

Australia is involved in global discussions about how best to measure sustainable agriculture performance […] However a globally agreed methodology has not been set for [agricultural sustainability].

Australia’s only substantial sustainable agriculture policy mechanism at the moment appears to be grants available through the National Landcare Program. This is reiterated by searching through key Coalition policy documents and the recent budget.

The budget allocation to the overall National Landcare Program is around A$1 billion from 2017 to 2023. New programs announced in the 2019 budget that build on this commitment include:

  • A$100 million over four years for the environment restoration fund,
  • A$34 million over four years for a new biodiversity stewardship program,
  • A$28.3 million for a new communities environment program for 2019-20, and
  • A$2 billion over 15 years for the climate solutions fund.

These programs combined equate to some A$354 million per year. But a coherent sustainable agriculture policy cannot be delivered through grants alone.

And even though these grants are substantial, past ABS surveys found that farmers invest at least A$3 billion a year in natural resource management. The Indigenous on-country contribution is currently unknown, but likely to be substantial.

Caring for country fund

Around 10% of Australia’s population lives in rural or remote areas. These comparatively small communities – largely farmers and Indigenous land managers – currently steward most of the country.

A review released in late July on how conservation laws affect the agriculture sector has recommended the federal government create a A$1 billion fund for farmers who deliver environment benefits from their land.

This mirrors calls from farmers for an ecosystem services fund.

If our 13.9 million taxpayers contributed some A$60 each per year in a “caring for country” levy, urban and rural Australians could more fairly share the costs – as well as the advantages – of sustainable land management.

We could start with revisiting the good work undertaken more than a decade ago in developing a national framework for property management systems.

Underpinning such a system, we need an independent and trusted source of metrics for farmers, land managers and agricultural industries. To this end, the University of New England is establishing a research hub to help develop just such a harmonised approach.


Read more: Vegan food's sustainability claims need to give the full picture


There are many good news stories of sustainable agriculture around Australia, however our ongoing biodiversity crisis requires transformative policy change and federal leadership.

One bold first step would be addressing the current paradox of sustainable agriculture in Australia.

Jacqueline Williams has received funding from a variety of sources since 2007 in relation to sustainable agriculture in Australia including: the Cooperative Research Centre for Irrigation Futures, the Australian Research Council and the OECD Cooperative Research Program Biological Resources in Agriculture Fellowship.

Authors: Jacqueline Williams, Senior Research Fellow & Lecturer, School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England

Read more http://theconversation.com/australia-urgently-needs-real-sustainable-agriculture-policy-120597

Private health premium increases might be the lowest in years, but that doesn't mean they're justified

Those facing large price increases might drop or downgrade their cover. Wayhome studio/ShutterstockEvery year private health insurers raise premiums and every year we rue the hit to our hip pocket. Th...

Nathan Kettlewell, Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Economics Discipline Group, University of Technology Sydney - avatar Nathan Kettlewell, Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Economics Discipline Group, University of Technology Sydney

So your kid's finished their first year of school. Here's what they should have learnt

Every child progresses at different levels, just like everyone learns to talk and walk at different times. from shutterstock.comIt’s the end of the first year of school for many children and pro...

Jenny Johnston, Lecturer in Primary Education, Southern Cross University - avatar Jenny Johnston, Lecturer in Primary Education, Southern Cross University

5 human rights issues that defined 2019

One of this year’s most refreshing developments was the youth-led action on climate change. AAP Image/Dan PeledAs we approach the last days of the decade, it’s important to reflect on the ...

Elaine Pearson, Adjunct Lecturer in Law, UNSW - avatar Elaine Pearson, Adjunct Lecturer in Law, UNSW

As heat strikes, here's one way to help fight disease-carrying and nuisance mosquitoes

Although yellow fever does not currently exist in Australia, the species Aedes aegypti - which can transmit the disease - is found widely across northern Queensland. The virus remains a global health ...

Cameron Webb, Clinical Lecturer and Principal Hospital Scientist, University of Sydney - avatar Cameron Webb, Clinical Lecturer and Principal Hospital Scientist, University of Sydney

Don't blame the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It's climate and economic change driving farmers out

For the thousand or so farmers in Canberra in the past week venting their anger at the federal government, it’s the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to blame for destroying their livelihoods and forcin...

Sarah Ann Wheeler, Professor in Water Economics, University of Adelaide - avatar Sarah Ann Wheeler, Professor in Water Economics, University of Adelaide

Expect family talks about climate change this Christmas? Take tips from Greta Thunberg

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is a master of staying on topic. AAP/Julian SmithAs bushfires rage and our cities lie shrouded in smoke, climate change is shaping as a likely topic of conversa...

Peter Ellerton, Lecturer in Critical Thinking; Curriculum Director, UQ Critical Thinking Project, The University of Queensland - avatar Peter Ellerton, Lecturer in Critical Thinking; Curriculum Director, UQ Critical Thinking Project, The University of Queensland

Climate explained: seven reasons to be wary of waste-to-energy proposals

Many developed countries already have significant waste-to-energy operations and therefore less material going to landfill. CC BY-ND Climate Explained is a collaboration bet...

Jeff Seadon, Senior Lecturer, Auckland University of Technology - avatar Jeff Seadon, Senior Lecturer, Auckland University of Technology

In our time of climate crisis, the exhibition Water is a subtly crafted plea

Olafur Eliasson, Denmark, b.1967 Riverbed 2014 (detail) Site specific installation. Pictured: The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, DenmarkCourtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, B...

Chari Larsson, Lecturer of art history, Griffith University - avatar Chari Larsson, Lecturer of art history, Griffith University

We're still fighting city freeways after half a century

Demonstrations against freeway construction in Melbourne included a street barricade erected in protest at the F19 extension of the Eastern Freeway. Barricade! – the resident fight against the...

Andrew Butt, Associate Professor in Sustainability and Urban Planning, RMIT University - avatar Andrew Butt, Associate Professor in Sustainability and Urban Planning, RMIT University

Why were tourists allowed on White Island?

The volcanic alert level on Whakaari/White Island remains at three, one rung higher than it was when the eruption took place. AAP/GNS Science, CC BY-NDThe official death toll remains at six, and eight...

Michael Lueck, Professor of Tourism, Auckland University of Technology - avatar Michael Lueck, Professor of Tourism, Auckland University of Technology

Curious Kids: why do we get bruises?

From red, to blue, to purple, to yellow and even green – why do our bruises change colour? From shutterstock.com How and why do we get bruises? – Francesca, aged 8. Hi Francesca, thank...

Abishek Santhakumar, Senior Lecturer in Haematology, Charles Sturt University - avatar Abishek Santhakumar, Senior Lecturer in Haematology, Charles Sturt University

To save koalas from fire, we need to start putting their genetic material on ice

Over the coming months, koalas will depend on wildlife hospitals to recover from the effects of unprecedented bushfires. Lachlan G. Howell , Author providedThousands of koalas may have died in fires ...

Ryan R. Witt, Conjoint Lecturer | Conservation Biology Research Group, University of Newcastle - avatar Ryan R. Witt, Conjoint Lecturer | Conservation Biology Research Group, University of Newcastle

(Almost) everyone's a winner? Art is meant to break rules and prizes must adapt

British artists (L-R) Oscar Murillo, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock and Tai Shani celebrate after being announced as the joint winners of Turner Prize 2019. Vickie Flores/EPALast week Britain&rsq...

Lachlan Warner, Australian Catholic University - avatar Lachlan Warner, Australian Catholic University

Unlawful metadata access is easy when we’re flogging a dead law

After watching this year’s media raids and the prosecution of lawyers and whistleblowers, it’s not hard to see why Australians wonder about excessive police power and dwindling journalisti...

Genna Churches, PhD Candidate, UNSW - avatar Genna Churches, PhD Candidate, UNSW

Why the profit motive fails in education

The disastrous experience of vocational education and training in Australia holds many lessons about trying to fit education into a for-profit market model. www.shutterstock.comThe Morrison government...

John Quiggin, Professor, School of Economics, The University of Queensland - avatar John Quiggin, Professor, School of Economics, The University of Queensland

The X17 factor: a particle new to physics might solve the dark matter mystery

Anomalies in nuclear physics experiments may show signs of a new force. ShutterstockA team of scientists in Hungary recently published a paper that hints at the existence of a previously unknown subat...

Celine Boehm, Head of School for Physics, University of Sydney - avatar Celine Boehm, Head of School for Physics, University of Sydney

The water crisis has plunged the Nats into a world of pain. But they reap what they sow

Angry farmers are pressuring the Nationals to tear up the Murray Darling Basin Plan. Lukas Coch/AAPWhen farmers descended on Parliament House in Canberra this month to demand the Murray Darling Basin ...

Daniel Connell, Research Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University - avatar Daniel Connell, Research Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

8 Factors to Consider When Buying a Standby Diesel Generator

Diesel generators play a vital role in different home and business applications. However, they are commonly known for providing backup power, especially during the mains outage or blackout. Though...

News Company - avatar News Company

2019 was a year of global unrest, spurred by anger at rising inequality – and 2020 is likely to be worse

2019 may well go down as the most disrupted year in global politics since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the subsequent implosion of the former Soviet Union. However, the likelihood is that ...

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University - avatar Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

Sick and Tired of Your Dead End Job? Try Teaching!

Tired of the same old grind at the office? Want an opportunity to impact lives both in your community and around the world? Do you love to travel and have new experiences? Teaching English is the perfect job for you! All you need is a willingness to ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Impact of an Aging Population in Australia

There’s an issue on the horizon that Australia needs to prepare for. The portion of elderly citizens that make up the country’s overall population is increasing, and we might not have the infrastructure in place to support this. Australians h...

News Company - avatar News Company

LifeStyle

Latest Wednesday Lotto Results

Wednesday Lotto draw 3917 Lucky numbers for this draw were 43 followed by 25. The rest of the...

Ways Love and Relationships Benefit Body and Mind

Being in a happy relationship is great. You always have someone to greet you when you come home ...

The Importance of Smiling: How You Can Smile More

Happiness is something we all strive for and is often just out of reach. Of course, it’s impos...

5 Things to Do On Your Wedding Morning

After months of meticulous planning, wedding mornings usually find the bride excited but stressed ...