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What does sustainable agriculture mean to you?

If ever a term was bandied about without much thought to what it really means, sustainable agriculture must be up in the top two or three in the agriculture sector.

For some it means the types of projects that our Catchment Management & Natural Resource Management regions invest in.  For others it means the iconic Landcare model of farmers working together in their communities to improve biodiversity or soil health.  For some it’s about practices that improve soils or reduce inputs – such as no till farming.  For some, sustainable agriculture means adopting the industry recognised best management practices – like the Cotton BMP, SmartCane or Grazing BMP.

In reality – it is all of these things and more.

Here at the National Farmers' Federation (NFF), we’ve identified those things that we think are important in the mix of encouraging farmers to continue to improve the sustainability of their practices.   Central to our views are three key principles.  The first is that practices that can deliver productivity, profitability and environmental stewardship outcomes are most likely to be adopted by farmers and be enduring.  The second is the importance of an evidence base.  Any promotion and encouragement to change practice must be underpinned by rigorous evidence that the changes will result in the natural resource management outcomes sought.  The third is that through their actions, farmers deliver environmental services for the benefit of the broader community, and that this stewardship should be recognised.

That’s why NFF is a huge supporter of Industry Best Management Practice (BMP) initiatives.  These programs are developed by industry, for industry.  Programs are founded in comprehensive research and development, and the practices that are endorsed and promoted by these programs are proven to deliver the intended outcomes.  The assurance frameworks of these programs also provide an efficient method for monitoring and reporting the benefits of investment in change.    

The other benefit of industry led BMP programs is that they often capture a broader audience than just those interested in environmental management.  Furthermore, industry validated practices have productivity and profitability traits - which means that practices are more likely to be adopted and enduring than those that are only focused on environment factors.

Over the coming months, the Commonwealth will be reviewing how it invests close $1 billion dollars in natural resource management through the National Landcare Program.  You can check what the current government priorities are at www.nrm.gov.au

We’d love to hear from you about what you think is important. How can the policies and investments of government encourage sustainable agriculture practices and recognise the environmental services that farmers deliver on behalf of the community?

Jacqueline Knowles is Manager of Natural Resources Policy with the National Farmers' Federation.

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1 Responses

    Sustainable agriculture is a no brainer, you either protect your agricultural resource and hence the environment or you go broke. I deliver BMP in my region and we repeatedly develop case studies where the triple bottom line is met for resource protection and enhancement, social expectations are exceeded and environmental outcomes are demonstrated. All of these outcomes can be linked to improved profitability, improved food quality and nutritional value and positive environmental outcomes which can be described as a gift as there are no cost burdens to the land owner in the long term. However we find ourselves in the situation where over a century of poor practices are impacting the natural systems whether they be land or marine, producers have been pushed and guided by government to be more efficient, get bigger, use bigger machinery, more chemical fertilizers and chemicals that were never measured against ecotoxicity, we can not suddenly blame the producer for this and expect one generation to fix it on there own. The sugar industry was forced into green cane harvesting but the side effect has been poor water quality through the use of herbicides instead of cultivation, the growers did what they were told to do so is the water issue really their fault? Social expectations for food and revenue created the problems and society must be prepared to help cover the cost of remediation especially in the short term where the cost burden does exist.

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