Setting aside part of your farm for biodiversity conservation might appeal to Eastern Fall land owners but has yet to tickle the fancy of western grain growers, and yet restoring degraded land could attract the most compensation.
These ideas were discussed this week through online forums, hosted by the Australian Farm Institute, with direction from the National Farmers Federation, highlighting the Australian farm biodiversity scheme trial. Further forums are scheduled through May and farmers are encouraged to take part by visiting farminstitute.org.au
At the core of this scheme is a $30 million promise to fund biodiversity conservation on farming land, announced late last year by former minister for Agriculture David Littleproud.
Biodiversity conservation consultant Natalie Williams, CreditAbility Ag, says there is real reward provided land owners swallow the bitter pill up front, and pay for expensive credible assessments. Approved areas of land, typically set aside for 25 years, garner more reward if they are close to developments that require offsets, like a quarry or subdivision, but can claim compensation for state wide or nation-wide projects, like mines.
"Carbon credits are very different," says the former Nuffield scholar who studied that process.
"But biodiversity conservation is not for the half hearted. There is high compliance. You've got to change what you're doing and think about your impact on the ecosystem."
At the same time, many agricultural activities can continue, including some logging and grazing, as long as those activities are proven not to impact on biodiversity.
Moree farmer Tim Mooney is less convinced and warned that the current trend of government to reward only new developments in biodiversity, or "additionality" in government speak, would not serve this project.
"I think we could end up on the wrong track with this," he said. "We must acknowledge and compensate for landowners existing and previous biodiversity contributions."
Commodity leader in beef for the World Wildlife Fund, Ian McConnel, says farmers should embrace biodiversity stewardship to help drive a robust Australian food brand.
"The first step is to build the tools to enable a farmer who is ready to go through this process to come and tell their story," he said. "There are a lot of companies looking to take part in these biodiversity commitments.
"Habitat preservation and recognition could be the fundamental driver in ensuring consumer confidence in Australian produce as well as gaining access for farmers to better rates of lending and support."
He said reward should not be viewed as just a cheque written out through a stewardship package but more about continued access to the world's richest food markets. To guarantee access there needed to be solid data at farm level, which is currently lacking.
Online forums to attend:
- Central West NSW - Tuesday, 7 April
- NSW Riverina - Thursday, 30 April
- Visit http://farminstitute.org.au/news-and-events/forum-farm-biodiversity-certification-scheme-trial