Environmental assets aid agricultural productivity

Environmental assets aid agricultural productivity

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Aesthetic and productive landscapes achieved through sustainable practices aids farmers well-being.

What does sustainable agriculture look like?

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Dr Mason Crane. Photo: Australian Association of Animal Sciences

Dr Mason Crane. Photo: Australian Association of Animal Sciences

That was the topic addressed by Mason Crane when he spoke on the Australian Association of Animal Science Southern Branch webinar which was looking at defining the term 'sustainability".

Dr Crane, a senior research and extension officer with the Australian National University's (ANU) Sustainable Farms project, said sustainability is a commonly used phrase but few people ever try to define it.

He has been looking at conserving biodiversity in production landscapes particularly agricultural landscapes, but also forestry landscapes, both planted and naturally grown.

"Most of our work is looking at the environmental assets on farms and how they help conserve biodiversity," he said.

"So shelterbelts and tree plantings to remnant patches which have been enhanced through Landcare, Local Land Services or CMA (catchment management authorities) create suitable habitat for conserving biodiversity.

"They show how we can make a difference on our farms, but we also see a lot of these environmental assets are not just good for biodiversity, but benefit agricultural production."

Planted tree lines enhance agricultural production and lift aesthetic appreciation of landscape.

Planted tree lines enhance agricultural production and lift aesthetic appreciation of landscape.

When talking with farmers, they often say one of the most important things they have done is create areas of landscape restoration which can lift spirits of landholders through tough times.

"It makes them feel good, is good for their mental health and wellbeing," Dr Crane said.

"But in talking about sustainability, we have to understand what it means before it can be achieved."

The important thing for farming communities is to determine at what level they are prepared to accept as being both productive in the long term and aesthetically pleasing.

"One thing for sure is the level we are at the moment we need to see some sort of improvement," Dr Crane said.

"We all need to acknowledge over the last couple of hundred years agriculture has led to massive declines in biodiversity, issues with how landscape functions and how it has altered soil hydrology and soil health."

Dr Crane said maintaining the landscape as it currently appears is not an option.

"We need to include improvement in our definition of sustainability," he said. "And while agriculture is a big cause of a lot of these problems it can also be the solution."

Dr Crane said to be truly sustainable within an agricultural operation we need to look at our we can enhance the extent and condition of the ecosystem assets and services.

"But to know if we are really making a difference we need to have some baseline measurement," he said.

"So we can see our actions are really changing things and not just assuming it."

Dr Crane said the monitoring done during the past 20 years does show the work many farmers are putting into their environmental assets is beneficial for the biodiversity of the farm, but also for the biodiversity of the community.

"By investing in your environmental assets on your farm hopefully there will be the benefit of financial gain," he said.

"Anecdotally it seems having green spaces, places were you relax, can make a difference to mental health.

"There is no doubt if you don't have functioning, healthy people on farms it is a bit hard to have a sustainable farming system."

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