Our natural, social and economic circumstances are changing. Climate change is creating a shift in our communities with many individuals and businesses developing plans to save water, energy and carbon. Government regulation and funding is now strongly geared towards climate change and biodiversity issues.
These changes affect landholders in a number of ways creating opportunities for diversification and funding of land use change.
Adapting to climate change
Climate change has serious implications for natural resource management such as changes in salinity, water quality and quantity, coasts, bushfires, weeds and biodiversity. Landholders can take action to minimise negative consequences and be prepared for new opportunities.
Find out how climate changes may affect your land. Past and likely future changes in temperature and rainfall are available at:
- Trends in climate change
- Adapting to climate change
- Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences
- Climate Change Adaptation Strategies
- your state government natural resource agency web site
- Climate change and the agricultural sector
Carbon farming initiative
Carbon farming projects can increase resilience to the impacts of climate change, protect our natural environment, and increase farm profitability and food production. Increasing carbon storage in agricultural soils improves soil health and productivity. Revegetation will help restore degraded landscapes, provide biodiversity habitats and corridors, and help to address salinity, protect livestock and reduce erosion.
The Carbon Farming Initiative will provide new economic rewards for farmers and landholders that take steps to reduce carbon pollution. It will do this by creating credits for each tonne of carbon pollution which can be stored or reduced on the land. These credits can then be sold to other businesses wanting to offset their own carbon pollution.
Organic farming aims to produce food of high nutritional value without the use of artificial fertilisers or synthetic chemicals. Organic farming includes 'biodynamic' and 'biological' farming. It is subject to government standards and certification.
Organic farming is not a new concept but techniques and markets are evolving. It may help you be more sustainable and increase your marketing options. It can be adapted to many types of farming and environments and has a wide range of potential benefits.
Read more about organic farming
State-based information is also available:
Pasture and soil management
Good soil management is the core of sustainable agriculture. Discussion about the effect of management decisions on soil health can be found at government web sites such as your state department of agriculture and regional catchment management authorities. There are also a private consultants including Soil Foodweb Institute Australia who emphasise the use of compost to improve soil quality.
If you are considering alternative options or want to improve your management practices, there is specific online information for most land uses including:
Rather than grazing large paddocks for long periods, an alternative is to graze small paddocks for short periods. Also called 'cell grazing', this may involve moving stock very frequently, building electric fencing and moving watering points. This may have benefits for soil structure, plant biomass and biodiversity, and reduce inputs such as feed, fertiliser and pesticide.
- The Need for a New Approach to Grazing Management - Is Cell Grazing the Answer? The Rangeland Journal.
Permaculture and biomimicry
The concept of imitating natural systems as farming techniques can be researched on the internet using search terms such as ‘permaculture’ and 'biomimicry'. Examples include:
- Permaculture: A Designers' Manual by Bill Mollison
- Natural Sequence Farming: an approach developed in the Hunter Valley of NSW that includes controlling the flow of stream water using low-key diversion structures, moving stock at night and other management techniques.
- Polyface: a United States example of a high profile organic farm business.
The research organisation Evergraze looks at how to increase farm productivity and environmental health in southern Australia. Evergraze has information about scientific trials of fertiliser application and other management regimes and has set up demonstration sites in many southern regions. They have fact sheets on native and alternative pasture species such as chicory, lucern, kikuyu, ryegrass and tall fescue.
Future Farm Online includes research on the use of perennial plants to increase pasture resilience to declining and variable rainfall. They have useful publications and case studies on improving pasture with alternative species.
Research indicates that retaining stubble after harvest has advantages for water retention, soil biology and structure. It may also help reduce the amount of carbon going into our atmosphere. Use of herbicide is often required and in some seasons, there may be disadvantages. Information on whether it is the best management option for your property is available from grains organisations, CSIRO and state primary industry departments, for example:
- Grains Research and Development Corporation
- NSW Dept of Primary Industry
- South Australian No-Till Farmers Association
- Conservation Agriculture and No-till Farming Association
Farm forestry or 'agroforestry'
Plantations can have a wide range of benefits. They can provide shelter for stock, prevent wind and water erosion, conserve water resources, protect soil, reduce salinity and provide habitat for native plants and animals. Commercial products from plantations include timber and carbon. Some species, such as types of mallee, may be suitable for production of biofuels.
There are a number of ways for landholders to start forestry plantations on their land. In some states, landholders may be able rent their property to their state forestry agency who will manage the plantation. Landholders who wish to manage plantations themselves can go to information sources such as the Farm Forestry Toolbox.
Most states now regulate farm forestry through codes of practice and requirements to have sustainable property plans in place. Contact your state primary industry or natural resource department for information:
- Department of Primary Industry - Private Forestry, NSW
- Department of Primary Industries - Private forestry, Victoria
- Private Forests Tasmania
- Tax incentives to establish forests
There are some private companies with specific interests in farm forestry such as Smartimbers who process and market timber from the South Australian sugar gum Eucalyptus cladocalyx.
Biofuels may be part of our future transport fuel mix but are unlikely to be a total replacement for petroleum. Research into using crops such as canola and tallow has been done but so far there is no clear profitability.
There are potential benefits in terms of sustainable land management, with research exploring how growing crops for biofuels can be used to manage salinity as well as how woody weeds can be used for biofuel production. Growing crops for biofuels is unlikely to result in less water use and there would be further loss of biodiversity if we clear new land for biofuel crops.
If you have native vegetation on your property, you may be able to harvest seeds for native revegetation projects. There is information on collection, storage, marketing and a directory of services available at Florabank. A permit for seed collection may be required for some species, especially if they are rare or threatened. Collection on crown or other public land is regulated by state agencies and permits are usually required. Leasehold land may also be regulated - check with your state government environment protection agency.
Tourism is another business option for some farmers. This can take the form of farm stays, tours or specific recreational activities and can help close the gap between urban and rural dwellers. Markets include writers and artists, travellers, birdwatchers and sporting clubs. An initial starting point for information is Tourism Australia who provide a list of industry contacts and links to research. Industry associations such as Ecotourism Australia have online publications and a list of members.
Economic and environmental planning
Environmental management systems is a process to manage the impacts of an enterprise on the environment. It provides a structured approach to planning and implementing environment protection measures. It considers legal obligations, the existing and potential impacts, identifies improvements and outlines an action plan. There is a standard being developed for certification and some states have an incentive program for landholders.