Farmers are investing in our land care

I want to focus on the contribution of farmers to Landcare. Landcare in Australia has a long and successful history.

Our farmers know that they manage their land in trust for future generations. The farmers I know and work with, and have worked with for a lot of years, have an absolute commitment to protecting and improving their soils, water resources and air quality.

On a daily basis they are frontline environmental stewards. They are the private landholders who manage 61 per cent of Australia’s land, 21 per cent of which is held under freehold title and 42 per cent of which is leasehold. This is a total of nearly five million square kilometres.

The care of that land is under the management of private Australian citizens, most of it by farmers and pastoralists. We underestimate the size of the job they do. Australian farmers know that land has to be cared for if it is to maintain or improve its productivity.

They have a vested interest in protecting it. They also have to earn their livelihood from it, so they understand the need for sustainability.

According to the state Department of Agriculture and Food, agriculture, forestry and fishing contribute $40.7 billion, or three per cent, to Australia’s GDP. Moreover, it makes up 10 per cent of Australian exports, and it was the sector that kept us out of technical recession during the global financial crisis.

This vital industry knows that, to remain productive, healthy soils are paramount—and the cost of failing is dramatic on your property. Land and water degradation in Australia, excluding weeds and pests, is estimated to already cost our nation up to $3.5 billion a year.

Weed and pest costs are estimated to be at least as much again. A failure to act on land protection will see these impacts get totally out of control.

In the May 2003 budget the Howard government announced $122.2 million over three years for the National Landcare Program, and a review of Landcare funding that reported later that year.

That review found the Australian government funding under the National Landcare Program, and the Landcare component of the Natural Heritage Trust, had ‘served as a catalyst for major community investment on sustainable production and natural resource management’.

Most importantly, Landcare funding has been able to leverage significant private investment in caring for our precious natural resources. The review found that, for every Australian government dollar spent on Landcare projects under the program, private parties have made a corresponding investment of at least $2.60—great leveraging.

In 1999 an ABS survey indicated that landholders in Australia were ‘voluntarily investing’ $220 million a year in natural resource management and activities on their properties. That is completely overlooked. That voluntary investment continues to increase.

The ABS has identified that 94.3 per cent of Australian agricultural businesses reported undertaking NRM activities to prevent or manage weeds and pests and land and soils. Undertaking these activities cost almost $3 billion, or $21,094 per agricultural business, or $7,522 for each 1,000 hectares under management.

Farmers plant extensive amounts of trees. They fence off rivers. They restore wetlands. They are constantly focusing on water use and productivity efficiencies—even on water use efficiencies.

Now, without a doubt, the government’s investment in Landcare is substantially influencing landholders’ investments on their properties.

Landcare participants are more likely to invest their own funds on Landcare related practices, including managing and controlling animal pests and weeds; and fencing and tree and shrub establishment—and 75 per cent of broadacre and dairy farmers, and 50 per cent of all farmers, use Landcare groups as a source of information on farm management.

I want to acknowledge, in the time that is left to me, the extensive work that is carried out by farmers, and also the wonderful volunteers who help with the Landcare movement.

We see them out on a regular basis doing everything from planting trees to managing the riffles in the waterways.

They do an amazing job, and I think this country would be much poorer without them. We live in one of the driest and sparsest countries in the world, and the job that the volunteers and farmers do should not be overlooked. But I want to reinforce the private investment made by farmers on a daily basis into Landcare.