Sustainable farm practices

Over sixty per cent of Australia's landscapes are privately owned or leased for agricultural production. The practices adopted by land managers of these landscapes can contribute to environmental sustainability, and further improve the long-term security of food and fibre production.

Equally, the long-term viability and health of our natural resources is critical to maintaining and building the productive capacity of Australia's agricultural and fisheries industries.

The following statements outline what we consider to be ambitious but achievable outcomes for the first five years of Caring for our Country.

By 2013, Caring for our Country will:

  • Assist at least 30 per cent of farmers to increase their uptake of sustainable farm and land management practices that deliver improved ecosystem services.
  • Increase the number of farmers who adopt stewardship, covenanting, property management plans or other arrangements to improve the environment both on-farm and off-farm.
  • Improve the knowledge, skills and engagement of at least 30 per cent of land managers and farmers in managing our natural resources and the environment.

These outcome statements help determine our priorities for investing Caring for our Country funds and help us make decisions about the most efficient way of taking action.

Targets for the sustainable practices outcomes

Caring for our Country business plans specify targets for each outcome.

Caring for our Country's Sustainable Practices targets are:

  1. Improving management practices: An additional 42 000 farmers (including aquaculture farmers) have improved their management practices to reduce the risk of soil acidification, soil loss through wind and water erosion and increase the carbon content of soils or improve water quality (aquaculture only) by 2013. Improved management practices have been applied to an additional 70 million hectares of land under cropping, horticulture, and grazing (including dairy). To increase by 250, commercial fishers who have improved practices by 2013 to optimise sustainability.
  2. Landscape scale conservation: Increase by 6700, farmers adopting activities by 2013 that contribute to the ongoing conservation and protection of biodiversity.
  3. Improving knowledge and skills: To increase by 42 000, land managers, farmers and fishers by 2013 who have demonstrated an improvement in knowledge and skills in natural resource management.

How will we know if we are meeting these outcomes?

Caring for our Country is funding projects under the sustainable practice outcomes, as outlined above, to improve land management practices on farm. These projects provide information to farmers in the broadacre cropping, dairy, horticulture and beef cattle/sheep industries about land management practices that will help improve soil condition and biodiversity management while providing high quality ecosystem services to the broader community.

On farm practice change is being monitored using the biennial Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS), which surveys 33 000 of Australia’s 135 000 agricultural businesses. Results are reported at the national, state and natural resource management (NRM) region levels. Data from the ABS 1995–96, 2000–01 and 2010–11 agricultural censuses (which surveyed all agricultural businesses) have been used with data from the 2007–08 and 2009–10 ARMS to track trends in practice change.

A set of fact sheets have been published, based on ARMS and other data sets, to show trends in practice change at the national and state/territory levels, and for NRM regions across the states/territories. The national results demonstrate that good progress is being made; tillage and stubble retention practices adopted by broadacre cropping businesses, and groundcover management methods used by many horticultural businesses will reduce the risk of wind and water erosion. Beef cattle/sheep and dairy farmers are more aware of the need to maintain ground cover, and more farmers are reporting that native vegetation and wetlands are being protected. More work is needed to manage soils at risk of acidification.

National fact sheets have been released for the 4 key industry sectors identified above and for on-farm management of biodiversity. A full series of fact sheets is also available for all States and Territories and their NRM regions.