Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Farm sustainability

Farm sustainability is a term which has been flung around with gay abandon for some years. It means different thing to different people and even farms which are certified organic need not necessarily have any more long-term sustainability than non-organic farms.

Landcare groups, particularly those associated with networks, have been scrambling for Federal cash from the Natural Heritage Trust and, more recently, the Caring For Our Country programme. The race to grab as much funding as possible has clouded thoughts about what the funding was supposed to be for. It was never to create jobs - it was expected to have beneficial environmental outcomes.

Now that lucrative funding stream has started to dry up, the networks (and other environmental groups) are squealing about their jobs. That's all it is. They've had little thought for sustainability or biodiversity conservation and their actions have had little impact. Their main concern has been about maintaining and increasing job opportunities. Some of the networks and groups have become big businesses with millions of dollars churning through every year – but virtually nothing to show for it.

A portion of the funding has been used for things like erosion control and planting native vegetation but there has been a relatively small return for the many hundreds of millions of dollars which has spent.

Has the money decreased the environmental footprint of many farms? The answer is no. Has the money halted the biodiversity decline in this country? Again the answer is no.

It's not possible to have an impact on these things when huge slabs of funding are swallowed up in increasing employment opportunities rather than being spent on-ground works carried out as part of a 'whole of landscape' plan.

There's a need to look at the way a farm and any business operates to determine overall sustainability. What are the inputs and where do they come from? If feed is trucked thousands of kilometres it will have a negative impact even if it is from a certified organic mill.

Here at Freeranger Eggs our biggest environmental issue is transport. We minimise our footprint by imposing a food miles policy (all our deliveries must be within one hour of the farm). The feed for our chooks comes from a Victorian mill – but there is still a significant transport element which we offset with the permanent protection of native vegetation on the farm. A large slab of the vegetation on the farm is protected by a Trust for Nature covenant so it can never be destroyed which makes the property an effective carbon sink and more than offsets our carbon footprint.
For more on sustainability have at a look at Friends of Bass Valley Bush Inc Landcare Group

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