To: Future Farms: Providing for Victoria’s Future Rural Land Use (Prepared by the Department of Planning and Community Development)

Made: June 2009

EFN represents farmers in Southeast Australia interested in sustainable farming in a social, environmental and economic sense. We represent mostly commercial farmers very concerned about the impact of climate change on farms, people and landscapes, loss of farm biodiversity and the impact of peri urban development on farming. We strongly support State and Federal Governments to develop market mechanisms that reward landholders providing ecosystem services such as retention and protection of biodiversity on farms.

General Comment: EFN is concerned that the continual encroachment into farm land of rural residential and urban subdivisions is having the following negative affects:

  • Imposing additional infrastructure costs on all levels of Government (roads, rail, schools, hospitals etc)
  • Increasing the area that cannot be effectively guarded against wildfires
  • Reducing the area of productive farm land that can generate ecosystem services such as food, oxygen, more resilient ecosystems, water catchment, etc
  • Impacting on biodiversity and water catchments (farm dams)
  • Increasing our total energy use and greenhouse gas emissions
  • Inflating land values making farming unviable
  • Restricting essential farming activities.

The Planning system is failing to manage this continual drift to peri urban and urban sprawl and reducing our ability to achieve the best use of our very limited natural resources.

Agricultural production is the backbone of Victoria’s business and the value and volume of agricultural exports from Victoria  is substantial. Any process that impacts on farmers ability to carry out their business should be examined closely to ensure that net economic, environmental and social gains eventuate.

Response to Questions:
What are the existing and future agricultural uses of land and what will their needs be?

We agree with the stated trends. Climate change and associated water availability is causing major regional land use changes eg cropping increasing in South West Victoria, dairying diminishing in Northern Victoria.

Hopefully there will be a continuing trend to payment for ecosystem services such as fixing carbon, improving water quality, protecting biodiversity etc so that these industries can compete with traditional agriculture such as cropping and grazing to produce food and fibre. We need a level playing field for all land based products so that land is used in the most efficient and environmentally friendly way. For example steep hills with low grazing rates and returns could be returned to biodiverse carbon sinks (forests) that provide a low input steady return to the landholder.

What are the existing and future non-agricultural uses of land and what will their needs be?

The assumption in this question is that providing ecosystem services is not an agricultural business and EFN believes this assumption is invalid. See comments above on agricultural uses.

EFN supports rural communities and other rural based industries but believes that rural towns and cities need to be contained in area to avoid the undesirable impacts of peri urban development we outlined at the start of our submission.

In Europe where farming has been conducted for thousands of years rural towns have clearly defined boundaries and productive agriculture is practiced up to the city walls. This is an ideal we should be aspiring to. It makes the provision of essential services such as sewerage, water, education, health, roads etc far more efficient to all users and causes minimal negative impact on agriculture.

What are the drivers of landuse change? Is the planning system able to address these changes?

Climate change and associated water security together with global terms of trade and infrastructure are major drivers of land use change

Another driver of change in the last decade has been Managed Investment Schemes fuelled by the federal government provided tax advantages for investors. This system has disadvantaged farmers and advantaged cashed up mostly urban investors and caused large scale inappropriate changed land use that is unsustainable or has no viable markets for its products. The planning system could address this type of issue by ensuring that large scale projects are checked for catchment impacts before they proceed. The onus should be on the “developer” to prove that the catchment and other land uses would not be unfairly economically or environmentally negatively impacted. For example large scale forestry affects water runoff rates and unfairly competes with traditional farm pursuits such as dairying if it is an MIS.

What do you want rural Victoria to look like in 10, 20 or 30 years?

See comment above on European landscapes. Vibrant rural towns contained in area so services such as roads, fire protection, water supply, sewerage and garbage disposal can be provided efficiently whilst allowing farming to proceed less hindered by urban sprawl.

Water purchases for environmental purposes or non agricultural purposes should be targeted to achieve protection of more viable irrigated areas where soils, salinity and industry structure are sustainable whilst encouraging decommissioning of areas where this is not the case.

Should specific areas be designated for particular agricultural activities or other rural land uses including amenity? If so how?

Any watering down of “Farming” Zones to cater for example tourism, intensive agriculture, or farm based value adding or produce sales should not be at the expense of farming activity in terms of  ability to conduct their business.

How will the planning system need to respond in order to achieve immediate, medium term and long term outcomes?

The planning system should recognise the role of regional catchment strategies which support sustainable agriculture based on sound principles such as matching land use with capability and protecting natural resources. When Regional Catchment Strategies are being renewed they should be structured in a way that they can be incorporated into Planning Schemes.

The planning system should not discourage diverse land use in Farming Zones.

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