If you’re in the 85% of Australians who live in metropolitan areas, chances are you don’t have much to do with farming

Fruit and veg magically appear on our supermarket shelves, and the biggest thing most of us take notice of is the price tag. When it’s so easy to buy and that’s the way the world works, why should we really care about where our food comes from? Here’s the thing; the way our food is produced has major flow-on impacts far beyond our stomachs.

So, here’s 5 reasons you should care about how your food is grown:

1. If you care about nature, you should care about how your food is grown.

Farmers manage 55% of Australia’s landmass. That’s a huge swathe of land with birds, animals, insects, soil, trees, shrubs, and waterways that feed into our biodiverse nation. Otherwise known as ‘natural capital’ healthy nature on farmland provides benefits to all of us through cleaning the air we breathe and the water we drink, through sequestering carbon and helping to regulate our climate, and even providing buffers against floods and other natural hazards. But poorly managed farmland can have devastating impacts on nature. For example, agriculture – specifically, for livestock - is the leading cause of deforestation in Australia, outstripping housing development and the logging industry. This contributes to our ongoing extinction crisis which places Australia an unenviable 4th in the world for species loss, with beloved creatures like our koala, regent honey eater and spotted quoll now critically endangered. Deforestation also exacerbates climate change, affects local temperature and rainfall, degrades soils, increases pollution in freshwater streams and marine environments like the Great Barrier Reef, harms pollinators like native bees, and worsens the impact of invasive predators like cats and foxes. But it doesn’t have to be this way – with good land management farming can support our megadiverse nation and help us increase our natural capital and the invaluable ecosystem services it provides.

Regent Honeyeater

A critically endangered regent honeyeater

2. If you care about climate change, you should care about how your food is grown.

Farming contributes between 14-16% of Australia’s national greenhouse gas emissions. That’s almost as much as transport, which accounts for 21% of emissions. Our emissions from agriculture is higher than the global average and is expected to grow to 20% within the next decade. The majority of this is attributed to livestock, deforestation, and fertiliser use. Farmers have a huge opportunity to help Australia reach its emissions reduction targets through implementation of innovative agricultural practices which both sequester carbon and reduce emissions at their source. 

3. If you care about your health, you should care about how your food is grown.

The way food is grown affects its nutritional content, and in turn, could affect our health. Industrial agriculture is heavily reliant on synthetic inputs like fossil-fuel based fertilisers, pesticides, and herbicides. These inputs can support higher yields in the short term but deplete the soil of nutrients which support soil health and long-term sustainability, and leave pesticide residues on the food we buy. It can also result in food with lower nutrients. For example, high use of nitrogen fertilisers can reduce the vitamin C content of fruit and vegetables; and common pesticides and other chemicals have proven links to diseases like cancers and Parkinsons. Beyond this, the microorganisms in soil affect the health of our gut microbiome, which supports essential functions ranging from digestion through to immunity. Regenerative (practices emphasising soil health and lower chemical use) and organic farming have been shown to increase nutrient levels in both plants and animals. A comparison of beef production methods found that regeneratively raised beef had triple the amount of omega-3 fatty acids, and a similar plant-based study found double to quadruple the amount of antioxidants in regeneratively grown vegetables compared to traditional.

4. If you care about a thriving Australian economy (and your back pocket), you should care about how your food is grown.

Agriculture accounted for 11.6% of Australia’s exports in 2021-22, equating to around $93 billion. The industry employs over 200,000 people, with the flow on effects of those wages supporting regional communities across the country. Farming is already one of the most exposed industries to the impacts of changing weather patterns such as droughts, which result in lower yields and lower profit. These impacts will be further magnified by climate change and nature destruction in coming years, putting Australia’s economic prosperity – and food security – at risk if not managed soundly. By 2061, impacts of climate change are projected to result in annual agricultural production losses of between $750 million and $1.5 billion. But this doesn’t just hit Australia’s GDP. A decrease in the amount of food produced often means the cost of food at the checkout will become higher, contributing to inflation. While some of these climate-related impacts cannot be avoided, there are ways of producing food which make crops and land more resilient to extreme weather.

Regenerative organic farmer

A regenerative organic farmer

5. If you care about ending hunger and feeding growing future populations, you should care about how your food is grown.

Having food on the dinner table is something we take for granted in Australia, with almost one in ten people around the world without enough to eat. Australia’s hunger figure is much lower than this, but we have a responsibility to help our global neighbours reach the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger by 2030.

Luckily, Australia produces far more than we need – in fact, we export around 72% of all agricultural commodities. This means we have a huge opportunity to help support global food security whilst positioning ourselves as leaders in sustainable agriculture. But here’s the thing: the global population is expected to grow by 2 billion people by 2050. That places a massive strain on our existing food system already breaching sustainable limits (our ‘planetary boundaries’). This means we must be smart about the way we produce food to ensure there’s enough healthy land, soil, water and inputs available to grow what we need, whilst also ensuring nature and biodiversity are in a better place than they are now. The only way we can continue to support global food security is by working with nature not against it. The survival and wellbeing of future generations depends on it!

I do care - now what?

There’s significant work to be done to reach a sustainable food system balancing the needs of today with those of future generations. ACF is working to elevate these issues and shine a light on the biggest players with power to leverage change. A food system that is good for people, nature and climate is possible and our big supermarkets, fast food outlets and banks must help to create it.

Learn more about ACF’s work to fix our broken food system.

Bonnie Graham