We rely on food to survive and thrive.

But many of our historic approaches to agriculture have been a major contributor to nature destruction and climate change.

Sixth-generation farmer, Paul Dettmann, has spent 25 years working towards a more sustainable future for agriculture and biodiversity.

Paul’s family have been sheep farmers since the late 1840s, but it was a master's degree, which focused on the value of nature to farmers, that set Paul on a new path.

“I did the master's and was captivated by the biodiversity story and how it fits into the agricultural landscape. All landscapes that provide agricultural services can also provide nature services,” Paul said.

Paul is hugely passionate about the intrinsic value of biodiversity in farming and more broadly.

“Nature does so many things that we take for granted – providing clean water, clean air and the ecological basis for all food and fibre production."

"It’s self-evident that we’re part of the system, not the whole system, and we need to protect the nature around us.”

Farmer Paul Dettmann

Sixth-generation farmer Paul Dettmann believes in a sustainable future.

Consumer demand for sustainable farming practices is also growing, pressuring to landholders to make the shift.

“There’s a part of the market for whom that [sustainable farming practices] is really important and I think that’s growing. We’re also seeing financial institutions leaning into the pressure they’re feeling from shareholders and consumers,” Paul said.

Fellow farmer, Marty McKenna believes more support is needed to increase sustainable practices and stop deforestation on properties.

“I think land clearing is still happening purely because of money, and the environment has come at the cost of that thinking for a while."

For Paul, enforcing legislation and empowering land holders could help with the issue.

“I think one reason is that the government doesn’t necessarily follow through on what legislation says is legal and illegal, so some farmers get away with it," he said.

“I also think as a society we need to grapple with the fact that we’ve empowered landholders to manage large areas of the country, but we haven’t necessarily given them the resources to do that. I think it’s going to be an important part of the future to think about. How do we take account for what good management is?”

Sheep on farm

Paul believes farmers will play a crucial role in protecting the rich biodiversity of our beautiful big backyard.

“I think there will be a way [that] farmers become recognised not just as food producers and fibre producers, but as stewards of this incredible legacy of biodiversity that Australia is and that farmers manage most of,” he said.

“There is definitely a growing realisation amongst farmers of the intrinsic value of biodiversity.”

Marty agrees.

“I hope to continue to correct the balance a bit between farming and protecting the environment, because I think it can go hand in hand,” Marty said.

Farmer Marty McKenna

Farmer Marty McKenna believes in a balance between farming and nature.

Both Paul and Marty seem positive about the future relationship between agriculture and farming, and for Paul, he is already playing an active role in building this future.

“I’m a sixth-generation farmer working on the same country, on the same farm, but I’m not really a farmer now. That masters’ degree I did has taken me into a difference space. I’m basically a business owner of a company that seeks to make that transition for country from predominantly or exclusively agriculture to a mixture of agriculture and conservation,” Paul said.

“So as a farmer conservationist who is part of this transition, I feel like we’re learning on behalf of a lot of other future farmers to bring these two worlds together. Not just understand them but build a business model.”

Farmer Paul Dettmann on his farm

Paul and Marty are two farmers working hard to create a future where farming and nature work together.

There is a long journey ahead, but Paul is hopeful.

“There’s a lot of reasons to be doubtful about a beautiful future, but there’s a lot of reasons to hope as well,” said Paul.

At ACF, we have a bold vision for a thriving, sustainable, and adaptive Australian agriculture industry which nurtures landscapes, supports communities and rewards farmers engaging in best-practice stewardship. Farmers like Paul and Marty give us real hope for that future.

Learn more about our business and biodiversity campaigns.

Australian Conservation Foundation