Government backbencher Russell Broadbent says failure to act on climate change could result in Australia losing billion-dollar agricultural export markets.
Mr Broadbent, who is the Liberal Member for Monash in Victoria’s Gippsland region, recently met with local farmers to observe their climate mitigation processes on farmland.
He then took to his personal Facebook page to offer his perspective on the encounter and the challenges climate change poses to Australian agriculture.
“Farmers are adapting their methods in response to the changing climate,” Mr Broadbent said.
“These farmers are stewards of the land and all the creatures which live there — they care about the environment.
“They fence off bushland, fence off creeks and dams, and plant thousands of trees to increase the productivity of the land and provide habitat for wildlife.
“This keeps the waterways clean and supports diversity in the soil microbes.
“Some of this is just good farming, and some a response to the warming climate.”
Across Australia, agriculture is ramping up moves to neutralise its carbon impacts, from carbon neutral farming in Western Australia and methane-reduction strategies in the Victorian dairy industry, to youth-driven urban farming in NSW and Queensland.
It comes in the face of increasing unease by the global community at Australia’s slow movement on carbon emissions reduction.
That could penalise Australia’s farming communities, even if agricultural bodies like the National Farmers Federation, Meat and Livestock Australia, Dairy Australia and Australian Pork — amongst others — research and implement less carbon intensive land practices.
“These farmers see a time when Australian agricultural exports will be rejected by other countries because of our low ambition on climate,” Mr Broadbent said.
“Our food exports bring in billions a year and a carbon tax at the borders of Europe and other countries will devastate this market.
“Australian agriculture is ready to transition to a net zero carbon emissions environment. We may well lose our markets if we don’t act.”
Environmental conservationists, farmers and politicians may seem unlikely allies.
But the growing international consensus on climate danger, rise of devastating weather events in Australia — from bushfires to mass flooding in the last two summers — and threats to international markets by carbon-based tariffs has created fertile ground for new collaborations.
Jo Wainer helped lead efforts by the Australian Conservation Foundation’s ‘Prom Area Climate Action’ community group to connect to farmers and elected members in the southern Gippsland region.
The progress by these groups has been significant, with plans to hold a climate solutions forum for community farmers by the end of the year, with Victorian farms like the ‘smart farm’ at Ellinbank providing a model for methane reduction and renewable energy for milk cooling systems.
“Russell (Broadbent) has been gracious in sharing his time … and we’ve asked him to work with us to set up a community forum for farmers to address climate change impacts,” Dr Wainer said.
“The farmers have talked with him about how climate is impacting their farming, how they are responding and how farming organisations are responding.
Gippsland farming communities are now looking to improve the way that sustainable farming practices are harnessed to increase land productivity and reduce climate impacts.
Measures include monitoring soil biology, improving water management and the creation and restoration of wildlife habitats while working the land.
Dr Wainer hopes these measures will be a ‘win-win’ that sees farmers grow their yield while helping achieve biodiversity outcomes.
“The habitat issue is really important because clearing the land for farming is one of the biggest problems for biodiversity,” Dr Wainer said.
“Farmers are putting aside up to 20% of their land for protecting existing or growing new vegetation.
“The ‘win-win’ there is that up to about 15–20% of your land, if you plant it with trees, bushes and vegetation improves productivity on the farm and provides a habitat for wildlife.”
Header photo: South Gippsland hills in morning mist. By Ian W. Fieggen, Wikipedia/Creative Commons.