As is so oft the case, it is far simpler to rage against the fence post, than to drive it’s point home. Perhaps this is why I have such difficulty building up the case for what should be such a simple concept, so please excuse my rambling prolougue as I whittle this post to its point.
We need to build a model of conservation for agricultural lands.
Globally, 1% of agricultural land is lost to urbanisation. A trend we see mirrored, even exceeded, in Australia.
Australia has an 80:20 split of urbanised to rural population spread. This is one of the highest per capita urbanisation rates in the world. A fact that is surprising as Australia prides itself on its rugged, rural image. Australia’s urban growth rate continues to grow at approximately 1.1% per year, and with it the metropolitan footprint into the outskirts of towns and cities.
Melbourne’s metropolitan footprint, as one example, shows an urban boundary extending up to 65 Kilometres from the CBD and spanning 80 kilometres across boundary to boundary.
The impact on the landscape is undeniable. Urban growth can be seen and traced throughout history as occurring along the banks of waterways and fertile soils, and this trend has not been modified by modern planners.
It is also a sad but apparent truth that urban developers have traditionally targeted rich and fertile lands to cater for the poetic image of the new home owner to have a home in a beautiful landscape and with easy care gardens. The ability of a housing developer to purchase acreage in an agricultural zone as a “land bank” and then successfully petition to modify the zoning to residential, allow them to sub-divide and convert the region may seem logical for economic and population growth by local and state governments, but fails to consider the overall impact.
In fact, more land and forestry has been lost to urban growth than to agricultural practices. This is a pattern that can be seen across the globe. In Australia, the pattern is not only being repeated along city fringes, but in regional areas as well.
Whilst I would normally be a proponent that a loss of land does not equate to a loss of agricultural production, it is not a statement that can continue to be made in Australia.
Local Government shires and councils are at best indifferent to intensive agricultural practices,and at worst, openly hostile towards them. Add public concern over so called factory farming, intensive fertiliser and pesticide use, animal rights activism and consumer pressure to have a romantic image to accompany their food – and the mix of land loss and aversion to any form of intensive agricultural practices creates a boiling pot of significant stress on the industry and the farmers to meet the growing global food scarcity.
Add to this pressure the number of lifestyle residents who enter a region and through a combination of ignorance or misinformation, place a major strain on the existing agricultural enterprises by complaints often based on aesthetic amenities rather than issues of operational process.
For many existing enterprises, this has meant restrictions placed on their operational enterprises – sometimes with severe financial repercussions. Meanwhile, some analysts have taken the unkind but seemingly logical view that an enterprise can “cash in” on its new found capital land value and shift to a new location.
Ignoring the cost of the infrastructure requirements that are unlikely to be recouped from the sale of a property, almost all of the “prime” agricultural parcels have been earmarked for urban development in the periurban regions and those still available in “Farming Zones”are priced beyond the ability of many family based businesses to purchase them. That’s all before we take into consideration land quality, utilities, services or climate suitability that the enterprise requires.
We must do a better job of supporting small and mid-sized agricultural properties. Whilst the Farming Zone land use classification has come some way to slowing down the suburban encroachment marching across the landscape, it still fails to implement any policy changes that aim to protect the practice and amenities of agriculture over those of a residential lifestyle.
Those who are involved with or wish to be involved with Agriculture find themselves facing a range of often conflicting goals: increase productivity, decrease intensity, promote food safety, build a healthy rural economy, protect the environment … all whilst being told that almost everything else has priority over their land and practices.
If we are serious about improving and our nation state’s health, then we need to invest in programs that support agriculture. We need to support diversified and intensive production systems.
Covenants on land use and policies that protect agricultural use over residential amenities are both actions that can be implemented at the shire level.
Perhaps if we want to ensure that we have an agricultural future to pass on to generations to come, we need to put in place an organisation that aims to save agricultural land through charitable donations and binding covenants. A Trust for Agriculture. I hope that we can influence local, state and federal government to start making the changes that are required to ensure such a future does not require such a form of intervention.
ADDENDUM: A new blog specifically set up to discuss and work space the issue of an Agricukltural trust is now available at agtrust.goodrockpark.com