Sustainable farming and Market Instruments

Project Update

An ARC Discovery project investigating the uptake of instruments for improved land management has found that while Queensland beef producers were willing to participate in schemes that offered payment for environmental services, a lack of support for paperwork held them back from participating in such schemes. Getting help with the paperwork also improved their trust in government agencies and environmental initiatives.

It also found that in the dairy industry, uptake of a voluntary self-assessment tool called DairySAT which incorporates greenhouse gas (GHG)emissions abatement as part of a broader suite of voluntary environmental best management practices, forms a potentially crucial – yet previously unacknowledged – dimension of managing GHG emissions.

Dairy calves

Dairy calves

The Sustainable Farming in Australia: Market Instruments for Improved Land Management (2010-2013) project was a collaborative project with the final report submitted in March this year. Chief investigator for the project was the Institute’s Associate Director A/Prof Vaughan Higgins.  Other researchers involved were Professor Chris Cocklin, James Cook University; Dr Clive Potter, Imperial College, London, and Dr Jacqui Dibden, the project’s manager, Monash University.

The project investigated how Australian farming industries are responding to demands for more sustainable production practices. Through the analysis of Australian and international policy documents, as well as detailed case studies of two industries – dairy and beef – the research examined the implementation of market-based and voluntary strategies which assist farmers in managing the competing demands of farm viability and sustainable land management practices.  These strategies include industry codes of practice, environmental management systems, environmental certification, and payments to farmers for the provision of ecosystem services.

It found that landholder participation in incentive schemes was dependent on the scheme design, links with other government programs and regulations, landholders’ existing practices and objectives, and in the case of the dairy industry, support from processors.

Beef Industry

The case study for the beef industry was focussed on North East Queensland, mainly in the Burdekin catchment around Townsville.
Through in-depth interviews with 14 beef graziers as well as 19 stakeholders from government agencies and producer organisations, the North East Queensland case study found that getting help to fill out the paperwork required as part of funding applications improved beef producers’ trust in government agencies and environmental initiatives.

“Providing this support improved producer participation in schemes such as NatureAssist and Reef Rescue, which aim to protect land of high conservation value and improve the quality of water flowing into the Great Barrier Reef,” said A/Prof Higgins.

NatureAssist and Reef Rescue have provided funding to graziers to regenerate pastures, and to fence off waterways and improve control of erosion and cattle movement. Interviewees believed this work would have been less of a priority if government funding had not been available.

Dairy Industry

The case study for the dairy industry focussed on Gippsland in Victoria with the main source of information from existing policy documents and reports as well as 10 in-depth interviews with stakeholders in the dairy industry, including government agencies, dairy organisations, and dairy companies and co-operatives.

Of particular interest was one of the instruments the industry uses called DairySAT.  This self-assessment tool introduced in the early 2000s, is used by dairy farmers to assess their environmental performance against industry expectations regarding various environmental management practices including greenhouse gas emissions.

One question the researchers examined was whether or not there were sufficient incentives for dairy companies and farmers to take up DairySAT, a voluntary tool.

“It was initially assumed by Dairy Australia that the dairy companies would roll out DairySAT to their farmer suppliers, but in actual fact it was regional Natural Resource Management agencies i.e. the Catchment Management Authorities who ran workshops introducing the tool to farmers” said A/Prof Higgins. “It was only later that the dairy companies became interested.”

He said that thus far there had been limited uptake of DairySAT by dairy companies.

About ilwscsu
The Institute for Land, Water and Society is one of four Centres of Research Excellence within Charles Sturt University, Australia. Its principal focus is on integrated research which contributes to improved social and environmental sustainability in rural and regional areas.

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