Should farmers be allowed to self regulate?

Following the Live Export (LiveEX) ban, the agriculture sector in Australia was re-awakened to the importance of building close working relationships and partnerships of mutual respect with government, the community and corporate sector and NGO’s.  All of which will have individuals or cohorts of individuals who may or may not view the agriculture sector favourably.

It is also recognised that to maintain those relationships and partnerships is going to take a great deal of commitment and diplomacy and transparency. To help achieve this, farmers are widely  encouraged to become advocates for their industries and the farming sector as a whole.


Image source

Effective advocacy delivers two vital roles for farming communities.  The first one is maintaining social licence and the second one is attracting people to careers in the sector.

Supporting advocacy requires time and money.   Time to do it and money to provide the access to experts, training, tools,knowledge, mentors and vehicles that ensure the identified advocates can reach their audience in a way that resonates positively with that audience. In agriculture’s case that audience is everyone (government, the community and NGO’s and the corporate sector)

Social licence is a term unfamiliar to most farmers. I hadn’t heard of it myself until I attended a series of workshops given by Charlie Arnot .

We are very lucky in Australia that the majority of the community have a great deal of respect for farmers and trust them and whilst we (farmers) may think differently, the community has allowed us in the main to self regulate and given us a very generous social licence compared to other professions and sectors.

One area that howeve is quite heavily regulated in agriculture in NSW is biodiversity conservation and native vegetation management and that legislation is currently under review in NSW

Farmers see themselves as custodians of the land and the animals under their care. Like raising children, taking care of animals is intuitive for most people and most people can be trusted to do it well without the need to legislate

Biodiversity conservation and native vegetation management is a very different thing and requires skills and knowledge that are learned. Farmers are experts in production landscapes and natural resources management (NRM) professionals are experts in native landscapes.  To get the best outcomes for food production and maintaining the landscape that sustains us requires a close working relationship between the two and Landcare has certainly been the ground-breaking best practice model to help achieve this.

Farmers know we made a lot of mistakes in the past as this extract from a Landline story  reminds us

European farming methods blamed for soil degradation
Reporter: Maria Taylor
First Published: 9/04/00

Soil degradation in Australia and across the globe is right at the top of serious environmental problems.

It costs Australian farmers $2.5 billion a year in lost production and nobody has even calculated off-farm costs such as salt-polluted rivers or loss of bio-diversity or wildlife habitat.

“Scientists are documenting alarming levels of salinity, soil acidification, wind and water erosion, soil structural decline and loss of fertility, waterlogging, sodicity, non-wetting soils and so on,” scientist Anna Ridley said.

Most of these problems arise from the mismatch between Australian soils, water balance and climate and the traditional European farming and grazing methods.

Australia has achieved amazing agricultural success with methods that worked well in Europe and North America. But along the way farmers ignored the limitations of Australian soils and climate and didn’t appreciate the value of native ecosystems.

Dr Ridley said farmers are learning they may be paying a big price for the vegetation clearance and other dramatic changes that have been made to the landscape.

“After close to 200 years of farming in some areas and as little as 30 years in others, we are seeing a lot of warning signs that all is not well with the soil and water that underpin our agricultural success,” Dr Ridley said.

Farmers who genuinely want the best outcomes for the land that they are custodians of know  best practice biodiversity conservation and native vegetation management is vital


They also know its very time consuming and resource intensive and nothing happens overnight.

Farmers also know that returns in agriculture are highly variable and we often have to make choices we don’t want to. Choices that involve decisions on where those limited returns are spent. In some years far too many farmers find themselves just struggling to feed their families. From memory I think the statistics say that only 10% of farmers run consistently profitable businesses.

We cannot do without agriculture, but the industry must be profitable. By contrast, protecting biodiversity is unlikely to be profit-driven. Can the two ventures be compatible? Source

Australian farmers look after up to 80% of the Australian landscape. But less that 6% of Australia is suitable for crop production. So farmers provide a huge public service and at times ( depending on the government of the time) public good money is used to help farmers conserve biodiversity and manage natural resources.

Our natural resource management mistakes of the past led to extensive regulation and legislation and yes some of it is onerous and not very effective and the review is a good thing

Whilst we are all loathe to admit it legislation and rules and regulation are often put in place to protect us from ourselves.  Farmers have made so many wonderful gains during the 25 years of Landcare. The review gives us the chance to ensure we can continue to do this. It is so important that we do not naively find ourselves being punished for the mistakes of the past by suggesting that we no longer need rules and regulations for managing the landscape.

‘It is critical that all Australians see farmers as part of the solution, not the problem’.

I personally think it would be a folly to go back to a self regulated ethos for natural resource management.  What I believe we need are rules and regulations that are workable. What we need is the necessary resourcing and support networks and access to expertise for our farmers. The review gives us the chance to get it right. I have my fingers crossed we do

Further Reading

This article is from The Conversation – Biodiversity and Farming – Finding Ways to Co-exist 

The UWA Future Farm 2050 Project

Future-proofing Australasia’s unique native animals

Farmers and Mother Nature working in harmony

Great news about farmers and environmentalists partnerships here


The opinions expressed in this blog are mine based on my personal experiences




Author: Lynne Strong

I am a 6th generation farmer who loves surrounding myself with optimistic, courageous people who believe in inclusion, diversity and equality and embrace the power of collaboration. I am the founder of Picture You in Agriculture. Our team design and deliver programs that inspire pride in Australian agriculture and support young people to thrive in business and life

8 thoughts on “Should farmers be allowed to self regulate?”

  1. Interesting points you raise, Lynne. While NRM experts may have a fabulous breadth of knowledge, nobody knows the farmland like the farmer.

    I’ve found that some of the non-negotiable funding scheme parameters are truly inappropriate for our farm and, in fact, counterproductive.

    For example, once scheme mandated at least three hot wires to protect new plantations. On a flood plain, that doesn’t make sense. Flooded fences with many hot wires fall victim to debris very quickly and the lowest hot wire is almost invariably shorted out by spring pastures. Our dairy farm is almost entirely fenced with just one hot wire and the cows respect those fences.

    It’s all about balance. A little regulation of the basics is a good thing but too much regulation is a disaster.

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