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August 3, 2021

Farmers urge Baird govt to abandon biodiversity ‘reforms’

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Brookfarm is Australia’s leading producer of premium quality macadamia products and was founded in 1999 by Pam and Martin Brook, pictured.
Brookfarm’s Pam and Martin Brook, pictured, have joined forces with other farmers concerned that the Baird government’s proposed biodiversity law changes will ‘turbo-charge land clearing’. Photo contributed

Chris Dobney

A group of prominent farmers including Bangalow’s Pam Brook and Alstonville’s Michael Hogan have sounded the alarm over the state government’s planned rollback of native forest protection on private property, saying it will ‘turbo-charge land clearing and undermine Landcare’.

The nine farmers from across the state, who coincidentally were brought together by a documentary filmmaker, took it upon themselves to issue a Farmers Statement as a way of showing that progressive primary producers were alarmed at the government’s plans.

They say that the government policy, which was proposed by the National Party in consultation with the Farmers Federation, will only worsen erosion, degrade soil and water health and end up costing farmers more.

Other members of the group include two former Young Farmers if the Year, a former regional director for the NSW Department of Agriculture and CEO of Landcare, a number of graziers, the director of an organic marketing company and the chair of SoilCare.

The Farmers’ Statement urges the NSW Government to significantly alter the current draft Local Land Services Amendment Bill and Biodiversity Conservation Bill and commit to:

  • Set bold goals for improving native vegetation and farm sustainability.
  • Ensure that soil health, salinity and water quality are protected under the new laws.
  • Resource a new program to deliver agricultural and environmental support for farmers including through peer-to-peer education and mentoring.
  • Provide a significant increase in funds available for stewardship and private land conservation.

Pam Brook, a macadamia farmer and director of the highly successful food business Brookfarm, said that regeneration activities on her property at Bangalow had paid huge dividends in terms of pest control and enhanced soil carbon, without having to rely on artificial fertiliser and pest control.

‘For us, we’re looking at how we look after the land, the “new age” of farming – although it’s been around for over 20 years,’ she told Echonetdaily.

‘We believe that we have to leave the soil in a better place after we farm than before we farm – and all those farmers would fit in with that view: that we care for the land.

‘We look at how modern farming can improve the land, restore waterways that were once devastated by loss of trees, put carbon back into the soils and create rich soils rather than just extracting everything from them.

Ms Brook said that the National Party and the NSW Farmers Federation had a put together memorandum of understanding before the last NSW election ‘and the NSW Farmers had an agenda [that] the Nationals agreed to and now Baird is following through on that.’

But she said the Farmers Federation doesn’t represent all farmers.

‘I can [them] being frustrated at government red tape and those sort of things but there’s some things about which farmers need good advice and support to make their farms better.

‘And the approach that this bill takes will lead to a “flat earth” policy. Self-assessment is one of its key themes and ignorance is an excuse for land clearing.

‘It also opens up the road for developers and mining companies to clear land.

‘It’s not a bill that’s widely supported by the mass of farmers. The biggest money going behind this bill comes from mining and development groups.

Ms Brook said many farmers were ‘frustrated that they’re not supported on the land’ but added ‘it’s the wrong bill, it’s going to lead to the wrong sort of farming.’

‘It doesn’t give farmers any support to get really great soil and environmental advice for their farm readily and it actually increases the bureaucratic red tape,’ she said.

‘And it will lead to more land clearing, which is the last thing we need, rather than regenerating and restoring our farms.’

Ms Brook said that on her own property the reintroduction of native rainforest had led to a reduction in the need for pesticides.

‘Rainforest regeneration was an early passion of ours and we’ve evolved with the macadamia industry.

‘In the early days we used to spray for everything. One of the things we’ve discovered with the rainforest is that it’s a great source of predator bugs and insects that provide a rich balance for our macadamia orchards.

‘So now we have a great source of bugs on our farm, which really enhances our farm, we have great pollination from native rainforest bees and the insects that live in our rainforest. And the macadamia is originally a rainforest tree so it’s an ideal accompaniment.’

Alstonville avocado farmer Michael Hogan said in a statement, ‘Any stock and station agent will tell you that a well-treed property will attract a higher price than a cleared farm. While farmers should be able to clear regrowth and woody weeds without too much red tape, the proposed changes go way too far.’

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