Program 1.2: Sustainable management - natural resources

​​​​​​Program objectives

  • strengthen the capacity for primary producers to use sustainable natural resource management practices in a changing climate
  • strengthen the national approach to weed and pest animal management and research.

Program description

The department provided policy advice and managed programs aimed at sustainable agricultural production. We also worked with other agencies and stakeholders to support national approaches to environmental and natural resource management issues, including sustainable agriculture, soil, water and native vegetation policies.

Caring for our Country, the key initiative managed under this program, was launched in July 2008 to achieve an environment that is healthier, better protected, well-managed and resilient, and that provides essential ecosystem services in a changing climate.

More information about Caring for our Country.

We delivered the Australian Government’s support to Landcare, which undertakes community-based projects across Australia to raise awareness of sustainable land management practices.

The department also worked through ABARES with CSIRO and state and territory agencies to develop scientific and economic information about natural resource management. This information builds awareness and understanding of natural resource management issues and assists to develop cost-effective solutions to priority natural resources issues.

Key performance indicators

Table 3 Program 1.2—Sustainable management—natural resources—key performance indicators
Key performance indicator 2012–13 target Performance
2012–13 2011–12 2010–11
Effective design and implementation of the next phase of the Caring for our Country program to help create a better managed and more resilient environment providing essential ecosystem services Stakeholders engaged in program design a Met
Support the national network of 56 Regional Landcare Facilitators to enable delivery of information and advice to Landcare groups and farmers 100% of milestones met a Met
Support the Australian Landcare Council to provide advice on natural resource management and Landcare Four meetings a Met
Effective implementation of the government response to final review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 More streamlined delivery of regulation a Partially met
Develop an effective cross-sector research, development and extension strategy on soils Stakeholders engaged in draft strategy a Met
Improve the quality and extent of national data on soils and land management practices Implement data improvements a Partially met
Increase the number of land managers, primary producers and fishers who have improved their knowledge and skills in natural resource management and adoption of sustainable management practices >8400 farmers b Expected to be met c Met Met
Increase the number of primary producers who have adopted activities that contribute to the conservation and protection of biodiversity >1675 farmers b Expected to be met c Met Met
Further increase the number of hectares of land that are under cropping, horticulture and grazing with improved practices >23 500 hectares b Expected to be met c Met Met
Increase the number of commercial fishers who have improved practices to optimise sustainability >85 fishers b Expected to be met c Not met Not met
Provide best practice governance training for regional natural resource management (NRM) bodies to increase their capacity to deliver Caring for our Country outcomes Training and assessment provided across 85% of NRM regions a Met
Allocate and deliver funds for Caring for our Country and Landcare 100% a Met
Scientific and economic research
Underpinning research, advice, forecasts, projects, products and data services are delivered on time, within budget and are of high quality 85% a Met

aNew performance indicator. bThis indicator was changed in 2012–13 to be more than the previous target. cThe Caring for our Country 2012–13 Report Card is expected to be finalised in October 2013.

Achievements

Caring for our Country

Preparing Phase 2

In March 2013, the minister announced the strategic directions for the new Sustainable Agriculture stream of Caring for our Country, to commence from July 2013. Phase 2 of Caring for our Country was the result of a comprehensive consultation process that included a national forum, more than 50 meetings in states and territories, online discussions, videos, polls and written submissions on a range of discussion papers.

We completed the final year of Phase 1 with more than $2.1 billion in funding. This was the culmination of five years of investment to assist natural resource management (NRM) groups, industry, community groups, Indigenous communities and landholders to protect and conserve our natural resources.

Supporting sustainable farming

During the year we approved 31 projects targeting sustainable farm practices. These aimed to deliver adoption of improved practices by more than 29 000 farmers over more than 5 million hectares and by more than 1500 fishers.

We also engaged NRM groups, industry, research and development corporations and state and territory governments to develop the new Innovation Grants Program, which was launched in June 2013. The program was designed to provide grants of up to $1.5 million for projects promoting the uptake of new practices and new technology, as well as institutional and market-based approaches that increase the adoption of sustainable production practices.

Building community skills

We approved Community Action Grants worth more than $2.4 million to help 140 groups conserve and protect their natural environment and support sustainable farming. Funding of $5.9 million was also provided for 50 new projects to build the capacity of farmers to adopt land management practices to improve soil condition and on-farm biodiversity conservation.

In May 2013, funding of more than $10.7 million was made available under the new Community Landcare Grants program. The program was designed to provide grants from $5000 to $50 000 for 242 projects that contribute to the new Sustainable Agriculture stream’s outcomes.

Supporting regional natural resource management

From 2013–14, investment in Australia’s natural resource management will provide regional NRM organisations with funding that allows these organisations to continue to carry out their work to make a real difference to our agricultural landscape and environment.

Reef rescue

We worked with the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPAC), Queensland Government agencies and other stakeholders to develop a renewed reef rescue program. We will continue to support activities to improve the quality of water entering the Great Barrier Reef, by helping agricultural land managers across the reef catchment adopt improved land management practices to reduce the discharge of nutrients, sediments and pesticides.

Landcare

Facilitating Landcare

Regional Landcare Facilitators in each of the natural resource management regions have supported more than 50 000 farmers and land managers to improve their knowledge and skills in managing our natural resources and the environment. Facilitators have also played an important role in communicating the Carbon Farming Initiative (see Program 1.1).

An evaluation of the Regional Land​care Facilitator initiative found it has led to improved servicing of Landcare and other regional community needs. Landcare stakeholders endorsed the continuation of the role.

With support from the Australian Government, the National Landcare Facilitator conducted a survey in 2012 to investigate the health of the Landcare movement. The survey found that the movement is firmly embedded in the culture of Australian farming, with 93 per cent of farmers saying they used Landcare practices on their farms and 73 per cent feeling they are part of the Landcare movement.

Australian Landcare Council

In 2012, the Australian Landcare Council commissioned a project to study the benefits of Landcare and natural resource management. The council hopes a strong case will emerge for increased co-investment in the Landcare program and natural resource management and greater collaboration across government and the community.

The council also commissioned research to investigate the successes and barriers to Indigenous land management. This work recognises that investment in Indigenous land management contributes to the Closing the Gap initiative on the health and socio-economic status of Indigenous communities, and also contributes to the capacity of Landcare. The report was launched at the inaugural World Indigenous Network conference in Darwin in May 2013.

A highlight for the council during the year was the launch of the Community Call for Action. This is the implementation guide for the Australian Framework for Landcare, which outlines key strategies to strengthen the Landcare approach, and encourages stakeholders to publicly announce their commitment and plans for action to support Landcare.

Former Prime Minister the Hon. Bob Hawke AC (left) with Ms Lynne Strong and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator the Hon. Joe Ludwig 

Commitment to Landcare: The inaugural Bob Hawke Landcare Award was presented to New South Wales farmer Lynne Strong at the National Landcare Conference in September 2012. The award recognises an individual who has demonstrated a remarkable commitment to caring for the land and sharing their knowledge for the benefit of others. Ms Strong’s dairy farm at Jamberoo produces six times the industry average of milk per hectare, showing that sustainable agricultural practices can also be highly productive, profitable and efficient.

Former Prime Minister the Hon. Bob Hawke AC (left) with Ms Lynne Strong and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator the Hon. Joe Ludwig.

Photo: DAFF

Supporting national approaches

Building soil health

We provided policy and secretariat support to the parliamentary Working Group on Water, Soil and Food. The working group’s final report in September 2012 emphasised the importance of raising awareness of the role soil plays in meeting national and global challenges.

In October 2012, the former Governor-General, Major General the Hon. Michael Jeffery AC AO (Mil) CVO MC (Retd), was appointed as Australia’s Advocate for Soil Health to the end of 2013.

We provided support to the advocate, including visits to soil projects and community forums across Australia. The department also supported an expert advisory panel to provide technical advice to the advocate and a consultative group, which provided input into the development of soil research and development priorities. We also assisted the advocate to prepare his interim report to the minister. More information is available at advocate for soil health.

ABARES also updated national information on ground cover monitoring for Australia, supporting policies and programs on managing soil erosion.

Australian Collaborative Land Evaluation Program

We provided funding to CSIRO to improve access to Australian soils data held in the Australian Soil Resource Information System. This included developing an iPad application to provide timely access to soils data. The funding also enabled CSIRO to increase the number of soil samples held in the National Soil Archive and to prepare a report on improving phosphorus management in Australian cropping soils. The department’s target for its key performance indicator to improve the quality and extent of national data on soils and land management practices was ‘partially met’ in 2012–13, as there are limited departmental resources to invest in further soil information.

Delivering the Native Vegetation Framework and Biodiversity Strategy

Australia’s Native Vegetation Framework was released in December 2012 and endorsed by all jurisdictions. DSEWPAC is coordinating reporting on implementation of the framework and Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010–2030, including agriculture, fisheries and forestry activities to manage vegetation and biodiversity. DAFF participated in the development of the strategy.

Environmental law reform

DSEWPAC progressed reforms to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. During the year, it began implementing non-legislative aspects of the reforms, including a greater emphasis on strategic approaches to assessments. DAFF has contributed to the strategic assessments and participates in an interdepartmental committee that allows us to raise any issues affecting our stakeholders. The department’s target for this key performance indicator was ‘partially met’ in 2012–13, as the response has not yet been fully implemented.

Managing weeds and pests

Initiatives supporting the strategic management of weeds and pest animals through Caring for our Country, received funding of more than $195 million provided under Phase 1 to the end of 2012–13.

During the year, we provided a further $2 million for projects under the Australian Weeds Strategy, including support for national coordinators. We also worked with the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre to provide more effective rabbit biocontrol and continued support for the Tasmanian Fox Eradication Program.

The Australian Pest Animal​ Research Program, administered by ABARES, concluded on 30 June 2013. Over five years, the program funded 38 pest animal research projects worth around $3.5 million. The program’s achievements included developing and extending current knowledge of pest animals, producing guidelines and extension information for best practice and integrated strategic approaches to pest animal management and control in Australia, and enhancing knowledge, skills and capacity of land managers about pest animals and their impacts.

Work continued to reduce the impact of feral camels on environmental assets, pastoral businesses and remote Indigenous communities. Subject to continuing favourable weather conditions, the Feral ​Camel Management Project, managed by Ninti One, estimates that at the end of the project camel density will be at or below target levels in approximately half of the 18 priority areas and significantly reduced in remaining areas.

Scientific and economic research

In November 2012, ABARES published a report on native vegetation management on agricultural land. The aim of the project was to understand the drivers and barriers to native vegetation management and attitudes toward existing policy and programs. This work informed the development of the Native Vegetation Framework (see above) and will assist policy-makers and the broader agriculture community to understand the role of farmers in managing native vegetation in the future.

Challenges

Caring for our Country

Phase 1 of Caring for our Country was a joint initiative with DSEWPAC, formalised through a memorandum of understanding. Phase 2 was designed to be delivered through two streams: Sustainable Agriculture, managed by DAFF; and Sustainable Environment, managed by DSEWPAC.

There is a strong commitment from DAFF and DSEWPAC to continue working together as the government invests in Australia’s natural resource management.

Landcare

A significant challenge for Landcare and other community natural resource management groups is the increasing average age of their members. The 2011 Landcare Volunteering Survey Report found the average age of Landcare volunteers is 50.

Landcare is also facing social change among volunteers in the broader community. Volunteering Australia reports that people aged 35–44 and 65–74 are more likely to volunteer than those in other age groups, while Australians want meaningful roles and greater flexibility in how and when they volunteer.

To help Landcare meet changing trends, Caring for our Country has offered assistance to increase community skills, knowledge and engagement. During the year, we funded the In Safe Hands project, which offers work health and safety training to Landcare and community groups. These investments recognise that strengthening community capacity is vital to sustaining community-based natural resource management.

Weeds and pests

Programs to control and eradicate weeds and pest animals operate in a contested and volatile policy environment. While DAFF seeks to develop evidence-based options, stakeholder and community values and attitudes are also important.

We seek to engage key industry stakeholders, such as research and development corporations, which can deliver greater research for biocontrol measures, and mining enterprises, where weeds and pest animals may have little impact on their core business but can significantly affect adjoining landholders.

Current fiscal and resource constraints across jurisdictions pose challenges to establishing a national and proactive approach to weed and pest animal management issues.

We pursued collaborative approaches through national coordinating bodies such as the Australian Weeds Committee and the Vertebrate Pests Committee. We also increased our engagement with industry, including miners, through activities to look at better and more cost-effective ways to reduce the spread of invasive weeds and the development of a National Invasive Plant Surveillance Framework.

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Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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