Programme 1.2 Sustainable management-natural resources

​​Programme 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.

Programme description

We provided policy advice and managed programmes aimed at improving farm productivity through sustainable agricultural production. We worked with other agencies and stakeholders to support national approaches to environmental and natural resource management practices, including sustainable agriculture, soil, water and native vegetation policies. The department was also the lead agency supporting the ministerial working group established to consider options for Australia's future water infrastructure needs.

We delivered Australian Government support to Landcare, which undertakes community-based projects across Australia to raise awareness of sustainable land management practices. Our work on weeds and pests focused on the development and implementation of national approaches.

More information is available on the department's website.

Key performance indicators

Table 3 Programme 1.2–Sustainable management—natural resources—key performance indicators
Key performance indicator2013–14 targetPerformance
2013–142012–132011–12
Effective design and implementation of next phase of the Caring for our Country–Sustainable Agriculture stream to ensure Australia's agriculture base is sustainable, productive and resilient.Commence new programmeMetMet-
Support the national network of Regional Landcare Facilitators to enable delivery of information and advice to Landcare groups and farmersOne facilitator in each region employedMetMet-
Support the Australian Landcare Council to provide advice on natural resource management and LandcareProvide advice to ministers on natural resource management policies and programmesMetMet-
Develop and provide advice on policies for the approved management of natural resources, including soil, water and vegetation aRelevant and timely advice providedMet--
Finalise an effective cross-sector research, development and extension strategy on soils and implement the strategyFinalise and commence implementing strategyMetMet-
Improve the quality and extent of national data on soils and land management practicesData is used in decision-makingPartially metPartially met-
Increase the number of farming and fishing entities that have trialled innovative practices or adopted sustainable management practices to increase productivity aAdditional 5% of entitiesPartially met--
Increase the percentage of farming and fishing entities and land managers improving their knowledge and skills in managing our resources to deliver ecosystem services aAdditional 5% of entitiesPartially met--
Further increase the number of agricultural businesses using improved practices aAdditional 5% of agricultural businessesPartially met--
Work with agricultural industry to develop sustainability indicators aCommence projectNot met--
Develop a national surveillance framework for weeds that engages stakeholders in incursions, containment and ongoing management responses where there is a national, trade or community related impact aDatabase and smart phone application developedMet--
Allocate and deliver funds for Caring for our Country and Landcare100%MetMet-
Integrated scientific and economic research–underpinning research, advice, forecast, projects, products and data services meet stakeholder expectations and are delivered within agreed timelines and in line with international research standards85%MetMet-

a New performance indicator.

Achievements

Delivering sustainable resource management

Phase 2 of Caring for our Country was initiated by the previous Government in 2013-14, to be delivered through two streams: Sustainable Agriculture, managed by the Department of Agriculture; and Sustainable Environment, managed by the Department of the Environment.

In line with its election commitment, the Government moved to merge Caring for our Country and Landcare to create a single National Landcare Programme, built on the principles of 'simple, local and long-term'. We worked with the Department of the Environment and supported relevant ministers on the design and implementation of the new programme, which will commence in 2014-15.

The Caring for our Country achievements report showed achievements against the programme's five-year outcomes. The report identified lessons learned and the legacy of investments that will inform future natural resource management efforts.

The report is available on the NRM website.

Supporting innovation in farming and fishery practice

The Government funded natural resource management groups, industry, research and development corporations, and state and territory governments through 31 Innovation Grants totalling $21.3 million (including GST) over three years. The grants supported 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.

Trialling and adopting innovative agricultural practices is critical if Australian farmers are to achieve long-term productivity and profitability in a time of increased food demand and new markets. The Government invested with industry partners to assist with the adoption of management practices that have a low level of adoption, and at co-investment levels commensurate with the expected public benefit.

The department's targets to increase the percentage of different sectors taking up sustainable practices were 'partially met' in 2013-14. The targets could not be fully met as some projects progressed more slowly than planned, and saving initiatives reduced planned programmes investment.

In addition, because of the change in funding priorities during the year, the target to commence developing agricultural sustainability indicators was 'not met'.

Water policy

We provided policy analysis and advice to the minister on the implementation of the Government's water reform agenda. Officers held regular meetings with the Department of the Environment, the Murray–Darling Basin Authority, the National Water Commission and other agencies with responsibility for water policy and regulation.

We are also involved in the National Water Use in Agriculture Research, Development and Extension Strategy. The strategy aims to build the capacity of Australian agriculture to deal with the challenges to profitable and sustainable production, through a cross-sectoral approach focusing on water and irrigation.

The department was the lead agency supporting the Ministerial Working Group considering options for Australia's future water infrastructure needs.

Sustainable fishing

Consistent with the Government's election commitment, we delivered funding to OceanWatch Australia Limited to help it become recognised as the natural resource management organisation with responsibility for enhancing fish habitats and improving water quality in estuaries and coastal marine environments. The funding will assist OceanWatch to work with the fishing industry, to continue adopting best harvesting practice and to identify issues of common interest for fishers across Australia, which will help increase long-term returns to Australian fishers.

Australian Government Reef Programme

Protecting the Great Barrier Reef from poor water quality is a high priority for the Government. Sediments, nutrients and pesticides from agricultural land have been verified in scientific reports as the largest contributor to elevated water pollutant levels in the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. We worked with the Department of the Environment, Queensland Government agencies and other stakeholders to implement the renewed Australian Government Reef Programme, which supports agricultural land managers across the reef catchment to adopt improved practices.

We also worked with the Department of the Environment, Queensland Government agencies and other science bodies to deliver the reef prioritisation report that informed the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan 2013. The report identified potential investment priorities for the sugar cane and grazing industries in the Great Barrier Reef sub-catchments that could provide the biggest improvements in water quality for the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.

We worked with the Department of the Environment to implement the Government's commitment for a Reef 2050 plan to guide the protection and management of the reef.

Supporting national approaches

Improving soil management

In March 2014, the minister announced the launch of the National Soil Research, Development and Extension Strategy. The strategy aims to secure Australia's soil for profitable industries and healthy landscapes, and was developed in collaboration with state and territory governments, CSIRO, rural research and development corporations, industry and universities. We led the development of the strategy by providing secretariat support, expert policy and scientific advice and by developing a list of national soil research, development and extension priorities.

Updating national soils data

Work continued on improving the quality and extent of national data on soils and land management practices. ABARES updated the national ground cover monitoring data for Australia, to support programmes on monitoring and reducing soil erosion.

The department's target for this key performance indicator was 'partially met' in 2013–14.

Managing weeds and plant pests

The Australian Government supported national approaches to managing invasive plants and animals through active membership of the Australian Weeds Committee and the Vertebrate Pests Committee. We are leading the revision of the Australian Pest Animals Strategy and the Australian Weeds Strategy, which provide direction for the strategic and systematic management of invasive species.

We delivered innovation grant funding of $935 000 to Plant Health Australia, to support a national surveillance system for weeds and plant pests. The system will deliver a 'virtual coordination centre' that will help agricultural industries, community groups and jurisdictions access and contribute to real-time surveillance information on weeds and plant pests.

Engaging stakeholders

Facilitating Landcare

We provided ongoing support for Australia's network of Regional Landcare Facilitators. Activities included a national facilitators' forum and an online 'webinar' series, with combined registrations of approximately 1100 people from across the country. We also supported Landcare Week in September 2013.

The Australian Landcare Council finalised advice requested by the then Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator the Hon. Joe Ludwig, on seven Landcare and natural resource management issues, including enhanced delivery models for improved sustainable farm and land practice outcomes, volunteer retention and Indigenous engagement.

The council also released a study examining the multiple benefits of Landcare and natural resource management.

The report is available on the department's website.

In 2014–15, the department will work to implement the Government's decision to merge the council and the Natural Heritage Trust Advisory Committee to create the National Landcare Advisory Committee. This committee will be responsible for providing advice on agricultural and environmental Landcare issues to the Minister for Agriculture and the Minister for the Environment.

Community engagement

We recognise young people, women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds as significant contributors to the productivity, competitiveness and sustainability of our portfolio industries. We have fostered the leadership and representative capacity of these groups, to strengthen community resilience and agricultural productivity.

In 2013–14, we funded scholarships to the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation Rural Women's Award and the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation, to develop leadership in sustainable agriculture and natural resource management.

We continued our support for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Heywire competition and the Heywire Regional Youth Summit, which provide a platform for Australia's youth to showcase their experiences and develop their ideas to improve rural and regional Australia. More information.

Scientific and economic research

Mapping Australia's land use

ABARES released updated national and catchment scale land use maps of Australia.

The catchment scale land use map provides the best available information on Australia's regions. The map contributes to monitoring and reporting on natural resource conditions and trends, targeting investment, planning and risk assessment, and modelling landscape processes. It also contributes to national decision-making tools used by the department and our stakeholders.

The national scale land use maps are in strong demand for strategic planning and evaluation. They are also used in modelling applications, such as national carbon accounting. The national land use dataset can provide time-series analysis of change in agricultural land uses such as grazing and cropping.

Understanding motives for change

ABARES published a study of landholders who adopt sustainable land management practices, quantifying a range of motivations for adoption that span financial, environmental and personal dimensions. The study found two-thirds of broadacre, dairy and horticulture farm managers were members of a land management group that supported land management decision-making. Farm managers who adopted sustainable practices were more likely than non-adopters to be a member of such a group.

The report outlines the implications for designing future natural resource management programmes. While communicating production and financial benefits is important, promoting environmental and personal benefits to land managers is likely to help encourage the adoption of sustainable practices. Recognising the connection between the adoption of sustainable practices and the socio-economic profiles of land managers can also help promote sustainable land management practices.

The report 'Drivers of practice change in land management in Australian agriculture. Synthesis report—Stages I, II and III' is available at ABARES/publications.

Managing pests

The Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre oversees a comprehensive programme of research into more cost-effective and humane methods of managing invasive animals, including wild dogs, foxes and rabbits. These pests are significant threats to Australia's agricultural productivity and profitability.

In April 2014, ABARES published a report on the economic and environmental benefits of wild dog control, and the social impacts of not controlling wild dogs. The report found wild dog management brought positive net economic returns as well as significant non-market benefits. It found evidence people's experience of traumatic stress from wild dogs was similar to or higher than the stress experienced by people from other types of trauma.

The report 'An integrated assessment of the impact of wild dogs in Australia' is available at ABARES/publications.

Challenges

Supporting drought-affected farmers

Drought preparedness and resilience are key considerations for primary producers. Prolonged dry conditions in large parts of Queensland and New South Wales have highlighted the need for farmers to ensure their water infrastructure provides water security and improves their long-term drought resilience. Continued improvements and innovation in water security and efficiency will be necessary to build a more productive, competitive and profitable agricultural sector.

In November 2013, the minister announced the Australian Government would provide up to $7 million to supplement the Queensland Government's emergency water infrastructure rebate. The Government also earmarked $3 million for a similar New South Wales scheme for Emergency Water Infrastructure Grants. This assistance measure of up to $10 million for 2013–14 will make a lasting contribution to drought preparedness and longer-term resilience.

In February 2014, the Prime Minister and the minister announced a drought assistance package worth $320 million (see Programme 1.11). This included $12 million for emergency water infrastructure rebate assistance for 2014-15.

The Government also committed $10 million to assist in reducing the impact of pest animals on drought-affected farms. These funds will go to state governments to build on current state assistance measures for individual farmers and local farming communities.

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Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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