Sustaining natural resources for longer-term productive primary industries
Promote stewardship of agricultural land, forests and fisheries to maintain the quality of natural resources, including in times of drought.
The department provides assistance through programs designed to promote the use of sustainable resource management practices. We work with other agencies and stakeholders to support national approaches to environmental and natural resource management practices, including sustainable agriculture, soil, water, forest and other native vegetation policies.
We support the ecologically sustainable management of Australia’s forests through the administration of Regional Forest Agreements. The department is also responsible for national and international measures to combat illegal logging and its associated trade, and represents Australia’s interests overseas to promote sustainable forest management.
We work with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) on managing Australia’s Commonwealth fisheries, and engage state and territory agencies on national approaches to sustainable management of the fishing industry. We also represent Australia’s interests overseas to promote responsible fishing practices and to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
More information is available at Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.
Our activities under this strategic objective in 2015–16 included implementing the Established Pest Animals and Weeds Initiative as part of the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper. We negotiated a project agreement with state and territory governments to improve the information and skills available to farmers and their communities for pest and weed management. We also provided funding for a range of projects to accelerate the development of new and improved control tools for established pests and weeds.
We also worked to implement the white paper commitment to reducing red tape in the fishing industry. The Northern Australia Fisheries Committee developed a road map to move the Northern Joint Authority fisheries to a single jurisdiction from 2017. Fisheries are also looking at options for shared service arrangements, including vessel monitoring systems, licensing services and electronic monitoring and data collection. These reforms will deliver increased efficiency for fisheries management activities.
We worked with regional bodies and community, Landcare and farming groups to deliver sustainable agriculture projects under the National Landcare Program. We delivered national funding through Sustainable Agriculture Small Grants, Innovation Grants and the 25th Anniversary Landcare Grants program. We also worked with the New South Wales Government to prepare fuel load reduction trials as part of the National Bushfire Mitigation Program. The trials will commence later in 2016.
We continued work with state governments to conduct the performance reviews for their Regional Forest Agreements, tabling the independent review of the Tasmanian agreement in December 2015. We commenced the third five-yearly review of agreements in Victoria and Western Australia, and are working with New South Wales authorities to begin a combined five and 10-year review of that state’s agreements. We also began work towards extending Regional Forest Agreements.
We supported the government in finalising its response to the independent review of the impacts of illegal logging regulations on small business. The response, which provided in-principle support for all of the review’s five recommendations, was released in February 2016 along with the final review report.
We collaborated with AFMA to fight IUU fishing. We represent Australia in the South East Asian Regional Plan of Action to combat IUU fishing, and support AFMA in capacity-building in the region. During the year, the Regional Plan of Action’s cooperation and information-sharing ended the operations of the last remaining vessels known to be IUU fishing in the Southern Ocean. Removing these vessels helps protect the fisheries around Heard Island, McDonald Island and Macquarie Island, which are the basis of Australia’s toothfish industry. Continuing efforts will be crucial in reducing the threat of IUU fishing.
TABLE 4 Annual performance statement—Strategic objective 4, Sustaining natural resources for longer-term productive primary industries, 2015–16
Result against performance measure
An increased percentage of agricultural, fisheries and forestry businesses use sustainable management practices
Corporate Plan 2015–16
Over the period 2007–08 to 2011–12 the area of broadacre cropping land prepared using no cultivation other than that associated with sowing increased from 66% to 78%.
The status of the resource base is maintained or improved
Corporate Plan 2015–16
The status of the agricultural resource base for land based primary production is estimated to have been maintained in 2015–16.b
Positive industry feedback on the applicability and usability of better practice information that the department provides
Corporate Plan 2015–16
We work with and through local and regional organisations, and research bodies that provide tailored research and development and extension information to land managers on sustainable land management practices.
Funding and grants programs are delivered according to requirements and have positive program evaluations
Corporate Plan 2015–16
Evaluation of the sustainable agriculture component of the National Landcare Program is conducted informally on an ongoing basis through the assessment of reports and supporting documentation submitted by grantees. A formal review of the National Landcare Program is underway and is expected to be completed by early 2017.
500 compliance assessments of importers of regulated timber products are undertaken
Corporate Plan 2015–16
During the year, 519 compliance assessments of importers of regulated timber product were requested.
a Based on 2011–12 Australian Bureau of Statistics Agricultural Resource Management Practices survey series.
b Department assessment based on 2015–16 seasonal conditions and trends in the adoption of sustainable land management practices to 2011–12.
c Based on the ABARES Fishery Status Reports 2015.
d Status is assessed retrospectively for the previous year. Alternative methodology for assessing the status of the resource base using remote sensing is under development.
e Australia’s State of the Forests Report 2013.
Analysis of performance against the strategic objective
Increasing the use of sustainable management practices
We are responsible for implementing and supporting a range of government initiatives to give Australian primary producers tools to improve soil management, build farm productivity, and improve the quality of ecosystem services delivered to the broader community. This includes investing in projects that improve land management practices and encourage innovation to reduce soil loss through wind and water erosion, and to improve ground cover and reduce soil acidification.
ABARES analyses trends in land management practices, based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics Agricultural Resource Management Practices survey series. The most recent results available are for 2011–12, based on a national survey of 33 000 farm businesses. As shown in Figure 12, the adoption of sustainable management practices continued to increase between 2007–08 and 2011–12. The proportion of crop area prepared using no cultivation, other than that associated with sowing, rose from 66 per cent to 78 per cent.
Source: ABARES, based on Australian Bureau of Statistics Agricultural Resource Management Practices survey series.
The proportion of horticulture farm businesses reporting practices to maintain ground cover between crops, including alternative or cover crops, mulching and/or matting, was significant, at around 60 per cent for 2009–10 and 2011–12 (Figure 13).
Source: ABARES, based on Australian Bureau of Statistics Agricultural Resource Management Practices survey series. No data available for 2007–08
As shown in Figure 14, between 2007–08 and 2011–12 the percentage of dairy businesses that reported they were monitoring ground cover increased from 72 per cent to 85 per cent. The proportion of grazing (beef cattle/sheep) businesses monitoring ground cover also increased from 70 per cent in 2007–08 to 76 per cent in 2011–12 (Figure 15).
Source: ABARES, based on Australian Bureau of Statistics Agricultural Resource Management survey series.
Source: ABARES, based on Australian Bureau of Statistics Agricultural Resource Management survey series.
Snapshot: Innovation grant digging in for better soil in south-west Victoria
The National Landcare Program is helping farmers, fishers and businesses discover new tools and practices that have significantly enhanced agriculture productivity, sustainability and farm profits.
One project funded with an Innovation Grant has helped industry understand the commercial constraints preventing farmers from adopting practices that improve the productivity of hostile subsoils covering two million hectares in south-west Victoria.
Hostile subsoils are sodic, which causes poor soil structure, low water-holding capacity and reduced nutrient availability, and high levels of toxic elements. This project is trialling the use of new technology to add soil organic amendments, such as chicken and pig manure, into the subsoil to increase biological activity and organic matter. This allows sodic soils to retain their structure and nutrient availability when wet, which increases crop and pasture production.
The project has established that adding soil organic amendments will increase the total farm profit in south-west Victoria by $67.2 million a year. This equates to an average farm profit increase of about $34 per hectare.
It is estimated this practice will increase total on-farm production for wheat by 38 400 tonnes, barley by 10 200 tonnes and canola by 13 500 tonnes. It will also increase the carrying capacity of cows by 43 900 head, prime lambs by 817 000 head and merino ewes by 415 000 head.
Subsoil manuring practices have also been found to maintain productivity during dry periods, compared to traditional practices. This will help drought-affected farmers sustain their cash flow during tough times.
The practice of incorporating organic amendments to hostile subsoils could significantly improve agriculture productivity and farmer profitability in many parts of Australia.
Photo: Technology used to incorporate organic amendment into the subsoil.
Supporting sustainable land management
We provide funding to a range of organisations and the Landcare facilitators’ network to give advice and support to land managers on sustainable land management practices. Regional natural resource management organisations, in consultation with their local communities, also identify the best ways to achieve sustainable local agricultural priorities.
We also work with research and development organisations to deliver land management practices information to land managers. Through white paper initiatives we have established new research, development and extension priorities to:
- manage soil health
- improve water use efficiency and certainty of supply
- sustainably develop new production areas
- improve resilience to climate events and impacts.
We are also working with the states and territories though the National Soil Research, Development and Extension Strategy, to ensure soil research meets the needs of farmers, policy makers and other stakeholders.
The strategy aims to:
- improve co-investment to generate and apply new soil knowledge
- improve the quality, availability and access to soil data and information
- improve the communication and exchange of soil knowledge
- adopt a national approach to building future skills and capacity.
We have initiated market research to assess the quality of our better practice information and to gauge direct feedback from the farming sector.
Maintaining the resource base
Based on 2015–16 seasonal conditions and continuing trends in the adoption of sustainable land management practices, there are indications the agricultural resource base has at least been maintained and in many instances improved. The broader picture can only provide a partial measure and there may be significant variability due to rates of adoption, poor seasonal conditions as a result of the el Niño weather pattern, climate change and the legacy of past agricultural practices.
One robust measure of the agriculture resource base would be a scientific assessment of ground cover. We are investigating methodologies for assessing remote sensing technologies for reporting in future years.
Australia’s marine fisheries are regulated by eight jurisdictions based on agreements made under the Offshore Constitutional Settlement. The settlement provides for the management of single stocks or fisheries in spite of jurisdictional boundaries. Although fisheries management objectives and the tools used for fisheries management vary between jurisdictions, the Commonwealth, states and Northern Territory have and continue to harmonise rules in order to improve outcomes for fishers and the environment.
Two initiatives include the National Guidelines to Develop Fishery Harvest Strategies and the Status of Key Australian Fish Stocks. The National Guidelines provide a national framework to support a consistent and more harmonised approach to harvest strategy development across Australian fisheries jurisdictions.
Bycatch management is undertaken by each jurisdiction to assist in meeting individual fisheries and environmental legislative objectives.
The National Policy on Fisheries Bycatch was endorsed in 1999 to ensure direct and indirect impacts on aquatic systems are taken into account in developing and implementing fisheries management regimes. The policy provides options by which each state and territory jurisdiction can manage bycatch coherently and in a national context while still allowing for differences.
The Commonwealth Policy on Fisheries Bycatch provides an approach for assessing and minimising the effect of fishing on bycatch species and requires management actions to be undertaken when fishing Commonwealth waters. These can include the use of bycatch mitigation actions (for marine mammals this may involve the mandated use of seal excluder devices, restrictions on offal discharge and spatial and temporal restrictions on fishing activity) as well as education and training programs. Measures aim to minimise bycatch, improve protections for vulnerable species and generally assist in the conservation of marine ecosystems.
Although management of Australian fisheries is the responsibility of the relevant state, territory or Commonwealth fisheries management agency, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 also plays an important role in ensuring the ecological sustainability of Australia’s fisheries.
In its 2015 Fishery status reports, ABARES reported on the status of fish stocks in fisheries solely and jointly managed by the Commonwealth. The total number of assessable fish stocks in fisheries solely managed by the Commonwealth increased from 47 in 2004 to 65 in 2014 (figure 16).
Over that period, the number of Australian managed fish stocks assessed as ‘not overfished’ increased from 11 (23 per cent) to 46 (71 per cent). The number of fish stocks assessed as ‘uncertain if overfished’ fell significantly from 28 to 12. The number of stocks assessed as ‘overfished’ declined slightly. These results reflect efforts over the past 10 years to control fishing effort, ensure harvest levels are sustainable, and rebuild 'overfished' stocks.
The assessment of whether a fish stock is ’overfished’ is based on the estimated biomass of a stock, while an assessment of ‘subject to overfishing’ is based on the level of harvest. In 2014, no fish stocks in fisheries solely managed by the Commonwealth were classified as subject to overfishing. These assessments do not include fisheries jointly managed with the states and territories and with other countries.
Based on the ABARES Fishery Status Reports 2015.
While the state and Northern Territory governments have primary responsibility for regulating most of the day-to-day aspects of aquaculture, the Australian Government understands the importance of the sector in securing Australia’s food base, in generating valuable export income and in creating regional jobs and economic activity.
We have worked in partnership with the aquaculture industry and government agencies to develop a National Aquaculture Strategy. This strategy aims to provide an effective and efficient regulatory environment that supports the sustainable growth of the industry, encourages investment and innovation, maintains strong environmental performance, protects aquatic animal health and manages biosecurity risks. The final strategy is expected to be released in late 2016.
The department also works with the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation to maximise the benefits of innovation in aquaculture through targeted research, development and extension, especially in areas such as new and emerging aquaculture species, and pre-competitive research areas such as animal health, biosecurity and sustainable industry development.
We are investing in aquaculture research and development through the government’s Rural Research and Development for Profit Program. This includes funding a project to help grow the southern Australian aquaculture industry by increasing the productivity and profitability of Yellowtail Kingfish farmers, and another project to investigate how robotic and laser vision technology can improve the way oysters are delivered to customers, by making them easier to open and to extend shelf life.
Snapshot: International engagement on fisheries management
An important activity towards sustaining natural resources is our continuing work with regional fisheries management organisations to support Australia’s fishing industry and to promote internationally sustainable fisheries.
In January 2016, we successfully led discussions at the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation to adopt a binding measure for the management of new and exploratory fisheries. The organisation also declared stateless vessels fishing in its convention area to be engaged in IUU fishing, making them subject to fishing bans and other sanctions.
Australia has continued taking steps to implement the Agreement on Strengthening the Implementation of the Niue Treaty on Cooperation in Fisheries Surveillance and Law Enforcement in the South Pacific Region. This is a multilateral agreement on cooperative fisheries surveillance and law enforcement activities, to improve monitoring, control and surveillance in the region, particularly in relation to tuna fisheries.
It incorporates innovative legal solutions in the fight against IUU fishing, such as a mechanism to allow one country to ask another to carry out surveillance and law enforcement functions on its behalf, including the sharing of vessels and aircraft. The agreement also supports the use of remote sensing technology to pursue suspected illegal fishing vessels, and provisions to exchange fisheries data and intelligence for law enforcement purposes Australia is working through the parliamentary processes to accede to the agreement. Pending final government approval, we are on track to complete the accession in the first half of 2017.
Australian industries fish the high seas in the South Pacific, and will benefit from conservation measures aimed at ensuring that fishing is sustainable and responsible. Australia’s work in international forums promotes its own commitment to sustainably managed fisheries and secure access for the benefit of our industry.
Much of Australia’s native forest wood resource is derived from multiple-use public forests managed by state and territory agencies. These agencies determine sustainable yield levels for the harvest of highquality sawlogs for five-year periods, based on the amount of timber that can be removed each year while ensuring the function of the forest system is maintained and the flow of wood products continues indefinitely.
The five-yearly Australia’s State of the Forests Report released in 2013 found the actual harvest levels of high-quality sawlogs from multiple-use public native forests over each of four reporting periods have been less than the calculated sustainable levels (Figure 17). This is an indicator of the sustainable management of Australia’s native forestry resources.
Sustainable yields of sawlogs from native forests have been adjusted downwards by almost 50 per cent nationally over the past two decades, from 2.96 million cubic metres per year from 1993–96, to 1.68 million cubic metres per year from 2007–11 (Figure 17).
The main reason for this decrease is the reduction of the area of public multiple-use native forest. Other reasons include increased prescription of forest practices by state and territory governments, and better modelling of forest growth rates.
Source: Australia’s State of the Forests Report 2013. The report is released every five years and presents the best available data for the reporting period. It provides a baseline for future reporting.
Action on illegal logging
Australia’s illegal logging laws are designed to promote the trade in legally logged timber and timber products, by placing due diligence requirements on importers of regulated timber products and on domestic processors of Australian grown logs. The Illegal Logging Prohibition Regulation 2012 commenced on 30 November 2014.
On 1 December 2014, the government announced an independent review to assess whether the existing due diligence requirements strike an appropriate balance between the costs of compliance for small businesses and reducing the risk of illegally logged timber entering the Australian market. The recommendations from the review are currently undergoing a Regulatory Impact Review process.
Since March 2015, we have been assessing how businesses are complying with the regulatory requirements. This was done under a ‘soft start’ approach, where assessments were designed to gather information about the trade, and to educate businesses on how to comply and improve their due diligence systems.
In the period to 30 June 2016, we assessed businesses responsible for importing more than 70 per cent of regulated products, including solid wood products, particle boards, pulp, paper products, wooden furniture and prefabricated buildings. Approximately 47 per cent of businesses were fully compliant with the regulatory requirements, and were appropriately managing the risk of illegal logging in their supply chains.
This included around 30 per cent of businesses relying on certification under the Forest Stewardship Council or the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Standards as a means of managing the risk of illegal logging in the products assessed.
Of those businesses that did not meet the requirements, many did not understand how the certification chain of custody schemes apply to products, compared to how they apply to businesses in the supply chain. In line with the soft start approach, we did not issue penalties to business that did not meet the due diligence requirements. We provided feedback about improvements needed to be compliant in future. This approach will continue until any amendments arising from the review have commenced.
Working with our partners to combat illegal logging
The release of the Papua New Guinea Country Specific Guideline in March 2016 marked another important step in supporting the trade in legally harvested timber products. We negotiated with the government of Papua New Guinea over two years to establish the guideline, which will help Australian importers identify illegally harvested products.
Australia’s illegal logging laws require businesses to undertake due diligence when trading in timber and timber products. The country specific guidelines explain the range of documents and information importers can obtain from the country of origin to support their assessment that timber has been legally harvested.
The agreement with Papua New Guinea marks the eighth successful negotiation since the laws took effect. Australia also has country specific guidelines with Canada, Finland, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, New Zealand and the Solomon Islands.
Australia’s laws complement initiatives in key international markets such as the European Union and the United States, which also have illegal logging laws. We continue to engage major trading partners through bilateral meetings and multilateral forums, such as the Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum. This engagement will expand country specific guidelines over time to support sustainable international timber trading.