There’s an old joke that goes something like this and the punch line is one that should resonate with all farmers and anyone interested in a changing climate.
What happens when you cross an Irishman with a Scotsman? You get someone who likes to drink, but doesn’t want to pay for it.
That same odd-couple combo also applies to Australian consumers when it comes to food production; especially environmental sustainability.
Everyone wants to eat products made from ethical and sustainable farm practices, equal to the sorts of meals served at trendy restaurants such as Saint Peter’s in Paddington – which not only taste amazing but make diners feel as if they’ve also taken a stroll in nature and helped boost the planet’s survival – but they mostly only want to pay black and gold prices for such luxuries.
This may sound like a strange way to introduce an article highlighting a recent biodiversity workshop held on my farm in Tamworth where frogs and reptiles were praised and admired as much as flowering canola and rollicking livestock.
However, this experience also gave me plenty of food for thought and inspiration which I wanted to share with other farmers and anyone else reading these words.
At this event, local award-winning ecologist Phil Spark shared his rich knowledge and practical tips on how to increase on-farm biodiversity.
As livestock and cropping farmers, my husband Alistair and I feel strongly about caring for our native fauna and flora and soils as much as we do about our business productivity and profitability.
These values are intertwined and inseparable.
We consciously engage in crop rotations to maintain our soil quality, ensure animal welfare practices are followed to protect the health and vitality of our livestock, and employ great farm team members and suppliers who share our same values.
In 2008, Alistair and I planted about 8,000 trees and in May this year, we will be planting the same number again, as part of our continuing Landcare program.
We’ve created biodiversity corridors from the remnant vegetation on our land and the dry creeks and one of four White Box Gum stock routes/reserves remaining in NSW.
We’ve done this because we recognise the long-term value it brings to our property and we know it’s simply the right thing to do.
We started out by creating a rough mud-map of our land and then we fenced-off corridors so native animals can move freely and comfortably from the top of our farm down to the stock reserve and dry Greenhatch creek. We have a feral animal control program too, to keep the foxes, cats and wild pigs at bay.
This has been a huge job and investment which doesn’t provide immediate financial returns and yet still much more needs to be done with two more corridors required.
However, like many other farmers, we’re also coming out of horrendous drought which means there’s no spare money – restocking and planting crops that’ll provide high quality grain to sell to pay-down debt are our main priorities.
While I don’t have all of the answers to these complex questions, it’s worth considering, when contemplating sustainable, ethical practices that, as food and fibre producers, we share the exact same values as consumers, but we all need to dig a little deeper into our pockets at times to achieve the same global goals and outcomes, that we all aspire to.
Paying a bit more for food and clothing products and meals, and ensuring these profits are shared fairly so they make their way back into farmers’ pockets, to reinvest in local on-farm sustainability practices that make a real difference, so we can continue living and working side-by-side with koalas, frogs and other thriving critters, is where the global climate revolution can really take-off.
By Robbie Sefton
Robbie Sefton has a dual investment in rural Australia as a farmer, producing wool, meat and grains, and as managing director of national marketing communications company Seftons.