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Beyond the Bale : Oct - Nov 08
14 Environment Beyond the Bale Work worth a fortune … on paper The value of the environmental improvements Mark Gubbins has made to his property is a cool $4.9 million, says a new report Mark Gubbins in a fenced-off section of his property that has been revegetated with native plants, while his sheep graze dual- purpose wheat. By Kellie Penfold V ictorian Western District grower Mark Gubbins is taking a box seat as the carbon- trading debate is played out, armed with a firsthand understanding of the value of environmental improvements he has made to his farm. The 2630-hectare cropping and livestock enterprise ‘Coolana’ – run by Mark and his wife Anna – and the revegetation of 13 kilometres of the banks of the Hopkins River (which runs through it), plus tree planting on the property, was used as a case study in the recently released report Estimating the Environmental Services Provided by Australian Farmers. The report’s authors valued the public benefit from the native vegetation planting and riparian strip protection on ‘Coolana’ at $4.9 million. They also stated that the public benefits associated with carbon sequestration would be about $30 a hectare a year and the benefits to the farm itself would be $17,000 a year. “The figures are staggering,” says Mark with understatement. “I wouldn’t even try to understand the calculations they used, but when we started this work if you had told me the return to the community would one day be in the millions I would never have believed it.” With a recently acquired property on the Coorong in South Australia, the Gubbins run 5000 hectares in total, with 6000 sheep, 2000 cattle and 650 hectares of wheat, barley and canola. Running year-round, the Hopkins River has always been an integral part of ‘Coolana’, originally in watering stock, but it was conversations with a neighbour when the idea first surfaced to fence it off and revegetate the banks. “It was part of a bigger plan, which was to culminate in a wildlife corridor from the Otways to the Grampians,” Mark says. And while there are still gaps in the corridor, it ended up being a successful landholder-driven project. On ‘Coolana’ access points were originally left along the river because Mark was nervous about there being enough stock-watering points. Following a large investment in infrastructure, which included drilling two bores, installing nine kilometres of water pipes and troughs in each paddock, plus solar power to run the pumps and electric fences on a more isolated area of the farm, Mark and Anna now feel much more secure. This year the couple will fence off and revegetate the remaining PHOTO: EvAn COllIS sections. A 200-metre strip has been left in its original state as a control site for ongoing comparisons. So far the Gubbins say the benefits of the Hopkins River project have been numerous. Aesthetically the farm is a nicer place to live, shelter for livestock has improved and the number of wildlife species has lifted dramatically. “Improving our environment will be an ongoing program on our farm,” Mark says. “You only need to take small steps, but sometimes you look and realise they really have been big ones.” Mark is pleased that farmers are starting to be recognised for the environmental services many do provide, adding that if recognition ever turns into financial reward it would help people continue to make environmental improvements. “But at this stage, I just feel so damn good about it. That’s the glory for me.” More information: Mark Gubbins, 03 5350 5531, firstname.lastname@example.org GREEn FARMS An unRECOGnISED ECOnOMY Australian farmers deliver billions of dollars worth of environmental services to the community, with little recognition and little understanding, says a new research report part funded by AWI. Commissioned by the Australian Farm Institute and funded by AWI and Dairy Australia, Estimating the Value of Environmental Services Provided by Australian Farmers was compiled by Gillespie Economics and Professor Jeff Bennett of the Australian National University (ANU). Looking at case studies from all major areas of farming, the researchers were able to put a dollar value on the environmental improvement in those particular studies, but found there is no way of measuring the total value of all good environmental management practices carried out by the farming sector. The environmental services provided by Australian farmers included in the study are biodiversity conservation, protection of water resources, soil formation and protection, nutrient storage and recycling, pollution breakdown and absorption, climate stabilisation, pest control and the conservation of potential future bioresources. One of the case studies examined was the benefits of the Land, Water and Wool Program, initiated by AWI and Land and Water Australia in 2001 and wound up in 2006. The program aimed to raise woolgrower awareness and motivation for the sustainable management of natural resources through six subprograms – sustainable grazing on saline lands, rivers and water quality, biodiversity and vegetation, managing climate variability, managing pastoral country and future woolscapes. A benefit-cost analysis of the programs estimated the benefits from productivity gains and environmental improvements – including rehabilitation of degraded land, water quality improvement, biodiversity enhancement and increased carbon sequestration – to be $156 million. “There are likely to be some significant unvalued environmental and social benefits in terms of increased amenity value to growers and the community, and increased pride by woolgrowers due to a sense of managing a resource well,” the report states. As a result of the research, the report’s authors came up with six recommendations to recognise the value of the environmental services provided by Australian farmers. They are: l all proposed environmental policies, plans and practices should be subject to rigorous analysis of social and private costs and benefits, including consideration of environmental service values via non-market valuation; l only where community benefits exceed the community costs should policies, plans or practices be implemented; l where policies, plans or practices are likely to result in community benefits exceeding community costs, but result in net costs to landholders, compensation should be provided; l agricultural R&D funding should be targeted towards those systems and technologies that will improve productivity and at the same time increase the provision of environmental services; l to facilitate future economic valuation of environmental services provided by farmers, rural R&D corporations and Commonwealth and state government agricultural agencies should shift their focus from the collection of data on adoption rates of sustainable practices to the estimation of the actual or predicted environmental outcomes; and l to enable an increased focus on enhancing the value of environmental services provided by the farm sector, governments should provide increased support for additional non-market- valuation studies, in a variety of contexts, to facilitate rigorous benefit- cost analysis of future sustainable agriculture programs and policies. – Kellie Penfold More information: www.farminstitute.org.au ú
Dec 08 - Jan 09
Aug - Sep 08